Pasted below you will find various letters between community members. Letters will be designated in bold and separated by number signs (###)
Letter from UW Law Activist Student to UW’s Board of Regents, and others:
January 21, 2014
Regarding the proposed UW Law Prosecution Clinic
Dear President Young, Provost Cauce, and Board of Regents:
I’m a 3L and a Gates Scholar at UW Law. I am honored to be here on scholarship, and yet, it is with shame in my institution that I write to you this evening.
We students have done all we can with the law school administration. After years of micro- and macroagressions, students (mostly students of color) pushed the administration at the law school for changes that would make this place safe for people of color. But, instead of responding to student-led pleas and demands for a Critical Race Theorist and a Diversity Plan, the law school unilaterally chose to team up with the King County Prosecutor’s Office (KCPO) for a Prosecution Clinic. Student opposition has been strong; we have had multiple newspaper articles (in The Daily, The Stranger and Real Change); we have a blog (https://uwlawracialjustice.wordpress.com/) dedicated to the topic, and now we are planning for a demonstration against the school’s proposed clinic that will attract more publicity.
Why are we so upset? Because for years students of color have been intentionally and unintentionally made unwelcome. Some years ago a white professor put on a “bling” necklace and imitated a rap performance at school, totally unaware of the hurtful stereotypes he was parroting. In my first year of law school, a student referred to the “colored” people from the case, and the professor did nothing to correct the student’s language. I’m told by a 1L that there are two black people in his year’s class. Whether that is accurate or not, the school needs to be more diverse, but first it needs to change its oppressive culture, and that requires cancelling its plans for a prosecution clinic.
Such acts of bullying happen everyday at UW Law, and now the school is joining with the King County Prosecutor’s Office (KCPO), despite its active, well-documented, and recent history of aggression toward communities of color. In 2011 the Washington State Supreme Court condemned a KCPO senior attorney who told a jury to ignore black witnesses’ testimony because, he said, blacks don’t snitch to the “poe-leece.” KCPO didn’t fire the man, despite demands from the NAACP that he be fired. Rather, they let him use up all his vacation, into 2012. Then just last summer they lost a case on appeal for having rejected a juror because they were black. Now the KCPO is battling to make juvenile records harder to seal, a move that will hurt 100,000 people retroactively, and 20,000 a year, and those hurt are mostly young people of color. This will mean making it harder for them to get housing, jobs and an education. How shameful that our law school would team up with an institution that is working on a case that would make it harder for people of color to get into school.
The administration at UW Law just does not get it.
They say, “It’s great that we’re finally having this conversations about race.” The thing is, students and some of the very few faculty of color have had such conversations for years. It is a very privileged thing to say, “How great that we’re talking about this!” Because the conversations don’t make them hurt. The conversations don’t carry the experiences, like broken glass in their stomachs, that students of color deal with everyday. This most recent, egregious decision of the prosecution clinic has simply made the conversations finally burst through to reach their ears. Want more evidence? If you’d like to see about a half dozen letters from students of color that left UW Law because of the oppressive atmosphere, I will share those with you.
Why am I writing you? My ask for you is clear.
I’m writing to ask you to apply pressure and help cancel this clinic. Students pushed for years for clinics that were sensitive to the needs of our community, but the administration instead chose to work with the KCPO, which has shown great hostility towards our communities.
Our most recent blog post shows that certain attorneys at KCPO oppose the clinic’s focus on racial disparities in the criminal punishment system. We’ve obtained a document through other means that shows that the two KCPO applicants for the prosecution clinic teaching job were, alternatively, openly hostile to the question of racial disparities and referred to students as “kids,” while the other, when asked, could not identify any actions that would demonstrate a commitment to addressing problems of racial disparity. Dean Testy had pledged to only do this clinic if it could be done right*, and yet UW Law went ahead and chose one of these two applicants. Our qualm though is not with the individuals, but with the culture of the prosecutor’s office here in King County.
We are reaching out to radio, television and other media now for more coverage, and will continue to file public disclosure requests with the prosecutor and UW Law and report on what we learn.
Dean Testy is a great person; in fact, I had similar scholarship offers from three schools and it was a handwritten letter from her that helped me not only choose UW Law but also come out as a queer person to my parents. I respect her and I have faith in her abilities. But the administration and faculty have made the wrong decision about this clinic and they need to hear from you; they need to own this mistake and stop the clinic, but they won’t do that without pressure.
