Beyond Punishment: Bluhm Legal Clinic Continues its Lawyering and Race in the 21st Century Series

03.25.2022

Social Justice Bluhm Legal Clinic Faculty
From left: Prof. Thalia Gonzalez (JD ’04) (on screen), Broderick Hollins, Prof. Robin Heggum, Prof. Annalise Buth

In March, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law Bluhm Legal Clinic continued its Lawyering and Race in the 21st Century series with “Beyond Punishment: Restorative Justice and Health Equity.” Hosted online and in-person, the 90-minute conversation addressed public health, the need for restorative justice, and how income inequity contributes to the health crisis.

The speakers included Broderick Hollins, a student in the Northwestern Prison Education Program; Robin Heggum, professor in the Health Science department at Northeastern Illinois University; Thalia Gonzalez (JD ’04), professor at Occidental College; and Joseph Mapp, a restorative justice practitioner. Introduced by Annalise Buth, clinical assistant professor of law, and several Northwestern Pritzker Law students, the panel answered questions from the audience and reflected on the theme.

Hollins was incarcerated as a teenager and was behind bars for almost 13 years. After a three-month stint in solitary confinement, he met Jennifer Lackey, Wayne and Elizabeth Jones Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University and the director of the Northwestern Prison Education Program. “When she accepted me into this program, I felt hope again,” Hollins said. “I had a purpose and I wanted to do my best for her.” He noted, however, that more work is still needed to help the formerly incarcerated integrate back into society. “We need each other to make change, because it’s hard out here without,” he said. “We need someone to lean on, and not just your family, we need friends, we need others to visualize what we are going through.”

Heggum spoke about the public health aspects of inequality, and highlighted statistical data showing that the life expectancy of individuals in the United States, specifically, is dependent on their income level and where they live. “We see this disparity in Chicago. Downtown, close to the Loop we see 85 [years of age]. When we go outside to some of the neighborhoods in West Garfield Park, 69 [years of age]. This can be corrected,” she said. “Health shouldn’t be a question of income, it’s a fundamental human right.” Heggum cited factors including chronic disease, homicide, and infant mortality, all of which most affect people in lower income neighborhoods. “We’re talking about equitable care,” she said. “Some people need more support than others to get through.”

Prof. Thalia Gonzalez (JD ’04)

Gonzalez pointed out that many of these issues are structural racism that needs to be dismantled. “We have to talk about public health and health law as unique [issues], but also interrelated [issues],” she said. “That way we examine the way that law and policy do enable, sustain, and exacerbate deep-rooted inequalities.” Health justice is the next step in mapping out moves to eradicate those inequities, Gonzalez said. “Education is a great example of that. Educations laws are health laws.”

Mapp, who was formerly incarcerated, said there are ways to support the practice of restorative justice. “People are returning to the same conditions that they left from. A lack of access to health, a lack of access to employment, a lack of sustainable housing,” he said. “We need to reimagine a different approach.” Mapp highlighted a solution called “Restorative Re-entry,” where programs connect with individuals before they leave incarceration. “We don’t want to wait until 90-days [post-release] to start developing re-entry plans, we want to connect a year or more before they are released to begin developing a success plan for what they need.”

He also reiterated Hollins’s point regarding the importance of education in rehabilitating people into society, highlighting his own educational journey while incarcerated. For people trying to help, Mapp said the most important thing to do is keep an open mind. “Listen to what that individual wants to do with their future, instead of telling them,” he said. “If you come to help me without me, you’re against me.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Bluhm Legal Clinic Center on Negotiation and Mediation, Envisioning Justice, Illinois Humanities, Northwestern Prison Education Program, and Northwestern Society of Medicine and Law.

Watch the full panel here.