Many communities, particularly communities of color, have suffered devastating effects from our system of mass incarceration. The communities of South Los Angeles have been particularly hard hit, with the highest concentration of parolees and people with conviction records in the nation. Approximately 35,000 people return home on parole each year to Los Angeles County, with South Los Angeles as their primary destination. These women, men and youth, many of whom were incarcerated for non-violent crimes, return home to face tremendous institutional and societal challenges, including rules, laws and policies that prevent them from gaining access to the necessary resources — employment, housing and government assistance — to successfully reenter society.
To meet this unprecedented need, in 2007, UCLA Law launched the first Reentry Legal Clinic in Southern California with community partner A New Way of Life (ANWOL). The clinic is now the largest in the law school’s student-run El Centro Legal Clinics network. To date, the program has served over 2,800 clients. Each month up to 70 law students participate in a monthly clinic where they 1) provide direct legal services under various clean slate remedies in law (such as petitions for dismissal and expungement of criminal records) to help clients obtain jobs, housing and occupational licenses, and 2) screen and identify possible unenforced legal rights. The program’s success has been remarkable – for example, over 85% of the petitions for dismissal have been granted by the courts. This work has allowed thousands of clients, and in turn their families, to have a better chance to secure employment, housing and healthcare, and to reduce recidivism. In some cases, the clinic’s efforts have allowed clients to regain custody of their children, making families and communities whole.
In 2018, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors honored the Reentry Legal Clinic’s by passing a resolution commending its decade of public service.