Public policy and law students will be reaching beyond UC Berkeley and into the surrounding community this fall to conduct research on criminalizing the homeless, juvenile ticketing fees and police accountability.
As part of the UC Berkeley School of Law, the Policy Advocacy Clinic will partner with the community to better understand the relationship between the law and its actual practice through three projects. In each, students will peer through databases, analyze local and national trends, and learn to craft policy recommendations.
The clinic, staffed by 14 students and two faculty members, was originally an appendage of the East Bay Community Law Center that worked with clients on a case-by-case basis. But faculty director Jeffrey Selbin wanted to address larger, systemic issues that trickle down to many of the clinic’s clients by providing students with opportunities to research and advocate for marginalized communities.
In one project, students will continue researching state anti-homeless laws, building on a report published in February that prompted several state legislators and universities to conduct research in the same vein.
In June, Selbin presented the clinic’s report to Berkeley City Hall, where City Council was discussing legislation that would restrict the actions of homeless people on public streets.
“There were far-reaching impacts of what we did in research,” said Lindsey Walter, a Berkeley Law student and co-author of the report. “Our research is something that can be used and is being used in the political sphere.”
Walter said the report helped convince state Senator Carol Liu, D-La Canada Flintridge, to author legislation — the Right to Rest Act — that would protect homeless people from discrimination while using public spaces, whether they were sleeping in cars or standing or sitting on public property.
In another one of the clinic’s projects, a team of six students will research the assessment of fees paid by juveniles on probation.
According to Stephanie Campos-Bui, who teaches at the clinic, juveniles in Alameda County are expected to pay for services such as juvenile hall stays, which are $25 a night; probation supervision, which costs $90 a month; and wearing a GPS ankle bracelet, which costs $15 per day.
Campos-Bui hopes research into these fees will help spark a conversation about how the juvenile justice system may disproportionately affect underrepresented-minority youth and youth of poor socioeconomic backgrounds.
“A lot of people or families with youth involved in the juvenile justice system are more often than not people of color or living in poverty,” Campos-Bui said. “So handing bills over to kids and their parents (make them) stuck with huge a amount of debt.”
The third project, which Campos-Bui said is a reaction to recent police killings nationwide of young underrepresented minorities, will research ways — first locally and then nationwide — to increase police accountability by improving legal mechanisms for police conduct.
“If you change the law, you can change the policy,” Campos-Bui said.