Seeking Justice for All
When family law backfires on incarcerated mothers, Elizabeth Hendren wants to be there to provide much needed legal help.
Ever since her high school years when she began working as a community organizer, Hendren saw a need to assist the vulnerable and marginalized. Her unwavering commitment to those with criminal histories spans housing, employment discrimination, immigration, family and domestic
issues. Her law degree from Seattle University now supports her vision.
Her desire to assist women who lose custody of their children because of incarceration has much to do with the lack of access to legal representation for mothers once they are released from prison. In private custody battles, these women frequently go against fathers with whom they have a history of abuse. Hendren is also concerned with legislation that can permanently terminate parental rights when a child becomes a dependent of the state for a year.
The law addresses the lifelong consequences for children who never progress from foster care to adoption. The same law, however, affects an increasing number of women in prison who lose their children even without a history of abuse or neglect. Mothers who are African American, Latina and Native American are more likely to be impacted, Hendren notes, because of the racial disparities in the state’s criminal and child welfare systems.
Hendren’s interest in helping those at risk moved her to volunteer for Common Ground Relief to help displaced Hurricane Katrina survivors in the Puget Sound area before she entered law school.
“People in my life were rarely able to access an attorney when they needed one because there were not enough attorneys who provided free legal services to low-income and poor people,” she says.
In the Northwest, Seattle University’s School of Law had the deepest commitment to social justice work, she says. She describes SU’s Access to Justice Institute as critical both to connect her to opportunities and to nurture her growth in social justice law. The institute features internships, fellowships, pro bono opportunities, social justice training and more.
Hendren interned with the domestic violence unit of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the family law and housing units of the Northwest Justice Project in Seattle, where she developed the Reentry Initiated through Services and Education (RISE) Project.
In 2012, Hendren became the law school’s Leadership for Justice Fellow. SU is the only law school in Washington to offer a fellowship for a graduate to work with an organization on a specific social justice project for underserved or marginalized individuals or communities.