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Students at Rutgers School of Law-Camden are helping federal inmates transition into post-prison life as part of a new pro bono effort. The Federal Prisoner Re-entry Project at Rutgers-Camden pairs law student volunteers with recently released prisoners. Under the supervision of a managing attorney, the students work with their clients’ federal probation officers to handle issues such as obtaining drug and alcoholic treatment or securing housing. “We get everything from difficulties with obtaining identification to problems stemming from people who never registered for the Selective Service,” said Todd Berger, managing partner of the project. The most common problems facing newly released prisoners are not having a valid driver license and owing child support. “Often, when people go into custody, the amount they owe in child support continues to accrue,” Berger said. “When they come out of custody they find that they owe these huge amounts, and you can be arrested for being in arrears. Your pay can be seized.” Other law schools offer students the chance to assist prisoners in re-entry through clinics, but Rutgers’ program is unique in that it relies on student volunteers who don’t receive academic credit for the work, Berger said. He initially envisioned that students would spend an hour or two each week on their cases, but the 24 volunteers have been spending more time on client matters as they develop a relationship with their clients. “It gives the students an opportunity to learn the process of becoming a lawyer,” Berger said. “It’s an opportunity to have client contact, establish relationships, identify the legal issues, research and plot the strategy. Some of it will be resolved in court, some in negotiations, but they’ll all have the chance to develop actual lawyering skills.” The project is a partnership between the law school and the U.S. District Court of New Jersey. The law school bears most of the financial cost of the program.

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