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Woking with Columbia Legal Services

Woking with Columbia Legal Services

Columbia Legal Services (CLS) is a Washington State public interest law firm with four primary program areas that serve the entire state. Creative Differences has teamed up with CLS to produce four short documentaries highlighting the important work that they do.

The first program area we worked on is CLS’s innovative Institutions Project. Headed by Coordinating Attorney Melissa Lee and based in the firm’s Seattle headquarters, the Institutions project works primarily with people in the state’s prisons and jails ensuring that the conditions of their incarceration are human, respectful and lead to a reduction in criminal recidivism. For those underprivileged individuals who are in the justice system, CLS works to provide access to the legal representation and resources guaranteed (but often under-resourced) by the U.S. Constitution.

In direct partnership with CLS staff and Communications Consultant Charlie McAteer, Creative Differences drilled down to one story that exemplified the kind of innovative, “boots-on-the-ground” work that CLS does.

This story covers the troubling burden that Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs) place on prisoners released from prison and who are trying to rebuild their lives. Poorly regulated and not consistently assigned, LFO’s have the added hazard of being a reason released prisoners can be re-jailed for non payment. This is a burden that is particularly hard on the overwhelmingly poor class of people in the state’s criminal justice system.

As Melissa Lee puts it in the video: “Its like the Shackles never come off.”

This video tells the story of Valarie Bodeau who despite the valiant efforts in turning her life around post–prison was jailed multiple times for non payment of her LFO’s. Her circumstance (along with thousands of other former Washington prisoners) prompted CLS under the direction of CLS staff attorney Nick Allen to create the Prison Re-entry Clinic in Seattle and to work with the Washington chapter of the ACLU in authoring a study on the onerous assignment of LFOs throughput the state.

Stay tuned for more stories from Alibi Pictures and CLS.