In D.C. Former Math Teacher Turned HOPE Fellow Combats Disparities in Juvenile Justice System


This summer, HOPE Public Interest Resource Center granted HOPE Fellowships to 19 law students who are working to fill the access to justice gap across the United States. Among this summer’s fellows is 3L Miami Scholar Daniel Pollitt. Pollitt chose to work as a HOPE Fellow in Washington D.C. with the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, a public interest agency focused on reforming the systems that affect at-risk children and youth, such as the juvenile justice system.

Daniel Pollitt, 3L

Why did you choose to spend your summer working with the Center for Children’s Law and Policy?

Before coming to law school, I was a middle school math teacher in a critical needs school in Mississippi, and I missed working with underserved kids. I was drawn to CCLP’s mission to end the unnecessary incarceration of young people and to combat the racial and ethnic disparities that permeate the juvenile justice system. I worked to provide direct client representation during my 1L summer at the New York City Legal Aid Society, so CCLP also provided an opportunity for me to expand my advocacy experiences by working on bigger picture policy issues.

What experience at Miami Law best prepared you for your HOPE Fellowship?

My experience in the Environmental Justice Clinic best prepared me for my internship at CCLP. In the EJC I had to think critically about systemic issues impacting low-income communities of color and develop legal-political strategies to educate different parties and advocate on behalf of a marginalized community. CCLP and the EJC do different work, but their goals and methods overlap.

Tell us about the work you have done so far this summer.

As part of their work to improve conditions of juvenile confinement, CCLP routinely conducts facility assessments across the country. Some of my work has involved reading, analyzing, and organizing grievances to help staff attorneys prepare for these visits. I have also been working with the staff attorneys on a law enforcement diversion project. CCLP recently received a grant to work with law enforcement agencies in four different states on implementing front-end diversion programs as a way to divert young people away from formal processing in the juvenile justice system and into community-based organizations or public agencies. My work has largely consisted of researching state laws on diversion opportunities at various entry points to the juvenile justice system and identifying innovative diversion programs in jurisdictions across the country. Finally, CCLP recently partnered with the University of New Haven to develop an online college course centered around the Spike documentary series Time: The Kalief Browder Story. I have assisted the staff attorneys and Professor in developing the curriculum, assignments, and lesson plans for the course.

What have you found to be most challenging about the work?

The most challenging part of my summer has been adjusting to the lack of client contact. I enjoy working with kids and seeing change and progress happen in real time. CCLP does not litigate. They work with other juvenile justice system stakeholders to achieve high impact policy reforms, and these reforms take a lot of time. Understanding that CCLP plays the long game has taken some adjustment. 

What have you found to be most rewarding about the work?

The most rewarding part of my summer has been observing prosecutors take an interest in CCLP’s diversion work. Prosecutors hold significant power in the juvenile justice field, and the fact that they are seeking advice about how to implement diversion programs to reduce the incarceration rates of young people and to address racial and ethnic disparities is a hopeful development.

How has the HOPE Fellowship impacted your career trajectory?

The HOPE Fellowship has allowed me to work for a national policy organization doing cutting-edge work in the field of juvenile justice, develop relationships with leaders in the field, and feel supported in my desire to pursue a career in public interest law. This experience has been invaluable and would not have been possible without the HOPE Fellowship.

How have you enjoyed spending the summer in D.C.?

I have loved working in Washington, D.C. for the summer. I have enjoyed taking advantage of the international cuisine, visiting the various museums (especially the Museum of African-American History and Culture), and observing the Stanley Cup festivities. I have a lot of friends and relatives in the area, and D.C. offers a wide range of opportunities to practice public interest law.

When Pollitt returns to Miami Law in the fall, he plans to extern at the Florida Justice Institute, serve on the Public Interest Leadership Board, and help his former students in Mississippi study for the ACT and SAT.

Since 2000, the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center has supported Miami Law summer fellows working alongside supervising attorneys to serve marginalized populations through unpaid internships at non-profit and governmental organizations locally, nationally and internationally. 

If you wish to donate to support HOPE Fellowships, please do so here and save the date for HOPE’s 20th year celebration and auction which will take place on October 10, 2018.