The Institute to End Mass Incarceration at Harvard Law School is thrilled to announce the appointment of Joan Steffen as its inaugural postgraduate fellow.
Steffen graduated from Harvard Law School in 2022. For the past two years, she has organized with Families for Justice as Healing’s (FJAH) Building Up People Not Prisons coalition to halt the construction of a new women’s prison in Massachusetts. As co-president of Harvard’s chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild, Steffen activated students to work in tandem with abolitionist community organizers, including at FJAH and the Material Aid and Advocacy Project (MAAP). Steffen’s law school career has also included serving as Policy Director for the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, interning at the Chicago Community Bond Fund and with Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, and working as a founding member of the Harvard Alliance Against Campus Cops. She was a student in the Institute’s clinic, co-taught by Andrew Manuel Crespo and Premal Dharia, in the fall and spring of 2021 and helped plan and organize the Institute’s Collective Defense Workshop.
In 2017, Steffen was one of 230 people arrested at protests against Donald Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. She and other defendants organized collectively to refuse plea negotiations and to strategize for trial. Ultimately, the government could not convict any of the protesters who rejected plea agreements. Steffen’s experience as a J20 defendant laid the foundation for her future work on prison and police abolition.
Steffen will spend the coming year working closely with community-based organizers and lawyers, alongside the Institute’s team, to help develop and pursue strategies for decarceral collective action and movement-supportive lawyering. Her experiences, skills and innovative thinking will be invaluable during her time as a fellow with the Institute, and in the years to come as she works to help make our communities places where people can be free and truly thrive.