As February and Black History Month come to a close, we want to acknowledge the good work of the Community Justice Project (CJP) of University of St. Thomas’ Law School in partnership with the St. Paul NAACP.  Law students have the opportunity to work with service-learning projects involving civil rights issues right in our own midst.

In 2006, the Community Justice Project,  under the leadership of Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds, and the St. Paul Chapter of the NAACP formed a partnership to work collaboratively on behalf of communities of color to challenge laws and policies that negatively impact these communities. Through collaborative efforts, the Community Justice Project and the St. Paul Chapter of the NAACP have engaged law students, local youth, and other community members in addressing current civil rights issues. They have increased dialogue and improved relations between law enforcement and communities of color. Together the CJP and NAACP have written key reports that have led to systemic changes. Three concrete changes that have resulted because of their collaboration include the following:

  • One report laid the foundation for a partnership with Aurora/St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation to develop Brotherhood Inc., a comprehensive support system for young African-American males who’ve been involved in gangs or the criminal justice system modeled after Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles.
     
  • The partnership also prepared a memo to the St. Paul City Attorney regarding the over-use of the charge of Obstructing Legal Process among African-Americans. As a result, the City Attorney retrained city prosecutors, which doubled the dismissal rate of cases being prosecuted and led to the creation of a restorative justice program.
     
  • Finally, the CJP and NAACP advocated for legislative change regarding Minnesota’s databases on gangs, resulting in major changes in data collection procedures in Ramsey County, including a parental notification provision when children are added to the databases.

Last June, the Community Justice Project of University of St. Thomas’ Law School and the St. Paul NAACP were awarded the prestigious Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Award by Minnesota Campus Compact to honor their outstanding work and to highlight the work of effective campus-community partnerships that address critical public issues. Read more about this award in Bulletin Today, June 21, 2010.

The Community Justice Project is part of Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services, which provides counseling and legal clinics for underserved individuals and communities. It was established not only to meet community needs but also to help graduate law, psychology and social work students understand the importance of working collaboratively across disciplines to provide more effective services. An asylum seeker who’s been tortured might need not only a lawyer to get legal immigration status, but a therapist to address psychological trauma as well as a social worker to help  access other social and medical services. The IPC is managed collaboratively by the UST’s School of Law, the Graduate School of Professional Psychology, and the St. Thomas/St. Catherine School of Social Work

For more information about the Community Justice Project, e-mail Professor Nekima Levy Pounds, director of the project. For more information about service-learning, e-mail Barb Baker, Service-Learning program manager, or Professor Kevin Sauter, faculty director for Service-Learning.