Chan Wins Soros Fellowship
Angela F. Chan, a 2001 Occidental College graduate, has been awarded a $68,000 Soros Justice Fellowship to launch a program aimed at dismantling language barriers in the defense and rehabilitation of youths in the juvenile justice system.
The fellowship is funded by the Open Society Institute. Chan is one of 17 fellows from across the country who were selected as developing leaders in criminal justice reform.
Chan, of Portland, Ore., will conduct her effort through the Asian Law Caucus, a non-profit civil rights organization in San Francisco. She will start the 18-month project in the fall. Fellowship proceeds provide a stipend and cover graduate school loan repayment, health benefits and professional development. Chan, a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, currently is a clerk for Judge Napoleon A. Jones Jr. in the U.S. District Court’s Southern District of California.
While judges in juvenile hall proceedings consider family participation integral to assessing whether to place delinquent youths with relatives or in juvenile detention centers, a 2001 Asian Law Caucus study found there is an inadequate number of bilingual staff and translators, a lack of protocol for accessing the limited bilingual services that are available, and an absence of language-accessible signage, information and legal notices.
“Juvenile hall staff has interpreted limited English proficient families’ inability to participate due to language barriers and lack of knowledge of the legal process as an unwillingness to support their children,” Chan said, noting that in the Bay Area juvenile offenders are disproportionately Asian Pacific Island and Latino American. “This misinterpretation leads to high numbers of harmful out-of-home placements. Without language accessibility, most LEP families do not know that they are expected to work with probation officers to develop such arrangements as in-home placement plans. Even those who do know about their role in the process cannot participate because of lack of translators, a service that indigent families cannot afford and probation departments do not regularly provide.”
Chan’s project will enforce local ordinances and federal prohibitions against language-based discrimination by forming a legal clinic made up of law school students and attorneys who volunteer their services. The project also will work with regional and statewide public defender offices to implement the clinic model beyond the Bay Area. Finally, Chan hopes to create a statewide network of community-based organizations to support broader policy reform on language access and other barriers to participation of LEP families in the juvenile justice system.
Chan said out-of-home placements borne of language barriers “tears youths from the nurturing environments of the home, school and community, which, studies have shown, increases the likelihood of future delinquency and leads to higher rates of recidivism.”
The Open Society Institute, a private operating and grantmaking foundation, is part of a network of foundations created and funded by philanthropist George Soros. OSI’s U.S. programs seek to strengthen democracy by addressing barriers to opportunity and justice, broadening public discussion about such barriers, and assisting marginalized groups to participate equally in civil society and to make their voices heard.
The fellowship program funds outstanding individuals, including lawyers, advocates, grassroots organizers, activist academics, journalists and filmmakers to implement innovative projects that address one of more of the OSI U.S. Justice Fund’s criminal justice priorities.