I am concerned about this school and its reputation, because other students and I will continue to hold it publicly accountable, and because honestly, the story we are telling is not pretty. It is not a good story for the school, but we will tell this story because the school is hurting us and our communities, and because this story is true. I am also concerned about my career and reputation because through this advocacy I am burning bridges. No student should be placed in our position, but the school set us up for this; its culture is literally one of “just put it on the consent agenda,”** and thus we have no choice. Personally, my activism around these issues has made life at the school harder. I feel that some at school hope to marginalize mine and other student voices by claiming that we are hostile to prosecution, when what we are actually hostile to is oppression.
We will continue to offer a vision with solutions for how to make our institution better, until finally the recalcitrant administration moves into honesty by keeping its promises. Every chance we get we will be on TV, in the papers, online and on the radio talking about the institutional apathy that hurts us everyday.
It doesn’t have to be like this though. Cancel the clinic and we will return joyously to our studies.
I am eager to meet with anyone about this, perhaps in these first few weeks of school. Please call me or write any time. I don’t want my last 5 months at UW Law to be months of struggle and conflict, and I don’t want to burn bridges in this legal community. However, the administration’s “stay the course” attitude has quieted us for too long and we are now forced so speak up.
We have to stop the Prosecution Clinic.
* The dean had promised that the person hired from the KCPO to run the clinic would have experience related to racial disparities; she wrote: “The supervising attorney from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office must be someone who has a demonstrated commitment to addressing problems of racial disparity, an understanding of the factors leading to mass incarceration, a familiarity with the causes of wrongful conviction, and a willingness to explore the role of prosecutorial discretion plays in these problems.”
** The prosecution clinic evaded procedural due process in its 2-month gestation; meanwhile, student calls for a tenured Critical Race Theorist and a diversity plan continue.
Letter from IMAP Board
January 21, 2014
Dean Kellye Testy
University of Washington School of Law
William H. Gates Hall
Seattle, WA 98195-3020
Dear Dean Testy:
We write this letter on behalf of the Incarcerated Mother’s Advocacy Project (IMAP) to share concerns about the recently announced Prosecution Clinic at University of Washington School ofLaw.
IMAP is a coalition of law students, social service providers, activists, and formerly incarcerated women who seek to change the rights afforded incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in the State of Washington. IMAP provides legal information and referrals to currently and formerly incarcerated mothers to help prevent the separation of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated mothers from their children.
As members of IMAP, we are concerned about the presence of a Prosecution Clinic at the University of Washington School of Law because it would inevitably support a racialized criminal justice system that disproportionately affects communities of color and causes immense harm to families of incarcerated women. The criminal justice system in America results in exorbitant rates of imprisonment: the US currently has about 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners. Nearly half of these people are imprisoned for nonviolent offenses. As
Michele Alexander, the recent keynote speaker for the King County Bar Association’s Annual MLK Luncheon, noted in her book, The New Jim Crow, mass incarceration disproportionately affects poor people of color in a way that has led to the creation of a new racial caste system in this country. While only one in every 106 white males is incarcerated, one in every thirty-six
Hispanic males and one in every fifteen black males are imprisoned. In Seattle, a researcher at the University of Washington noted that arrests for drug offenses are racially disproportionate, with the black drug arrest rate thirteen times higher than the white drug arrest rate in 2006. Cases arriving at the Prosecution Clinic would often arrive through the Seattle Police Department, which was recently under investigation by the Department of Justice for its documented use of discriminatory policing practices and use of excessive force.
Furthermore, IMAP is particularly concerned about the results of these high rates of incarceration on women and families. More than eight times as many women are incarcerated in the US today than in 1980, mostly as a result of increased enforcement of and sentencing under drug laws. Women of color are arrested and imprisoned for drug use at much higher rates than white women, though they use drugs at approximately the same rate. Incarceration of African American women has increased 800% since 1986, compared to 400% for women of all races. Most incarcerated women were first victims themselves, often of brutal physical and sexual abuse begun during childhood. When these women self-medicate with illegal substances they end up in our criminal justice system and are subsequently incarcerated. Most women in prison are non-violent, first time offenders who find a dearth of programs that respond to women’s needs or facilitate their continued ability to parent their children. Most incarcerated women have minor children and were the primary caretakers of those children prior to incarceration. The effect of the criminal justice system on these women therefore also affects their children.
