Our approach is informed by our background in youth advocacy and our belief that justice requires that context be considered at sentencing. Through leading a coalition of families of youth sentenced as adults, YSRP Co-Founders Lauren Fine and Joanna Visser Adjoian heard their anguish at not having been able to present mitigating information in court at sentencing and their fear of loved ones being released from prison unprepared for the challenges that come with reentering the community. Through litigating sentencing issues, they learned more about how powerful mitigation evidence can be. On a car trip across Pennsylvania for a prison visit, they discussed their mutual passion for this work and devised the idea for YSRP.
YSRP Directors Joanna and Lauren have both: 1) worked professionally on these issues at Juvenile Law Center (JLC) and through the Pennsylvania Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth (PACFSY); 2) worked closely with youth, families, community and national organizations to end the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without parole; 3) performed extensive research and writing, including drafting briefs to the Supreme Court; and 4) assembled a Board of Directors and Advisory Board comprised of academics, practitioners, and people with lived experiences who helped develop the vision, mission, and program strategies of YSRP.
Lauren Fine, Esq.
Lauren Fine, Esq., is the co-founder and Co-Director of the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP). Before YSRP, Lauren was a Zubrow Fellow in Children’s Law at Juvenile Law Center, a federal law clerk, and a research assistant/project manager at the Brookings Institution. At Juvenile Law Center, among other projects, Lauren co-authored Amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court and state supreme courts on juvenile life without parole sentences, aided in successfully challenging the adjudication of homicide for an 11 year old; provided legal intake services at a homeless shelter for youth, and co-authored a Model Act and reports on juvenile record expungement and on trauma and resilience. She is a 2014 Echoing Green Fellow, a 2015 American Express-Ashoka Emerging Innovator, a 2016 Claneil Emerging Leader Fellow, a 2016 American Bar Association Lawyer on the Rise, a 2016 Billy Penn Who’s Next recipient, a TEDx speaker and has appeared on NPR and the Social Entrepreneur podcast. A volunteer with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the Pennsylvania Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Lauren is a graduate of Yale University and Duke University School of Law.
Contact: email@example.com; 215-772-5015
Joanna Visser Adjoian, Esq.
Joanna Visser Adjoian, Esq. is the co-founder and Co-Director of the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP). She is a 2014 Echoing Green Black Male Achievement Fellow, in partnership with the Open Society Foundations. Prior to co-founding YSRP, Joanna served as Associate Director of the Toll Public Interest Center at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Before joining the Toll Center, Joanna clerked for Judge Joel Schneider in the United States District Court of the District of New Jersey, and completed a Penn Law Postgraduate Fellowship at Juvenile Law Center, where she advanced efforts to end the practice of sentencing children to life in prison without parole. Joanna serves as co-chair of the Legal Rights of Children Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Public Interest Section, and she sits on the board of the Philadelphia Student Union and the steering committee of the Pennsylvania Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. Before law school, Joanna worked as a paralegal in the Family Law Unit of Philadelphia Legal Assistance and taught English in Ecuador. Joanna received both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Pennsylvania.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 215-772-5016
Katie Barnett, M.S.W.
Director of Operations
Katie Barnett is Director of Operations with Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project. In this role, she informs development, communications and operational strategies that sustain and support the mission of Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project and its growing team. Previously, Katie was the Development Director at Spiral Q in West Philadelphia, and she has consulted for leading organizations working at the intersection of immigrant rights, criminal justice reform and worker’s rights. Prior to relocating to Philadelphia, Katie worked at the Open Society Foundations, where she supported national grantmaking related to criminal justice reform, and the role of arts and culture in advancing social change. Katie graduated from Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA and received her Master of Social Work degree from Hunter College in New York City.
Contact: email@example.com; 215-772-5019
Erin Fennell, M.A.
