Equal Justice Under Law
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About

 

 

Our Mission

Equal Justice Under Law is a Civil Rights Nonprofit dedicated to achieving equality and ending the cycle of poverty across the nation.

Through impact litigation, policy reform, and public outreach, we seek radical reform of systemic inequalities in our justice system. We believe the justice system should improve well-being across society, but repeatedly it creates cycles of poverty, ruins lives, and makes everybody less safe. When counterproductive laws trap millions of people in poverty every year,  communities are made worse off. A justice system premised on equality should promote opportunities for all, including housing, employment, and family relationships. Our mission is to end inequality in the justice system.

Since our founding in 2014, we have developed special expertise on the use of money bail pretrial, wealth-based driver's license suspensions, debtor's prisons,  abusive private probation practices, and other areas of wealth-based inequality in our justice system.  Equal Justice Under Law moves beyond temporary solutions to create lasting improvements in our justice system — to end wealth-based discrimination and create a justice system that is truly equal.

 
 
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Our Founding Principles

 

 
 

honoring economic equality

based on our nation’s founding principles of equality and justice for all

 
 

 
 

Defend justice for people in poverty

on the principles of equal justice that are necessary for our legal system to maintain its legitimacy


Foster the humanity of people

by amplifying the voices of the ignored, underrepresented and disenfranchised 

 
 

 
 

safeguard human rights in the criminal justice system

by advocating for changes to state and federal policy to end injustices that needlessly trap millions in a cycle of poverty

 
 

 
 

COMMITMENT to livelihoods

by building and restoring compassion for every life, family and community across the nation

 
 

 
 
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Our Impact

 
 

Equal Justice Under Law moves beyond temporary solutions to create lasting improvements in our justice systems through policy reform. We are the change agents working alongside local, state and federal government leaders on the frontlines of social justice. We positively impact thousands of lives every year helping to build better, fairer and stronger communities.

 

We Drive Change

Equal Justice Under Law's work has paved the way for wealth-based equality reform within the legal system. We were the first to file statewide lawsuits challenging money bail, drivers' license suspensions, and home banishment. We have shut down debtors prisons in 4 states, closed down a private probation company, and are the first organization to get the federal government to drop mandatory minimum charges.

As the first successful organization to challenge money bail in multiple states, we are leaders on the issue. Our efforts have eliminated money bail in 7 cities across 5 states, including Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Mississippi. If successful, our cases in California could lead to the immediate release of more than 55% of California's prisoners - roughly the proportion of California's prison population that has not yet been convicted of a crime. 

Ending money bail removes the fear of being held in jail simply for being too poor to pay but it also reduces jail costs, saving taxpayers millions of dollars every year and lessening the need for federal expenditures. 

 
 
 
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We helped California Rep. Ted W. Lieu introduce bill H.R. 4611 the "No Money Bail Act" that seeks to eliminate the use of money bail because no one should be held in jail solely because of their inability to pay.

 
It is the position of the United States that, as courts have long recognized, any bail or bond scheme that mandates payment of pre-fixed amounts for different offenses in order to gain pre-trial release, without any regard for indigence, not only violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, but also constitutes bad public policy.
— The Department of Justice

 
 
 

We Deliver Achievable Solutions

Often our justice system takes an already burdensome situation and makes it much worse from proactive policing to excessive fines and fees. These burdens contribute to social exclusion and negative group making, the foundations of poverty. We tackle this challenge by targeting collective disadvantages, allowing thousands to benefit from our efforts by breaking through stigma and putting an end to classist policy.

In one example, on the heels of our Fowler v. Johnson case, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a law to forgive “driver responsibility fees” debt and allow affected motorists to reinstate their license for free. This law could provide relief for hundreds of thousands of residents who owed a combined $637 million in outstanding fees, much of which the state never expected to collect. 

 
 
 

We ask difficult questions, study problems, and allow evidence to shed light on uncomfortable truths.

We get to the root of matters to stop human indignity and suffering.

 
 
 

We Help Strengthen Families and Communities

An unjust criminal justice system can damage individuals and the livelihoods of families for generations, destroying already struggling communities. Reaffirming our dedication to ending the cycle of poverty, we have partnered with multiple organizations across the nation including the Humanity for Prisoners, Legal Aid Justice Center, the ACLU, Pretrial Justice Institute, the National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, CAN DO Foundation, ArchCity Defenders, Philadelphia Defenders, the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, Gillis Long Poverty Law Center, the Coalition on Temporary Shelter and Sugar Law Center for Economic Justice.

 
 
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In Michigan we partnered with COTS - the Coalition on Temporary Shelter, a homelessness outreach program located in Detroit for single parents raising children to offer support to those most in need.

 
 
 
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We partnered with Humanity for Prisoners and the Marshall Project to help Joyce Davis, a mother with parking ticket debt, and cancer, visit her incarcerated son.

 
 
 

We Spread the Word

We believe raising awareness allows communities to heal. As we engage with a diverse community of advocates to drive debate on civil rights issues across the country, our work has received extensive media coverage. We’ve also had the opportunity to speak around the country at South by Southwest (SXSW), Harvard Law School, Davis Vanguard, National Consortium on Racial Fairness, Americans for Safe Access, ACS for Law and Policy, and with The Marshall Project. Our work has been covered in over 400 publications nationwide.

 
 
 
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Equal Justice Under Law will continue to encourage people to work for equality by becoming a voice in local communities for those who have been silenced, talked over and cut out of the conversation.

 

Basic freedoms to be able to speak - to be heard - to be believed - are necessary ingredients for a just and equal society.
 
 
 

A Message From The Director Phil Telfeyan

April 10, 2018

The scales of justice are supposed to be balanced; Lady Justice is famously depicted wearing a blindfold; the words “Equal Justice Under Law” are etched onto the façade of the United States Supreme Court; courthouses all across the country display countless symbols...

Read More

 
 

Meet the Team


 Phil Telfeyan, Executive Director

Phil Telfeyan, Executive Director

 Catherine Sevcenko, Director of Legal Strategy & Partnerships

Catherine Sevcenko, Director of Legal Strategy & Partnerships

 Chrysse Haynes, Director of Communications & Development

Chrysse Haynes, Director of Communications & Development

 Rebecca Ramaswamy, Civil Rights Attorney

Rebecca Ramaswamy, Civil Rights Attorney

 Marissa Hatton, Civil Rights Attorney

Marissa Hatton, Civil Rights Attorney

 Corrine Hornstein, Office Manager

Corrine Hornstein, Office Manager

 
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Community Outreach

 

At Equal Justice Under Law we recognize the importance small commitments play in nourishing a healthy society.  A simple gesture can be the difference that saves a life and nowhere is that felt more than in our own neighborhoods. You can find us volunteering in soup kitchens, at food drives and cancer walks, marching in protest, and paying visits to veterans and hospitals alike. 

 
 
 
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Equal Justice Under Law fosters a culture that celebrates volunteering and empowers staff to be more active in the local community

 
 
 
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We believe by redefining whose voice is amplified, we can redefine our society and its values

 
 
 
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We partner with organizations across the country to address issues at their source, offering support at a local level

 

 
Academic research confirms what morality teaches: helping individuals achieve stable housing and employment makes us all safer.