As volunteers who work with incarcerated people on a regular basis, we see the impact of these statistics first-hand. Many of the women we work with are survivors of poverty and domestic violence. Some of them struggle with substance abuse and mental health challenges that have led them to prison rather than treatment. While serving their sentences, the women we work with lose contact and involvement with their children and their communities, altering those fundamental relationships forever. By the time they are released, some mothers have completely lost the right to parent their children and they re-enter society without hope, opportunity, or adequate support.
IMAP students meet with incarcerated women and provide them with legal information that they can use as they try to rebuild their lives outside of a prison institution. We share information about legal and non-legal community resources, and we listen to women who are unaccustomed to being heard. We have witnessed stories of renewal and empowerment, but we have also witnessed stories of heartbreaking tragedy. Through our work, we see the unproductive consequences of an unequal education system, an under-resourced community health system, a discriminatory criminal justice system, and an overwhelmed foster care system. We also see that those most affected are poor families and families of color.
This viewpoint informs our concerns about the new Prosecution Clinic. Prosecutors, as representatives of the state, hold positions of power in the criminal justice system. While prosecutors can use discretion to prevent or remedy injustice, this discretion is not the daily practice nor sufficiently adequate to change the racialized effects of the criminal justice system. The primary purpose of prosecutors is to enforce the system of criminalization that in the US results in the disproportionate incarceration of men and women of color and negatively impacts women and their children. Even if our classmates have an opportunity to learn about the disproportionality and collateral consequences created by our current law enforcement practices, as students they will have no authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion. Instead, their efforts—and precious educational resources—will be used to further criminal justice outcomes over which the school has no control. This intertwining of the UW School of Law and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is unnecessary and problematic.
Yourself and other members of the law school’s faculty have assured us that the clinic’s curriculum will focus on prosecutorial ethics and address racial disparities of the criminal justice system. This assurance, however, does not alleviate our concerns about the inability of students to act outside the mandate of the King County Prosecutor’s Office. Furthermore, we question the university’s current capacity to address these issues in a manner that would sufficiently counterbalance the contribution of educational resources to the state’s work of prosecution. In the past, numerous members of our organization have attempted to aid UW Law in incorporating issues of institutional racism, privilege, sexism, homophobia, classism, and various other issues of social justice into the law school’s core curriculum. Because of the lack of results from these efforts, we are concerned with the school’s capacity to train or offer curriculum around these issues. Though we have offered broad and specific resources to the administration and the faculty, we have been unable to impact curriculum, even in the area of criminal law.
Additionally, we have understood that the Prosecution Clinic could be staffed by a Senior Deputy Prosecutor from King County, who also will not be an expert in this field. We understand there is an issue of academic freedom, and as a result, the administration cannot guarantee the curriculum for the Prosecution Clinic. Without a proven track record of UW Law’s ability to successfully educate students on these issues, we feel we cannot be certain that racial disparity and related topics would be addressed in a way that would counterbalance the school’s contribution to state prosecution.
Time, efforts, and resources can be better spent in developing UW Law’s core curriculum to be a model of thoughtful teaching in the criminal justice system, offering instruction on ethics and the institutionalized oppression created by our current criminal justice system. These topics can and should be included in the criminal justice externship seminar as well. This approach, rather than a clinic that allows eight individual students to contribute to the state’s duty to prosecute, would reach more students and ultimately contribute more to creating socially conscious prosecutors and members of the bar. Unfortunately, despite the best intentions and efforts of faculty members and the work of students, we have not been able to achieve this laudable goal. Until we can achieve this in our core classes, we are highly concerned about UW Law’s capacity to oversee this effort in a new clinic.
The Law School’s purpose is to educate law students. Many of our friends and classmates are pursuing careers as prosecutors; we believe it is important they have opportunities to gain the training that will give them a high level of skill and consciousness in their future work.
However, these students have adequate opportunity to gain these skills outside of the clinic setting and UW Law’s contribution the King County’s Prosecutor’s Office by providing salary and administrative support is inappropriate. Students who wish to become prosecutors can pursue their career path by enrolling in criminal law classes, trial advocacy, and other relevant skills based courses. Paid summer positions are available for Rule 9 externs in King County.
