Public Defense

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the 2018 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending their summer. You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Kaitlyn Ham, COL ’20

Before this summer I knew that I wanted to do work that helps combat the injustices within the criminal “justice” system. However, there are two paths that one could take to try to deal with such a massive issue, those being policy work or direct support work. I wanted to spend my summers taking steps down both of these paths so that I could hopefully be provided with some clarity before setting my sights on one or the other after graduation. I decided to use this summer to try my hand at direct support work by working for a public defenders’ office. I was drawn to the Orleans Public Defenders Office in New Orleans, LA because it was a little different than the typical internship location and is in arguably one of the most punitive states in the U.S. and I am so glad that I did.

I worked as an intern investigator which means that I helped investigate cases for the defense. Much of my work included interviewing witnesses, transcribing body camera footage, and obtaining surveillance. This work was absolutely necessary to help give each of our clients the best and most fair representation possible. All of our clients were classified as indigent, so it was nice to be able to work for the freedom of people that were going through a system that was often stacked against them. As our clients themselves are unable to pay and thus the office is funded by the government the attorneys and investigators that work there all have more cases than an attorney at a private law firm would typically have and are paid less. They need the help from interns throughout the year to help get more work accomplished for each client but do not have the funding to pay them. The summer funding from career services allowed me to pursue an internship that was far more fulfilling than I would have been able to otherwise.

This internship was the most hands-on experience that I could have asked for it allowed me to step out of the office and interact with the people of New Orleans. I could see the exact purpose of everything that I worked on, for example body camera footage that I transcribed being used in court, or a statement that I helped collect allowing for a charge to be reduced.  We were even taken to Angola, a Louisiana State Prison, that not only made us sick to our stomachs but also gave us a stronger conviction of what we were truly fighting for. Through this internship I was also able to get a better understanding of what aspects of the criminal justice system are hurting minorities and those of lower socio-economic status. The best part of my experience though was being able to visit our incarcerated clients and talk to them about their case or even just their astrological sign. I got most of the clarity I was looking for with this internship and know that in the future I would like to have a job that allows me to do direct support work as well as policy work as I love the client centered aspect of direct support work but would also like to work to fix foundational issues within the system.

By Career Services
Career Services