2022 ND Law Shaffer Fellows to Tackle Mental Illness in Illinois Prisons and Mortgage Foreclosures in Chicago | News | Law School
Madison Kemker and Annika Nielsen-Kim, both third-year law students, received Thomas L. Shaffer Public Benefit Fellowships.
The scholarship, named for former dean and professor Thomas L. Shaffer and funded by donor support, covers the salary and benefits of two Notre Dame Law School graduates to work for two years in a non-profit organization providing legal services to low-income or other underrepresented populations.
Downtown People’s Law Center
Madison Kemker will complete her fellowship at the Uptown People’s Law Center (UPLC) in Chicago. It will monitor and enforce the settlement agreement reached between UPLC and the Illinois Department of Corrections in the class action lawsuit. Rasho vs. Jeffreys. The lawsuit’s goal is to overhaul and reform the way people with serious mental illness are treated in Illinois prisons.
Since the settlement agreement was reached in 2016, the court’s comptroller has repeatedly found the Illinois Department of Corrections to be noncompliant. The court monitor reported that the psychiatric care available is both “extremely inadequate” and “extremely poor” in terms of quality. In addition, there are serious problems with the continuation of medication upon entering prison, with the inability to monitor the effects of powerful psychiatric drugs, and with the huge backlogs in psychiatric assessments.
“The settlement agreement that I will enforce obligates the Illinois Department of Corrections to provide constitutionally adequate care pursuant to the Eighth Amendment,” Kemker said.
Research has shown that when there is a lack of mental health services available to incarcerated people, chronic mental illness is exacerbated and additional physical harm and trauma occurs. In the most serious cases, the lack of adequate mental health treatment can lead to suicide, especially for those sentenced to long sentences.
“This is a significant problem in Illinois, where parole was abolished in 1978. Subjecting mentally ill inmates to the harsh conditions of incarceration without treatment is cruel and unusual punishment,” Kemker said.
She was drawn to this particular scholarship after an experience while a legal intern at the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana during her sophomore summer. She reviewed an admission letter from an incarcerated person who described his experience in a restrictive housing unit where he was in complete darkness for 23 hours a day, subjected to painful shocks from exposed live wires in his cell and suffered other physical and mental trauma. .
“The conditions he described were not unique to his cell and I left my internship knowing that these people deserved better. Prisoners often bear the burden of their own litigation and do so under extremely harsh conditions. These constraints include limited access and resources to legal advice and research, an onerous grievance and administrative appeals process, and routine cell transfers,” Kemker said. “Watching incarcerated people deal with these systemic difficulties while advocating for their own humane treatment motivated my fellowship project at the Uptown People’s Law Center.”
While attending Notre Dame Law School, Kemker was involved with the Women’s Legal Forum and the American Constitution Society. She serves on the Voting Rights Subcommittee of the National Association of Women Lawyers Advocacy Committee and the Volunteer Justice Advocacy Team. She is also a part-time paralegal for Foley & Small in South Bend. This semester, Kemker is participating in the ND Law internship program in Chicago and gaining experience working on civil rights issues.
legal aid chicago
Annika Nielsen-Kim will work for Legal Aid Chicago in their Consumer Practice Group. Her project will focus on preventing home loss in Chicago due to COVID-19 challenges. Programs that have helped homeowners defer mortgage payments and prevented them from initiating foreclosure proceedings during the pandemic are winding down, and many homeowners will need legal assistance.
She will work with landlords to provide resources and guidelines, and represent them in court. Other duties include training attorneys on challenges faced by homeowners and working on mediation and counseling programs for people in foreclosure proceedings in the Cook County Chancery Division.
“Housing loss is a significant and particularly devastating issue in Chicago’s black communities due to already low homeownership rates. There is a history of covenants and lending practices that have prevented families from building up capital over generations. Lockdown hurts communities by creating more vacant homes and worsening community scourge,” Nielsen-Kim said. “Advocating for stay-at-home support will help these communities grow in ways that are sensitive to the wishes of long-time residents and better for the long-term sustainability of the community.”
Prior to entering law school, Nielsen-Kim spent 10 years working in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a low-income Boston neighborhood, to improve health outcomes, solve the affordable housing crisis and solicit community feedback on neighborhood changes.
“I saw firsthand the need for accessible legal information and learned to convey information concisely and clearly. I decided to go to law school because I wanted to continue my trajectory of community-oriented public service, and I thought law school would give me valuable tools for that purpose,” said Nielsen-Kim.
During her freshman summer, she worked at BPI Chicago, a public interest law and policy center committed to addressing structural racism and systemic oppression. While there, she researched and wrote notes on topics related to zoning, justice reform, and family law. She also collaborated on a successful parole petition. She spent her sophomore summer working with clients of Chicago Volunteer Legal Services.
She says these two summer experiences have solidified her interest in direct services.
“I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work in a field where I hope to make a difference in people’s lives and contribute to the development of communities. I look forward to helping clients navigate a confusing and stressful system, and prevent them from losing their homes,” said Nielsen-Kim.
At law school, she is the editor of the Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy and secretary of the Public Interest Law Forum. She was a research assistant for Assistant Professor John Conway and the Intensive Trial Advocacy program. She also participated in an expungement program run by the St. Joseph County District Attorney’s Office and with the law school’s Economic Justice Clinic.
She is currently attending the ND Law externship program in Chicago where she works at Legal Aid Chicago, where she will complete her internship.
Established in 2013, the Thomas L. Shaffer Public Interest Scholarship continues a long tradition of public interest at Notre Dame Law School. The scholarship honors Thomas L. Shaffer ’61 JD, who was a longtime faculty member and former dean of Notre Dame Law School. During his tenure, he was a supervising attorney at the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic, now called Notre Dame Clinical Law Center, where he taught clinical ethics and guided the legal practice of law students who serve the disadvantaged in the South Bend area.
Learn more about the 2021 Shaffer Scholars here.