Students can also seek internships with prosecutors’ offices in nearby Pierce and Snohomish County. We have a number of excellent professors who have worked as prosecutors and now share their professional skills with students. In contrast, the purpose of the Prosecutor’s Office is to prosecute people. Unlike public criminal defense and higher education, prosecution is adequately funded, and our law school serves no unmet community need by transferring our limited resources to that purpose. To the extent that the Prosecutor’s Office and the Law School share an interest in developing new talent, externships and paid summer jobs are already available. These existing avenues provide students with hands-on opportunities in the field of their choice, while maintaining separate systems of accountability between the UW and the Prosecutor’s Office.
IMAP fully supports additions to the criminal law curriculum that will train students in the areas of ethics and social impact. However, we oppose the interweaving of our school’s academic function with state efforts to punish people suspected of committing crime. Such an overlap will further alienate vulnerable communities within the state who are already angered by discriminatory police practices and suspicious about the fairness of King County’s law enforcement process. Confusing these distinct functions of prosecution and education by assuming such a direct role in the King County Prosecutor’s Office has the potential to create serious and divisive conflicts between the clinic and UW law students and between UW Law School and our wider community of citizens and alumni in Washington State. As UW law students who care about all of these relationships, we do not want to see justice undermined by an idea that risks so much trust for so little benefit.
Thank you for listening to our concerns. We trust that yourself and the faculty of UW Law cares about the concerns of its students, community, and alumni and that you will respond appropriately. Please feel free to contact us for future conversation about these issues.
Incarcerated Mother’s Advocacy Project Board of Directors
[signed by student organizers]
 Combating Mass Incarceration – The Facts, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION (June 17, 2011),
 Alexes Harris & Katherine Beckett, Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice,
 Investigation of the Seattle Police Department, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE,
http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/spl/seattlepd.php (last accessed April 16, 2013).
 Words from Prison: Drug Policy, Race and Women’s Incarceration, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION (JUNE 12, 2006), http://www.aclu.org/womens-rights/words-prison-drug-policy-race-and-womens-incarceration.
 NATIONAL WOMEN’S LAW CENTER, MOTHER’S BEHIND BARS 8 (Oct. 2010), available at
Student letter responding to a letter from the dean
Hello Dean Testy,
Thank you very much for your answers. It was also nice to hear your remarks in yesterday’s diversity committee meeting about your commitment to openly addressing concerns with the criminal prosecution clinic.
A few questions remain. We’re still curious to know whether the Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System (Task Force) was consulted in the establishment of this clinic and whether the Task Force will have a role in the clinic. Also, will data related to the sentences sought and outcomes reached in the clinic, including tracking of race and socio-economic status of defendants prosecuted by the clinic, be provided to the public? Or will the clinic instead focus on diversion and other alternative sentencing methods to mitigate its disproportional or disparate impact on vulnerable communities?
I agree that there are many decisions that we make every day that have an indeterminate effect on society. However there are some decisions that have a clear effect on society. A few decisions have such a troubling impact on society that the community scrutinizes those decisions’ results through academic study. In rare instances the community attempts to solve the decisions’ negative consequences through the establishment of task forces.
UW has taken steps to acknowledging and remedying the problem of disproportionality in the criminal justice system through its participation in the Task Force, by conducting studies examining disproportionality and by inviting speakers such as Michelle Alexander to address the “New Jim Crow.”
So while it is wonderful that UW acknowledges the problem of disproportionality in the criminal justice system through the above gestures, it’s disappointing that UW Law chose to ignore it in the manner that it has used to introduce the criminal prosecution clinic. Given that we know that prosecution of misdemeanors in King County has a disparate effect on vulnerable and minority communities in King County, we know that this clinic will hurt those communities unless it is very carefully crafted.
There are serious reasons to question whether UW Law has the capacity to develop such a carefully tailored clinic. UW Law’s current clinics do not have instruction on race and the law. UW Law’s clinics rely heavily on lecturers to develop curriculum and there is no mechanism to ensure the instructors in a clinic will have the requisite skills to address this complex topic.
Outside of the clinical setting, UW Law struggles with race and the law at the faculty and curricular level. Besides Professors Mary Fan, Kim Ambrose and Sara Ainsworth, UW Law has a reputation for lacking professors with the expertise to address racial disparities in criminal law or family law. UW Law’s only dedicated race and the law class is taught by a nonexpert in the area. Furthermore, UW Law’s faculty is comprised of very few people from communities that are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system. For example, UW Law does not have a single tenure-track Latino faculty member. (Since the population of Washington is over 10% Latino, UW Law should have at least 5 Latino tenure-track professors if it aims to reflect the diversity of the local community, more if the university aims to reflect the nation’s diversity.)