Erin Fennell joined YSRP in August of 2016. Prior to YSRP, Erin served as the Mitigation Supervisor of the Homicide Unit at the Defender Association of Philadelphia, where she worked as a Mitigation Specialist for the past 18 years handling a caseload of both capital and non-capital homicide clients. Erin has a Masters Degree in both Clinical Psychology and Group Psychotherapy and an undergraduate degree in Psychology and Criminal Justice. She also has received extensive training in working with clients’ families as well as having been trained in Defense-Based Victim Outreach (DIVO), working with families of homicide victims. Prior to working at the Defender Association, Erin ran an adolescent unit within a dual diagnosis treatment facility, was an inpatient/ outpatient therapist for court-stipulated clients and was an Assistant Director of a detoxification unit. In addition, Erin worked as a Clinical Specialist on the medical and female units of the Montgomery County prison.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 215-772-5020
Annie Ruhnke is a mitigation specialist with specialized training in trauma and mental health issues. After obtaining her Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice at The George Washington University, Ms. Ruhnke joined the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Delaware, where she conducted life history investigations across the country. Ms. Ruhnke has worked on post conviction death penalty cases at both the state and federal level and has presented at national trainings on topics surrounding mitigation investigations in capital cases. In addition to developing social histories, Ms. Ruhnke is especially interested in restorative justice and redemption.
Contact: email@example.com; 215-772-5018
Natasha Felder, J.D., M.S.
Stoneleigh Emerging Leader Fellow
Natasha has held numerous positions within Philadelphia’s Juvenile Justice System, including serving as a Philadelphia Juvenile Probation Officer, a Residential Detention and Treatment Counselor, a Client Relations Liaison, and as a Reintegration Worker. In May, Natasha completed her law degree at Villanova University’s Charles Widger School of Law. During her legal studies, Natasha worked with the Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation; interned at the United States Attorney’s Office; and served in certified legal intern positions in the Villanova Civil Justice Clinic, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and the Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office-Juvenile Division. Natasha was a summer 2014 Walter E. Lucas Public Interest Fellow, served as the 2015-2016 President of the Villanova Black Law Students Association, and worked throughout law school as a residential treatment counselor at The Village Residential Treatment Program for girls. Natasha also holds a Master of Science in Criminology from Saint Joseph’s University.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 215-772-5021
Ilana Polak is a second year Master of Social Work student at the University of Pennsylvania and an intern at YSRP, where she is working on a variety of projects to enhance her macro education and practice. Last year, Ilana worked in two North Philadelphia high schools with expectant and parenting teens as an intern at Congreso de Latinos Unidos. Before starting at the University of Pennsylvania, Ilana was a Program Coordinator, working with middle and high school students on career exploration. She graduated from Ithaca College with a major in sociology and minor in counseling. During her time there, she interned at the Department of Social Services and a mental and behavioral health center for youth. Ilana has a passion for working with vulnerable youth and plans to contribute to related advocacy efforts and policy reform throughout her career.
Justice Lab at Temple Law
YSRP is grateful to be an inaugural client of Temple Law School’s new clinic, Justice Lab (read more here). Justice Lab represents client organizations (including community groups, nonprofit organizations, and governmental agencies) in a range of systemic advocacy matters. Justice Lab is working with YSRP to develop strategies and solutions to end the burdensome imposition of particular costs on parents of children in the juvenile justice system. YSRP is excited to be working with Justice Lab’s fantastic student team and faculty. Thanks to the Justice Lab’s great work, we hope to be able to announce concrete changes to the practice very soon.
JLWOP Work: Additional Capacity Through Students & Volunteers
In response to the Miller and Montgomery decisions, the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP) and the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation (ACCR) have partnered to coordinate mitigation services for private, pro bono and court appointed counsel representing individuals sentenced to life in prison without parole as juveniles (“JLWOP”) on resentencing. In each case that we take on, YSRP provides its intensive service delivery model, including comprehensive mitigation and reentry planning, to juvenile lifer clients and their families. To do so effectively, we have recruited, trained and are supervising a cohort of volunteers, including graduate-level law and social work students, retired professionals and others. Each case is staffed by a team of 2-5 student and/or other volunteers, who work under the supervision of experienced mitigation specialists at either YSRP or ACCR (see below for more details on the supervisors). Before being assigned to a case, each volunteer must complete at least one full day of training, and volunteers are expected to attend supplementary trainings throughout their time working with YSRP. Additionally, volunteer teams meet weekly and receive feedback at least weekly (if not daily) from their supervisors. Supervisors also accompany volunteers on all of their initial client and family meetings, and provide instruction and support throughout the mitigation process.