YSRP is excited to share this blog post by two incredible student leaders from our Penn Youth Advocacy Project, Sara Lynch (Penn Law) and Korin Okamura (Penn School of Social Policy & Practice). Quoting the formerly incarcerated leaders who joined a panel discussion hosted by YAP at Penn Law School on January 16, 2018, Sara and Korin explain, “reentry is not just about connecting people in need with critical resources, it is about our collective advancement as a democratic and humane society. It is about breaking down barriers so that people who were formerly incarcerated can fully realize their potential, pursue their interests and talents, and meaningfully contribute to their communities.”
We at YSRP were grateful to attend the panel on reentry and advocacy for an end to detrimental collateral consequences for individuals who have served their prison sentences. On the panel were Roy Waterman of Drive Change; Bill Cobb of the ACLU; Tarra Simmons, Skadden Legal Fellow; and Georgetown Law professor Shon Hopwood.
We are also grateful to Sara and Korin for lifting up an important value and aspect of our approach. They write,
as direct service providers often playing the role of street-level bureaucrats, we must be careful not to compromise our core values or lose sight of our reason for doing the work that we do: the people we serve. ‘We have to unlearn using ‘prisoner,’ ‘offender,’ or even ‘client.’ We have to use the language ‘people,’ [Roy] Waterman emphasized, pointing out that negative, stigmatizing labels leads to dehumanization. It allows society to discard people, treat them cruelly, and it perpetuates mass incarceration. For this reason, the team at the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP) and the affiliated UPenn student group, the Youth Advocacy Project (YAP) use the language “client-partnership” to describe the nature of our work with young people. A partnership more aptly describes the relationship between youth seeking legal advocacy and social work support and the teams that strive to learn from and support them.