Human Rights Lab Justice Intern Update

The Human Rights Lab Justice Internships provide students with funding for full academic year internships with Chicago-based organizations that address the crisis of incarceration and criminalization. Interns are working an average of 10-12 hours per week during the 2020-21 academic year and participating in a series of discussions and workshops organized by the Human Rights Lab. Catch up on the work of the Lab’s inaugural cohort of Justice Interns below:


Julian Gonzalez, AB’22 is interning at the Chicago Torture Justice Center. He’s been attending community learning events as well as Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission meetings, where torture survivors get to see if their torture claims warrant judicial review. He has also been continuing the work he started over the summer, namely collecting data and information on the Fraternal Order of Police, which is one of the nation’s largest police unions. Currently, Julian is creating a timeline graphic of the history of the FOP, which will hopefully lead to a webinar-style event in the coming months. From the work he has done so far, one takeaway for Julian is that justice and progress only happen when those most affected have a seat at the table and are actively included.

Thomas Hagan, AB’21 has been continuing his work with The Final 5 Campaign at the Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC) at Northwestern Law School. The Final 5 Campaign is a coalition of system-impacted people, advocates, and organizers fighting for the closure of the five remaining Illinois youth prisons. As a Justice Intern with the campaign, Tommy has been managing social media accounts and working with system-impacted youth to plan events and content to be released in the new year. He is excited for what’s in store for the campaign in 2021. Follow the campaign’s Twitter for updates.

Christina Howard, AB’22 has been working at Parole Illinois, a coalition of people inside and outside of prison working to bring Illinois a system of earned discretionary re-entry. She has been researching and writing a fact sheet detailing the benefits of earned discretionary re-entry for system-impacted children, families, and communities. She has also been researching the arguments used by legislators to pass harsh sentencing laws starting in the 1970s, for a project that an inside board member has been working on. Through both of these projects, Christina has seen how narrowly the state understands the impact of sentencing policies. 

Brian Johnson, AB’21 is a Justice Intern at the Illinois Prison Project (IPP). IPP is a legal aid organization that provides support in filing clemency petitions for prisoners in Illinois, especially those who are elderly, those who have served 30+ years of a sentence, those who are domestic violence survivors, and those who are incarcerated due to the criminalization of their mental illness. Their work has also recently come to include prisoners who are especially medically vulnerable. COVID-19 is spreading in prisons at an unprecedented rate, and prisons are already institutions unable to care for the needs of those who live there; that lack is only exacerbated during a public health crisis. Brian’s work has taken on a sense of urgency recently, as he and IPP try to brainstorm ways to expedite the process of getting people out of jail in Illinois. In times like these, Brian holds to a belief that working at IPP has taught him: no person should be beyond mercy, no person should be treated as their worst day, and we should always (but especially during a pandemic) be approaching each other with kindness and care.

Fatoumata Magassa, AB’21 is working with the Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison on the Freedom To Learn (FTL) Campaign. FTL supports free, quality, and equitable college-in-prison programs. This quarter, Fatoumata conducted interviews with Higher Education in Prison (HEP) educators, past students, and family members of those currently incarcerated. Their perspectives on the current state of HEP programming as well as what FTL can do to make it better will be included in the official FTL report, to be released in 2021.

Helen Malley, AB’21 is currently working in the Prisoners’ Rights division at Uptown People’s Law Center. At UPLC, she assists with a variety of different initiatives related to the conditions inside state and federal prisons. Her tasks include tracking COVID-19 outbreaks inside Illinois state prisons, managing correspondence from those experiencing incarceration, filing clemency petitions, and assisting with discovery for ongoing legal cases. Working with UPLC has heavily informed her views on the necessity of abolition and alternatives to incarceration, as she learns more about the realities of life inside. 

Madeline Wright, AB’23 is working with the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project (PNAP). Currently, she is creating a virtual art gallery to showcase the work of Renaldo Hudson, an incredibly talented artist recently released from Danville Correctional Center. She is mainly working on outreach—searching for paintings created by Renaldo over the years and asking for photographs—in an effort to develop a completed gallery this upcoming spring. She also assists the University Without Walls program, which grants degrees in a number of fields to incarcerated students, based on experiential self-education and curriculum provided by the program. In doing this work, Madeline has learned a lot about herself—so much so that she is switching her major to focus more of her energy on educating herself about liberation and working in spaces that practice and believe in transformative justice. She truly enjoys the work that she is doing and is incredibly grateful to be a part of this team.