Given these institutional challenges, UW Law seems ill equipped to take on issues of race and justice in this clinic. I want to be clear that I believe that educated people of all races can adequately address these problems with hard work and dedicated study. So I do not believe that it’s impossible that a clinic with predominately majority instruction for predominately majority students can’t achieve justice for all communities. Regardless of the demographics, the clinic will need to take intentional steps to make sure its substance reflects true principles of justice for everyone. However, given UW Law’s dearth of instructors in this particular area of study, it seems like it will take several years of capacity building before this clinic could achieve its goals.
Just as it is brave for leaders in various sectors of the criminal justice system to come together to form the Task Force, it would be brave for UW Law to convene a dedicated review board to continue a dialogue on this clinic and its impact. Though this step may be extraordinary because UW Law generally abhors supervision of course content to provide freedom to professors, I’m sure that the vast majority of faculty would support a review mechanism in this case because of the sensitive nature of the clinic and because of the controversy that led to its rejection by SU.
Organized review of the clinic could provide a model for best practices for other clinics as well. As this is a pilot program, the need for review and accountability could be reassessed after the first year is completed.
I also hope that each of UW Law’s minority student organizations have a seat at a review board’s table. Though UW Law does not have many students from communities that are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system, those few students are interested in keeping abreast of the clinic and its activities to be effective ambassadors of UW Law and its values.
From a select group of current Gates PSL Scholars (not everyone is in agreement amongst these Scholars)
April 16, 2013
To: The University of Washington School of Law Clinical Law Program
Re: Discussion Regarding the Prosecution Clinic
As the current William H. Gates Public Interest Law Scholarship cohort, we submit this letter to the administration requesting the suspension of the Prosecution Clinic scheduled for the spring quarter 2014.
The clinical program at the University of Washington (UW) School of Law allows students to apply their knowledge of the law to difficult legal and social questions—a practical experience that is not easily taught in a classroom. Most of our legal clinics, up to now, have also exposed students to underserved populations, encouraged pro bono work, and responded to pressing community needs. Prosecution of criminal laws on behalf of the State of Washington does not fit within the framework of what the UW Law clinical program can and should be. For a variety of reasons, students have felt like an important decision that has a bearing on their education as well as the reputation of their chosen law school was improperly made. Although not everyone shares the same objection, we feel the school should address the plurality of issues that students have raised. In this letter, we will address the lack of student input regarding the creation of the clinic, student objections concerning the use of school resources to fund a program that already has sufficient funding for an externship program, conflicts of interest that may exists with other clinical programs, disparities in funding for public defenders compared to prosecutors, and serious social justice concerns. Considering all of the above, the school should suspend implementation of the clinic until these concerns are addressed.
- NO STUDENT INPUT WAS SOUGHT FOR THE CREATION OF THE CLINIC
Students became aware of the prosecution clinic in a very indirect and impersonal way, via a poster board and flyer at the spring clinic fair. Very little information was provided as to what prompted the clinical program to approve such a clinic, where the funding for such an endeavor is coming from, and whether viable alternative ideas were contemplated. Some information and dialogue have taken place since then, but not nearly enough to assuage our concerns. While the student body need not be consulted for every programmatic decision made by the administration, transparency and input on decisions involving hiring new professors, admitting new students, bringing in speakers, and other educational concerns (such as diversity of the student body and allocation of office space for student journals and organizations) has traditionally benefitted from student involvement. To our knowledge, no students were approached for input, and as of yet, there has been no forum for students to voice their support or concerns for this project.
