The Rutgers Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic provides legal representation to youth incarcerated in New Jersey’s juvenile justice system; young adults charged with minor criminal offenses; and adults convicted of serious crimes as adolescents who seek post-conviction relief. The clinic also champions systemic change through legislative and regulatory advocacy, appellate advocacy, and community education initiatives.
The clinic is staffed by third-year law students and a post-graduate Clinical Fellow, all of whom work under the supervision of Distinguished Clinical Professor of Law and Clinic Director Laura Cohen. The Clinical Fellow is primarily responsible for the clinic’s Juvenile Justice Reform Project, which represents adolescents in the long-term custody of the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission in matters relating to education, special education, mental health, institutional conditions and discipline, parole, and re-entry planning. This advocacy occurs at both the administrative agency level and in the courts. Law students also represent a small number of juvenile clients each semester. This work on behalf of individual clients gives rise to and shapes the clinic’s systemic reform efforts, which most recently have included a regulatory campaign to end punitive solitary confinement of youth and litigation challenging administrative transfers of youth to adult prisons, among other initiatives.
In addition to working with incarcerated youth, law students enrolled in the clinic engage in all aspects of criminal defense representation, from the initial client interview through trial and appeal. In the post-conviction realm, student advocate before parole boards, appeal denials of parole, prepare petitions for executive clemency, and investigate and litigate actual innocence claims.
Clinic students work under close faculty supervision. Their case work is supplemented by a weekly seminar and case rounds, during which they conduct simulated hearings, hear from guest lecturers, and brainstorm about their cases. They also advocate for juvenile justice policy reform in collaboration with the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender, Youth Justice New Jersey, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, and the ACLU of New Jersey, among other organizations.