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A Day In The Life

Fighting Mass Incarceration in the Decarceration Project

As Staff Attorneys in the Decarceration Project, Liz Bender and Jane-Roberte Sampeur are on the front-lines of the fight against mass incarceration and unfair bail determinations.

Liz Bender, a staff attorney for the Decarceration Project, works on a number of initiatives that protect New Yorkers who end up in jail simply because they can’t post bail. She works to keep the pre-trial detention population as low as possible while equipping Legal Aid Society Staff in other trial offices to be as effective as possible when fighting their own clients’ unfair bail determinations. Liz and the Decarceration Project team have trained attorneys in all five boroughs and have presented their work to lawyers and advocates across the state. For Liz, working with our staff, government officials, and partner organizations has given her and the Project a “more well-rounded idea about how different aspects of the criminal justice system are impacting our clients.”

We’re pushing for more people being released, more people getting services, more people being treated as human beings.

Colleague Jane-Roberte Sampeur focuses her work on getting women out from behind bars and back into their communities through her efforts as a coordinator for the Women’s Pre-Trial Release Project, in partnership with Fedcap. “Being detained is egregious and harmful to anyone,” Jane explains, “but there are a number of issues that are specific to women.” These women—sometimes serving as the head of household and often the primary caregivers for their children—are especially vulnerable to the devastation of incarceration. Not only can they lose their jobs and homes; even a few days behind bars can threaten the safety of their families.

Our clients are fathers, sons, workers, mothers, daughters; they are our neighbors. And they’re kept away from their families for want of a few thousand dollars.

Jane, Liz, and their colleagues have won the release of 48% of the clients they have worked with, saving them over 1,500 days in jail over the past six months alone. And that’s not all – in recent months, the case for bail reform has gained momentum. For Jane, the holistic approach of their work goes beyond simple legal services and community support; it’s something bigger. “I am my community. As a black woman, doing this work is a constant reminder that my clients are me, my mother, my sisters, my aunts, and my cousins.”

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