Proskauer recently reached a landmark agreement with the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) and Department of Education (NJDOE) to ensure that students entitled to special education services in NJDOC custody will receive those services to which they are legally entitled under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This settlement is consistent with Proskauer’s long-standing commitment to provide legal services to some of the country’s most vulnerable communities.
A critical part of criminal justice reform is making it easier for those with criminal records to reenter society. This means greater job training, more employment opportunities, affordable housing, and stronger laws prohibiting discrimination and facilitating the expungement of old convictions. Successful reentry into a free society, however, requires more than just the basic needs of life. It also requires the restoration of basic rights, and there is no more basic right in a democracy than the right to vote.
Staying in touch with loved ones has become more important today than ever before. While technology offers many ways to stay in contact, incarcerated individuals face barriers to communication. Several prisons have paused in-person visitation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A phone call can cost up to $25, creating a financial burden for many families of the incarcerated. As the United States, which incarcerates more individuals than any other country, confronts the challenges of its criminal justice system, Proskauer’s pro bono client Ameelio, a nonprofit organization, is working to facilitate communication between incarcerated individuals and their families by removing cost barriers.
Ameelio’s Founder, Uzoma Orchingwa, explains below how he is finding innovative ways to keep people connected, no matter the cost.
Could you briefly explain how Ameelio works?
Ameelio serves as a technological bridge to the outside world for incarcerated individuals. We have three core products, our mobile application where loved ones can upload letters, postcards and photos for incarcerated individuals. Our second product is Letters for Organizations, where Ameelio helps organizations, like ministries, rehab groups, and educators send mass mail to prisons. Our third product is “Connect,” which is a videoconferencing tool we are launching in April 2021.
On August 24, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, sitting en banc, reinstated defendant Ronnie Long’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, challenging his rape conviction more than four decades earlier. Proskauer filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Mr. Long on behalf of some forty leading scholars who specialize in forensic science, emphasizing the grave impact of the prosecution’s repeated failures to disclose all the forensic evidence in the case. The Fourth Circuit agreed, and now Mr. Long is expected to be released imminently.
Over forty years ago, Mr. Long was accused of committing a rape and burglary that he has consistently maintained he did not commit. Relying heavily on the victim’s identification testimony, and the asserted “honesty” of law enforcement who investigated the crime, a jury found Mr. Long guilty of first-degree rape and first-degree burglary. He was sentenced to life in prison, and his conviction was upheld on appeal. As the result of continued litigation over the span of many decades, however, a steady stream of suppressed evidence concerning the crime, neither disclosed to the defense nor presented to the jury, came to light. It included lab-test results demonstrating that Mr. Long was not linked to the crime scene; medical evidence taken from the victim that unaccountably went missing; and, most recently, 43 latent fingerprints lifted from the scene, none of which matched Mr. Long. It also became plain that the detectives who investigated the crime lied at trial about the evidence suppression.
A Proskauer team recently succeeded in obtaining parole on behalf of 69-year-old pro bono client Judith Clark, who has been in prison for nearly 38 years. This case may play an important role in effecting much needed parole reform in New York. Personally, it has been among the most satisfying cases on which I have ever worked.
Judith was the getaway driver for the infamous 1981 Brinks robbery that resulted in the killings of two police officers and a Brinks guard, and was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison. Judith’s transformation from radical revolutionary to a completely rehabilitated person began in the mid-1980s. Since then, she has devoted herself to helping others. Her efforts included starting an AIDS counseling program for prisoners that was copied nationwide, building a prison college program (and earning two degrees), helping to run her prison’s infant care center for incarcerated mothers, training more than a dozen dogs to help wounded veterans and law enforcement, and individually mentoring and counseling hundreds of women to help them turn their lives around. After personally interviewing Judith in 2016, Governor Cuomo granted her clemency, thereby making her eligible for parole.