Leadership for Justice Fellow will work to protect the rights of disabled inmates

(June 16, 2010) A recent graduate who is committed to working with marginalized communities was awarded the 2010 Leadership for Justice Fellowship from Seattle University School of Law. 

Bette FleishmanBette Fleishman '10 will work at Disability Rights Washington to address the criminalization of individuals with mental illness, developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injuries in county jails across the state of Washington. During her year-long fellowship, she will work to change how county jails and the state Department of Corrections deal with inmates through coalition building, advocacy, training, monitoring and possibly litigation or legislation. 

"Solving the global problem of excessive and inhumane incarceration of people with disabilities cannot be remedied in a single year," Fleishman said. "However, a significant impact can be made on the immediate needs of Washington inmates. A disproportionate number of inmates in jails are disabled, and the jails are not equipped to serve them." 

Her goals are to establish two model correctional facilities, identify alternatives to incarceration; create enhanced standards of care; increase the knowledge and skill of lawyers, jails and correctional administrators; and develop a long-term plan.

Seattle University School of Law is the only law school in the state to offer a post-graduate fellowship. It provides a salary of $40,000 for one year to a graduate to work with a host organization on a specific social justice project. 

Fleishman has a lifelong interest in issues involving disability and incarceration. A licensed behavioral health counselor, she worked for 25 years with nonprofit organizations before attending law school. Her experience includes working on prison-based treatment programs, establishing a residential program for incarcerated women with addictive and co-occurring mental health issues, and directing a rape crisis center.  

"I am committed and passionate about these issues and want to use the privilege of law school to erase the barriers that exist to keep the law out of reach to many individuals," she said. 

Fleishman has been active in the equal justice community while in law school. She is a member of the state Justice Without Barriers subcommittee, served as a Rule 9 extern for the Associated Counsel for the Accused, and volunteered with the Unemployment Law Project and the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. 

"Bette is a wonderful example of the kind of leader the law school supports who came to law school with a firm commitment to use the law to better her community and ensure justice for all," said Monika Batra Kashyap, the Associate Director of the Access to Justice Institute at Seattle University Law School, which oversees the fellowship program.

As further evidence of that, two other 2010 graduates won social justice-related fellowships. 

  • Maria L. Malou Chavez was awarded the NWIRP Immigrant Justice Fellowship to work at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project to create a model of coordinated advocacy to secure lawful immigration status for immigrant survivors of violence in North Central and Eastern Washington State through direct legal representation, community outreach and education. Chavez has been involved in immigrant rights issues for many years. She interned with NWIRP and the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice. She also served as Student Bar Association President the past academic year and worked on the Seattle Journal for Social Justice. 
  • Nick Allen was awarded an Equal Justice Works Fellowship to work at Columbia Legal Services to provide legal representation, community outreach and legislative advocacy for persons convicted of crimes in Washington State who owe Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) in order to promote successful community re-entry. He was also the recipient of the law school's 2010 Dean's Medal, awarded to a student who the dean determines has the greatest potential to achieve the legal profession's most noble aspiration for justice and ethics throughout his career. His law school experience includes an externship with Disability Rights Washington, an internship with Columbia Legal Services and a semester in the Mental Health Court Clinic. 

"It's gratifying to see these new lawyers joining the equal justice movement, especially in this difficult economic climate in which many legal services organizations are struggling," Batra Kashyap said.