A Voice for Incarcerated Kids

By Marcia Faye
Legal Advocacy - Tomorrow

At eight or nine years of age, Rachel Brady (LAW ’13) may have been just a kid, but her life’s purpose had already begun to germinate.

Rachel Brady
Rachel Brady
Photo: Scott Benbrook

“My dad was speaking to me about gay marriage and how same-sex couples couldn’t marry,” she recalls from the offices of Equip for Equality, where she will begin working as a 2015 Skadden Fellow in September. “I told him that was outrageous, and he said that if I wanted to do something about it I should work for the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] one day. I thought that if you see social injustice, you should do something about it.”

As one of only 28 fellows across the United States, Brady has begun taking the first steps in securing social justice for a select Illinois population. Over the next two years, she will be representing disabled youth who are either in or transitioning out of the state’s juvenile justice facilities and Chicago’s alternative schools. She says that about half of incarcerated youth in Illinois have disabilities and many do not receive appropriate educational services. With the support of her host organization Equip for Equality, she will work toward keeping the kids in school as well as ensuring that their special educational needs are met.

“The ACLU has done some work in this area but is not positioned to take on individual cases. Rachel is the perfect person to work on this project. She can hone in on individuals who are in the detention centers and make sure that they get the appropriate education that they’re entitled to receiving,” says Olga Pribyl, vice president of Equip for Equality’s Special Education Clinic and Pro Bono. “It’s a great fit for the work that we’ve been doing. We haven’t been able to expand in this area because of resources and are so appreciative of the Skadden (Foundation) Fellowship Program, which allows Rachel to do this important work.”

A former Teach for America seventh- and eighth-grade mathematics and science teacher, Brady experienced firsthand how special-needs students could slip through cracks in the school system and also achieve success once they were evaluated and placed in a curriculum tailored to help them learn and advance. Brady felt she could do more to ensure that special-needs students obtained optimal education opportunities by becoming a legal advocate.

Now serving as a staff clerk in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Brady sees the Skadden Fellowship as the culmination of her public interest dream—and the chance to make a child’s dream for a more normal life come true.

“With the right type of attention and the right services, kids really can succeed,” says Brady. “They just need somebody to believe in them and treat their education individually. With that, anything is possible.”

More Online

Equip for Equality: www.equipforequality.org

Skadden Fellowship Program: www.skaddenfellowships.org