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Fellowship Opportunity Invitation

Youth Justice Project Fellowship

Disability Rights NJ invites rising third-year law students and law clerks with a deep commitment to fighting for youth justice and disability equality to apply for a sponsorship opportunity to work with us as a public interest legal fellow. Fellowships for recent law school graduates interested in working at Disability Rights NJ may be available through such programs as the Skadden Fellowship Foundation and Equal Justice Works as well as through programs administered by individual law schools or private firms. Applicants must have identified third-party funding. Deadlines and timing for fellowship applications are dictated by the individual funding organizations.

Our fellows gain practical experience defending and expanding education and disability rights by advocating for justice-impacted youth, representing individual clients, and engaging with our policy and communications teams on advancing legislation and public education. We will work with successful applicants to develop a project proposal for specific funding organizations, tailoring a project to both address an important disability education rights issue and develop the fellow’s skills as a public interest attorney.

If you wish to pursue a fellowship with Disability Rights NJ as your host organization, please submit a letter of consideration indicating your interest and/or any experience in youth justice, along with a potential project idea, a resume, and a writing sample, with the subject line “Youth Justice Project Fellowship Proposal” to [email protected]

What is the Youth Justice Project?

The Youth Justice Project at Disability Rights NJ works to “decriminalize disability” for youth in underserved communities by ensuring their educational and community needs are met through direct legal representation, community advocacy, and self-advocacy training.

Modeled after similar projects in Protection and Advocacy agencies across the National Disability Rights Network, the Youth Justice Project has Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Administrators of the Courts in New Jersey that allows Disability Rights NJ direct access to the court system and to justice-impacted youth in Mercer County and Essex County.

Understanding the Issue

The communities of our young clients are densely populated, segregated, small, urban environments with pockets of extreme poverty and high crime. Within those neighborhoods, there is a disproportionate number of black and brown youth living with disabilities, adverse childhood experiences, and traumas. The challenges youth face in the communities we serve include:

  1. economic disadvantages such as high poverty rates, low wage job opportunities, and a lack of affordable housing;
  2. personal safety, community violence, and consequences of crime issues;
  3. education disparities that include schools with inadequate resources, underperforming schools, and extreme rates of school exclusion;
  4. barriers to healthcare and behavioral health services;
  5. lack of appropriate treatment and support services in substance use;
  6. historical and systemic inequities such as racial discrimination, unequal access to resources, and social and economic disparities.

These issues can impact various aspects of well-being and increase the likelihood youth will be impacted by the justice system through the school-to-prison pipeline.

How the Youth Justice Project Can Help

Our justice-impacted clients with disabilities experience school exclusion, lack of academic and behavioral supports, and barriers to understanding and accessing community-based mental health services. By employing a multifaceted approach that combines legal advocacy, education, and support, the Youth Justice Project at Disability Rights NJ makes significant progress in overcoming the exclusion and lack of proper services for youth with disabilities in educational, court room, and community behavioral health settings.

At its inception, in the summer of 2020, Disability Rights NJ received seed funding from the Ford Foundation to establish the project with support from the Office of Public Defender in Mercer County. Currently, the Youth Justice Project relies almost exclusively on federal funding from our limited Protection and Advocacy grants. Our office regularly seeks and applies for other grants to cover the work of our attorneys and advocates in this space.  The goal of the program, and the work of a Youth Justice Project Fellow, is to expand the number of youth served and expand the project to additional counties in New Jersey.

Disability Rights NJ is an Equal Opportunity Employer and committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace.