Elizabeth Hendren, a 2012 graduate of Seattle University School of Law, was awarded the 2012 Leadership for Justice Fellowship to help mothers being released from prison rebuild their families through legal advocacy.
Hendren will work with the Northwest Justice Project in Seattle on the Reentry Initiated through Services and Education (RISE) Project, which she developed. RISE will provide legal advice through clinics, as well as direct representation, in the areas of family law, housing and public benefits to formerly incarcerated mothers. RISE also will begin building a statewide network of support through strategic partnerships and increased community education about reentry.
She developed RISE based on her experience working with women through other agencies during law school. Its goal is to address the multiple civil legal issues faced by this population and increase the education of and coordination between community partners, and in one location. The name is based on a Confucius quote: "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."
"Many women have a difficult time navigating the family law process pro se, and there is no attorney or organization providing direct legal assistance to this population," Hendren said. "Many of the mothers have overlapping housing and public benefits issues to resolve before they will have a strong case for becoming the primary caregivers of their children."
Seattle University School of Law is the only law school in the state to offer a post-graduate fellowship for a graduate to work with an organization on a specific social justice project involving underserved or marginalized individuals or communities.
During a summer internship with the Domestic Violence Unit of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), Hendren co-founded the Incarcerated Mothers Advocacy Project (IMAP) with a fellow NWIRP intern, Lillian Hewko, to provide legal education and information about family law issues to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated mothers in the state. IMAP delivers presentations to incarcerated women in the state's prisons and offers several drop-in clinics throughout King County where women can obtain general family law information.
"Two of the women I worked with at NWIRP were mothers with theft charges from the periods in which they were homeless after leaving their abusers, and both faced losing their children as a result," Hendren said. "Although I had worked with men with criminal records before, this was my first time working with mothers with criminal records, and I saw how devastating and unbalanced the family law proceedings were when these mothers were forced to proceed pro se against their abusers."
Hendren's work with IMAP made her eager to learn even more about family law. For her 2L summer and fall semester, she interned with the Family Law Unit of the Northwest Justice Project. Yet Hendren quickly realized that it is impossible for many formerly incarcerated mothers to reunite with their children if they do not have safe or adequate housing. To better understand the housing issues facing these women, Hendren is externing during her last semester of law school with NJP's Housing Unit.
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