- STUDENTS OBJECT TO USING SCHOOL RESOURCES TO FUND A NARROW PROFESSIONAL INTEREST THAT ARE CURRENTLY BEING MET THROUGH THE EXTERNSHIP PROGRAM
There is little doubt that students who are interested in prosecution would benefit from the existence of a prosecution clinic. However, that could be said for any programming that earns students’ credits for building experience in an intended area of practice. This alone should not be considered a sufficient justification. Furthermore, the school has not stated or proven that there has been requisite demand from students. Even if students have requested that litigation and trial work be emphasized in new clinical offerings, a prosecution clinic, by the very nature of the work, is likely to limit the number of students that will be able to take advantage of this new opportunity. While those interested in criminal defense work may choose to participate in the clinic, it is unclear how many defense-minded students would actually enroll and whether the curriculum would actually be of any benefit for that practice. Finally, given the school’s proximity to three separate county agencies as well as a U.S. attorney’s office, there seems to be no shortage of externship and paid opportunities to gain prosecution experience. Some students even have the benefit of being paid for their prosecutorial work. Though the administration has propositioned that the clinic will not affect these positions, some students are still concerned that the prosecution office will cease devoting resources to existing student opportunities.
- CONFLICTS OF INTEREST MAY EXIST WITH OTHER CLINICAL PROGRAMS AND CLIENTS
Even considering that the clinic will be housed outside the walls of Gates Hall, the school has not adequately addressed that possibility of actual conflicts of interest as well as perceived conflicts of interest. The school has not put forth adequate screening mechanisms to ensure that a person that is being prosecuted by a UW student is not conflicted from receiving some of the other services offered by other clinical programs. For example, could someone prosecuted by a UW student then benefit from the services of the wage claim clinic? Could students who participate in the prosecution clinic also take part in other clinical offerings where they run the risk of gaining access to privileged information that could be used in a prosecution? These are serious ethical questions that need to be resolved before the implementation of the Prosecution Clinic is even considered let alone advanced.
Furthermore, the mere existence of a prosecution clinic may undermine the trust that the clients of other clinics have in the legal services provided by the school, not to mention the relationships that students have with the greater Seattle community. For example, clients from the Immigrant Families Advocacy Project, the Tribal Defense Clinic, the Wage Claim Project, among others may not be able to appreciate the nuances that permit students to engage in the provision of these seemingly contradictory services. We ask that the administration fully consider these possibilities before endorsing the Prosecution Clinic as valid.
- GIVEN THE CURRENT STATE OF PUBLIC DEFENSE IN KING COUNTY, THE PROSECUTION CLINIC WILL ADD TO THE DISPARITY IN RESOURCES BETWEEN DEFENDERS AND PROSECUTORS
There is serious concern that this clinic does not recognize the disparity that exists between resources for public defenders and prosecutors. For the fiscal year from April 2012 to 2013, only three public defenders have been hired in King County. The addition of free labor in the form of law students for the King County Prosecutor’s Office is a significant imbalance in the criminal justice system that the UW Law School should not promote. Furthermore, there is an excess of need and a dearth of resources in many other areas of law including, inter alia, family law, public defense, and refugee issues that could greatly benefit from increased resources as compared to clinic devoted to prosecution.
- THERE ARE SERIOUS SOCIAL JUSTICE CONCERNS ABOUT THE SCHOOL SUBSIDIZING MISDEMEANOR PROSECUTION
Many studies, including some by UW scholars, have found serious systemic flaws in the administration of the criminal justice system on all levels. Given that there is no curriculum for the proposed prosecution clinic, many students are concerned that UW will be actively contribute to these sorts of inequities, particularly regarding race and socio-economic standing. Though the administration’s sensitivity to these concerns and insistence that the clinic will address these issues is much appreciated and highly encouraging, teaching prosecutors to be ethical and to exercise sound discretion is not enough. There must be a critical race theory aspect to the clinic as well as an exposure to the realities that face communities where prosecution is disproportionately exercised.
Teaching students to be “ethical” should not be the ground floor of what a law school or prosecution clinic does since legal ethics pertain to malpractice and attorney misconduct. Social awareness and an understanding of the racism ingrained in all levels of the criminal justice system are not actually required for lawyers or prosecutors to be legally ethical. Accordingly, for the school to fulfill its mission of creating “leaders for the global common good,” the prosecution clinic must go beyond mere ethics and discuss the morality of the work. Undoubtedly, society that demands criminal prosecution be a part of the system, but questions regarding how prosecution should be conducted is not solely a question of legal ethics and should not be treated as such.
By the same token, prosecutorial discretion also does not necessarily address the important social justice issues implicated by the work. As we understand it, prosecutorial discretion (the decision to charge and if so with what crime) is an issue primarily of evidence. Though a prosecutor can consider social factors, the decision to charge or not to charge does not often take into account what a criminal sentence will do to the community or family of the accused. In setting up the clinic, the school must be acutely aware and very clear as to what it means by prosecutorial discretion and how it will be taught in order to actually take issues of racial disparity into consideration.
