Mitchell Hamline School of Law and All Square partner with Pipeline from prison to law program
The Mitchell Hamline School of Law will welcome Maureen Onyelobi to its juris doctor program this fall, making Mitchell Hamline the first ABA-approved law school in the nation to educate those currently incarcerated.
It’s a moment that’s been in the works for nearly three years as a collective effort by the Prison to Law Pipeline., a program of All Square and its newly formed subsidiary, Legal Revolution. The effort aims to transform the law through initiatives centered on racial equity, the well-being and expertise of those most affected by the law.
Onyelobi was notified of her acceptance last Thursday (June 9) by President and Dean Anthony Niedwiecki and John Goeppinger, director and co-founder of Legal Revolution. They traveled to Shakopee State Prison to deliver the historic news. “We have a drive and a passion to learn the law that most have never seen before, because we know what it’s like to be here,” Onyelobi said. “We know what it’s like to be on this side of the law.”
“Learning about the law is a vital vehicle for freedom and lasting change in our community,” said Elizer Darris, Chairman of the Board of Legal Revolution. “Maureen’s acceptance is social proof that the time for change has come and the energy is there to change it.” Darris – who co-founded the legal revolution with Goeppinger and Emily Hunt Turner, CEO and founder of All Square – studied law in prison and developed the legal argument that ultimately led to his release when the Minnesota Supreme Court overturned his life sentence in 2016. .
The Prison to Law pipeline is an extension of an existing partnership between Mitchell Hamline and All Square, who have worked together to provide civil legal services to those returning from prison since 2018.
“Mitchell Hamline has a long history of finding ways to broaden the idea of who can go to law school,” said Dean Niedwiecki. “It’s important that people in prison have a better understanding of the criminal justice system, and this is an important way to do that. Our students will also benefit from having Maureen in class with them.
Mitchell Hamline currently runs two clinics, led by Professors Brad Colbert and Jon Geffen, which work directly with those currently incarcerated and those recently released.
A series of factors made Onyelobi’s acceptance to law school possible. The American Bar Association recently granted a waiver to allow her to attend classes entirely online, which she will do from Shakopee. The waiver will allow Mitchell Hamline to admit up to two incarcerated students each academic year for five years. Onyelobi’s tuition will be paid for through private fundraising and the same scholarship available to all Mitchell Hamline students.
The Prison to Law pipeline also has the full support of Commissioner Paul Schnell of the Minnesota Department of Corrections, who endorsed the JD program as well as Legal Revolution’s undergraduate paralegal program, which successfully launched in August 2021 in partnership with North Hennepin Community College.
“The fact that those who have come through the system are helping to craft and challenge the law by accessing high-level legal education for their own well-being, as well as for the well-being and service of others, is a remarkable opportunity,” Schnell said. “It’s something I’m really proud to support.”
The Legal Revolution will celebrate the Prison to Law Pipeline and this historic event when it publicly launches on June 15, 2022.
The prison-to-law pipeline can transform the legal discipline
Dean Niedwiecki monitors LSAT exams at two Minnesota prisons