Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Professor Ann Cammett Seeks Access to Justice for Families on the Margins

Professor Ann Cammett
is well versed on the impact of incarceration on families. Cammett notes that "as a family lawyer providing support to formerly incarcerated parents, I was struck by the breadth of civil consequences faced by them upon release from prison – barriers to voting, employment, housing, education and other critical life supports – all of which prevented them from successfully reunifying with their families, establishing themselves within their communities, and regaining status as productive members of society."
Since her time as a Skadden fellow in 2000, Cammett has engaged in the work of identifying the range of these sanctions, and educating advocates to provide support to low-income clients in navigating them.  She later worked as a policy analyst in New Jersey, providing technical assistance to government and community-based organizations, engaging in legislative activity, and assisting with the development of model programs to facilitate more positive prisoner reentry outcomes by addressing civil sanctions.
In particular Cammett recognized that civil barriers at the intersection of incarceration and family law were not being adequately addressed. Many prisoners are also parents, and are at risk for automatic termination of parental rights. Moreover, in many states child support obligations continue to accrue in prison, despite the fact that parents earn little or no money to satisfy them – a practice that renders many low-income parents debtors upon release.
Professor Cammett sought, through her scholarship, to define the public policy impact of burgeoning child support arrears on prisoner reentry. She broke new ground by identifying child support debt, coupled with aggressive federal enforcement mechanisms, as a de facto collateral consequence of incarceration. Her current research agenda explores the broader contours of child support policy toward incarcerated parents. "Deadbeats, Deadbrokes & Prisoners," a forthcoming article in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy, demonstrates how modern day mass incarceration has radically skewed the paradigm on which the child support system is based, removing millions of parents from the formal economy, diminishing their income opportunities after release, and rendering them ineffective economic actors within established normative family support structures. She specifically notes how this flawed policy approach creates unintended consequences for the children of these parents by compromising a core non-monetary goal of child support system – parent-child engagement – as enforcement measures serve to alienate parents from the formal economy after reentry and drive them underground and away from their families.
Professor Cammett came to Boyd after a teaching fellowship at Georgetown University’s clinical program, and founded the Family Justice Clinic, bringing her extensive portfolio of service to low-income clients. The clinic, now jointly directed by Professor Elizabeth MacDowell, has a particular focus on prisoners and their families, clients engaged with immigration issues, and those affected by the child welfare system and other forms of state intervention. Student attorneys in the clinic explore the role of families in society, the strengths and weaknesses of state intervention into families, and the meaning of access to justice for children and parents, through direct representation of clients and associated policy projects.
In February of 2011, the Family Justice Clinic at the Boyd School of Law provided testimony in support of Nevada’s proposed Senate Bill 87, The Uniform Collateral Consequences of Convictions Act. The Act, based on the Uniform Law Commission’s draft legislation, seeks to alleviate some of the disabling invisible civil penalties that follow a person after a plea or conviction for a crime. While collateral consequences inhibit successful reintegration by individuals, what is less commonly explored is the negative effect that these barriers have on families. The Family Justice Clinic stands ready to provide education on these issues.

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