Racial Disparity Project
Kristin Kelly is interning at the Racial Disparity Project (RDP), a grant-funded project at the Defender Association aimed at reducing racial bias in criminal justice through community organization, public education, and legal advocacy.
July 1, 2013
I scored an internship with The Racial Disparity Project (RDP). The RDP at The Defender Association began in 1999 as a grant-funded project aimed at reducing racial bias in criminal justice through community organization, public education, and legal advocacy. Since 2001, RDP has focused primarily on racially disproportionate drug enforcement in Seattle and reducing the harm caused by current law enforcement approaches, working in close alliance with grassroots organizations that serve Seattle's communities of color. My position at the RDP is a combination of policy work and assisting with civil and criminal cases where a legal fellow at RDP provides individual representation to LEAD participants.
One of the most exciting projects I have worked on so far was the Jobs Assistance Legislation, which was passed by the Seattle City Council on June 10, 2013. Several organizations were working together to pass legislation that would remove the box on job applications asking employees if they have been convicted of a felony. The legislation also sought to reinforce that it is unlawful to advertise that no convicted felons or criminal convictions could apply for the position posted and to prohibit employers from performing a background check until after initial screening. The proposed legislation also required the position to remain open for 48 hours to allow the applicant to explain the circumstance or show that he/she is not the one convicted of that crime.
I was allowed to participate in meetings with Seattle City Council members to report compromises that had been reached with the business sector and discuss remaining concerns, in getting community members to share their experiences at the City Council meeting and ultimately, and in celebrating the legislation's passing. It was such an amazing experience to see the process that these great organizations go through to advance social justice and public interest.
The Jobs Assistance Legislation was very important to me because I personally know many individuals who have paid their debt to society but are unable to integrate back into society. Intelligent, hard-working, and rehabilitated individuals were immediately rejected without an opportunity to show their skills or explain their circumstances.
Some other projects I have been able to support include the LEAD program (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), an innovative pre-booking diversion program for low-level drug offenses, which was implemented in 2011; the Community Police Commission, an advisory body that provides guidance on numerous issues related to police reform, as part of the implementation of the consent decree between the Department of Justice and the City of Seattle; and right now, I am performing policy research with regard to the constitutionality of city ordinances that criminalize homelessness and prohibit public camping.
This summer, I have been inspired by the good work the RDP is involved in and I feel fortunate to witness and take part in the necessary change that they are working so hard for. This kind of work is truly why I went to law school and I am excited to be a part of these changes one day in the near future.