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LALSA Students at Orientation

LALSA's Hispanic Heritage Month Panel & Sangria Social

Seton Hall Law School student organization explores the criminal justice system, race, and ethnicity

On October 23, 2014, Seton Hall Law welcomed Soffiyah Elijah, Esq., Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York, New Jersey State Senator Sandra Cunningham, and Federal Assistant Public Defender for the District of New Jersey, Linda Foster, Esq. ’95 for LALSA’s Fourth Annual Hispanic Heritage Month Panel and Sangria Social: “Need Not Apply: The Disparate Impact of Criminal Background Checks on Communities of Color,” co-sponsored by the Black Law Students Association and the Office of Career Services.

The panel presented experts in the criminal justice system discussing the overrepresentation of people of color in the penal system, the effects of a criminal record on employment opportunities, and solutions to the challenge of employing ex-convicts.

Practicing attorneys and current students listened intently to Ms. Elijah’s detailed presentation of facts and statistics demonstrating the disparate impact of criminal background checks on African American and Latino/a communities. Ms. Foster provided insight into the federal criminal justice system, including the ReNew program, launched in 2013 by the Honorable Madeline Cox Arleo ’89, U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of New Jersey. The program facilitates ex-offenders’ reentry into society with intensive monitoring and assistance from probation officers, attorneys and Judge Arleo, and helps in seeking employment and driver’s licenses.

Senator Cunningham shared personal stories of some of her African-American constituents facing insurmountable challenges to employment due to a criminal record with even just minor offenses, despite extensive education and credentials. Such personal accounts led Senator Cunningham to sponsor the Opportunity to Compete Act (OCA). New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ’87 signed the OCA, also known as “Ban the Box” legislation, into law in August 2014.

LALSA’s Hispanic Heritage Month Panel and Sangria Social was well attended, with lively discussion and networking over empanadas and other traditional Latina/o American dishes. Stephanie Brown ’16 remarked, "Until recently, I believed that the criminal justice system was just another institution still suffering from the pervasive injustice and racial biases held over from a marred past. Still, I didn't realize a civil rights movement on as large a scale as the movement to protect affirmative action was needed to change that reality. The panel opened my eyes to the different kinds of great works these incredible women, and all involved, are doing to combat this deeply rooted issue."