Finally, it is exactly in the prosecution of misdemeanors that many experts have found to have the greatest impact racial disparities. Some students are seriously concerned that the prosecution clinic, despite its stated objectives, will realistically be anathematic to the pursuit of social justice. It is important to note that we do feel that there is a way to create a prosecution clinic that promotes these values. However, the school should find a much more deliberative process to reach and ensure such a result. This would include taking into account the many suggestions of the students, prosecutors, defense attorneys, as well as the community at large. We feel that this has not happened, and as such, we respectfully request the suspension of the Prosecution Clinic until such an exercise has occurred.
Please kindly consider our concerns regarding the establishment of this clinic. We submit this letter with all due respect to the authorities involved in this decision. Thank you for your time.
[signed by certain Gates PSL Scholars]
Open Letter from UW Law School Alumni
April 17, 2013
Dear Dean Testy and the UWLS Community,
We are writing to express our concern that the University of Washington School of Law has chosen to establish a criminal prosecution clinic. This decision puts UWLS firmly on the wrong side of history, in opposition to the civil rights struggle of our time–the growing movement against mass incarceration and criminalization.
Many of us pushed for racial justice on campus as law students of color and their allies and advocated for a curriculum and clinical program that recognized the experiences of people of color and the interrelationship between racism and the law. It is thus especially troubling to us that the UWLS administration is presenting the criminal prosecution clinic as furthering its commitment to racial diversity in legal education, when in actuality this clinic frustrates these goals and makes the law school complicit in the major source of racial injustice within the U.S.
The U.S. imprisons more people than any other nation in the world, and mass incarceration functions to maintain racial hierarchy and dehumanize poor people and people of color. As Professor Michelle Alexander identified in her speech at UWLS in 2010, “mass incarceration truly is a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised form of racial control analogous to Jim Crow.” As you all know, the Department of Justice has raised serious concerns regarding whether the Seattle Police Department, whose investigations will no doubt be prosecuted by clinic students, has policies and practices that result in discriminatory policing.
The criminal prosecution clinic will also be established the same year as the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court decision establishing an indigent person’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Many have lamented that Gideon’s promise still remains woefully unfulfilled because of inadequate funding of public defender systems, the War on Drugs that has torn apart communities of color, and criminalization of the poor that has produced a prison system that is a major site of humanitarian concern.
Undoubtedly, many prosecutors and clinic students have good intentions and believe that their participation in the criminal punishment system will be the exception. But the instances in which prosecutors are able to show leniency can have only a limited impact in a system that, on the whole, lacks accountability and perpetuates racial inequality through the criminalization of people of color and the poor. Criminal prosecution cannot be made just through individual action alone, or through the mere recognition that its effect is discriminatory, nor can our end goal be a system of mass incarceration that is slightly more proportional or less obviously racist. Instead, resources must be directed away from criminalization and toward genuinely recognizing human dignity, meeting human needs, and striving for transformative justice.
UWLS should not provide institutional support to criminal prosecution and should have no role in the public campaign to present the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office as sensitive to the racial injustice in which it participates, be it willingly or unwillingly. Doing so diminishes the suffering of immigrants detained and deported because of law enforcement collaboration with ICE, homeless folks subject to repeated criminal prosecution because they must live, eat, and sleep in public, queer/trans people and youth of color routinely targeted by police, and the many people with criminal convictions who will struggle to find housing and employment for their entire lives. We know that UWLS has limited resources for clinical education — while many of us were students, the immigration clinic was suspended and students had to fundraise on their own for it to survive. If UWLS is committed to social justice and racial diversity in legal education, then it should fund clinics that are aligned with these goals. At the very least, clinics should not contribute directly to racial inequality and undermine the work of student projects and clinics like SYLAW, IMAP, IFAP, and Innocence Project NW that require the trust of the communities most harmed by policing and prosecution.
Through conscious prioritization of clinical programming that helps our legal system move beyond mass incarceration, we believe that there is great potential for UWLS to join in what Professor Alexander refers to as “the healing work and the movement-building work that is necessary to end the history of racial caste in America and build a society that genuinely recognizes and honors the human rights of all.”
We urge UWLS to reconsider its decision to establish a criminal prosecution clinic.
[signed by UW Law alum]