Law Student Wins Soros Fellowship

By Michael Seele
Chronicle Editor

A third-year Law School student has won a highly competitive national fellowship which she will use to pursue changes in the state's juvenile justice system.

Barbara Kaban won one of 15 Soros Justice Fellowships awarded for the 1998-99 year by the Open Society Institute's Center on Crime, Communities and Culture. Her project is sponsored collaboratively by the Law School's Juvenile Rights Advocacy Project and the Children's Law Center of Massachusetts.

Using the award - which pays salary and benefits and is renewable for a second year - Kaban said she will attempt to inject a more rehabilitative approach into the state's youth offender program, which she said is focused on punishment. She also will work to recruit more attorneys into representing juvenile delinquents during the sentencing phase of their cases.

Under juvenile law, the cases of those found delinquent are sent to the Department of Youth Services, which conducts hearings and has broad authority over the cases' dispositions, she explained. Adults routinely have legal representation at sentencing, she said, a practice unusual for juveniles.

"Kids are entitled to representation at this dispositional phase," Kaban said. "Otherwise the panel making the decision about what the kid needs often gets a skewed side of the story. They never hear the kid's side."

Kaban also said that "punishment is driving the system" and youthful offenders are increasingly treated like adults, but without some adult rights, like credit for time served. She said she will work to "come up with a plan to make the system rehabilitative rather than punitive in nature."

Adj. Assoc. Prof. Francine Sherman (Law) said Kaban has been involved with the Juvenile Rights Advocacy Project since her first year of law school. She has been working mostly with girls, but will work with girls and boys under the fellowship. In addition to working on the dispositional phase of cases, Kaban will try cases, Sherman said.

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