New director settles in at Queen’s Prison Law Clinic
January 3, 2018
Sixteen years ago, Kathy Ferreira (Law’01) won the course prize as the top student in Clinical Correctional Law at Queen’s. After graduation, she clerked at the Superior Court Central West, developed prison law research materials at Ontario’s Legal Aid Research Facility (now LAO Law), and then returned to Queen’s Correctional Law Project as a staff lawyer in 2003. In November, Ferreira was appointed director of the project, now known as the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic (QPLC).
“Kathy set a standard of excellence in her work instructing and supervising students and representing clients in parole hearings and in disciplinary court,” says Karla McGrath (LLM’13) Executive Director of the Queen’s Law Clinics. “The Prison Law Clinic, its students and clients will all be well-served under Kathy’s leadership.”
The clinic that Ms. Ferreira now oversees is unique to Queen’s, enabling students to assist prisoners in one of six institutions with numerous legal issues for academic credit or in a paid summer position.
When and how did you develop your interest in prison law?
I first developed an interest in prison law as a student in the Correctional Law Project. I took the Clinical Correctional Law course in 2000-01 to gain practical legal experience, including development of advocacy skills and an understanding of the solicitor-client relationship. Although it was demanding, I very much enjoyed working with the vulnerable client group and advocating for their rights against the Correctional Service and to the Parole Board of Canada. It was my best law school memory, and I have heard that same thought many times since from students who have been involved in the clinic.
What do you enjoy most about working in the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic?
The clients. There is no other area of law I would prefer to do or can even imagine practising. Helping them succeed in small and significant ways is incredibly satisfying. They value the clinic, and our students especially, and I want to ensure we always strive to justify that confidence.
What are the biggest changes in prison law and the QPLC since you started as a staff lawyer in 2003?
Significant changes in prison law include a very negative anti-prisoner conservative wave of legislative changes that included removal of early parole opportunities for non-violent first-time federal offenders, and a more recent positive liberal swing that has included more progressive Parole Board of Canada decisions favouring release in appropriate cases. Segregation remains a concern and although the government has recently committed to reducing segregation, this is an area where prisoners’ advocates must remain vigilant. The Correctional Service always prioritizes administrative concerns over prisoner rights. Significant changes in the clinic include funding for an articling student, inclusion and focus on litigation, and an overall expansion of the range of services we provide. We remain committed to a valuable student learning experience.
What are you doing in your role as QPLC director?
In my teaching role, I instruct the Prison Law Clinic course and look forward to developing a detailed syllabus for the 2018-19 year. I meet regularly with student caseworkers and supervise their work, as well as work by Pro Bono students assisting the clinic. Also, I oversee the development and implementation of our litigation strategy. For clients, I provide timely summary advice over the telephone and attend the institutions to speak to prisoners at the request of the Correctional Service or other inmate groups. I value the opportunity to talk with prisoners directly about their prison concerns and address parole questions, and do this as a regular guest speaker for John Howard Society Pre-Release groups. In my administrative capacity, I manage the QPLC’s employees, serve as the point person for all clinic inquiries, and report to the law school, our funder Legal Aid Ontario and our corporation board. I also explore making connections with and providing assistance to other groups doing related work, for example, groups assisting families of incarcerated persons.
What are your plans for the clinic?
We have a really solid group with our incredibly capable administrative assistant, our lawyers and students. We continue to work closely with our co-located Queen’s Law Clinics. I look forward to continuing our core mandate of assistance at prison Disciplinary Court, Parole Board of Canada hearings and grievances/human rights complaints against the Correctional Service to help ensure prisoner rights and procedural fairness. Clients expect assistance in these areas (Legal Aid Certificates are rarely issued for Disciplinary Court so the QPLC’s assistance fills an essential service area) and they are essential to experiential learning, permitting student advocacy opportunities and development of the solicitor-client relationship. The clinic is expanding services at consent and capacity hearings for prisoners with mental health issues. The QPLC has been very successful establishing positive legal precedents for our clients and we are working on a test-case litigation strategy together with Legal Aid Ontario.
This article was first published in Queen’s Law Reports.