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Joan Steffen is an abolitionist, organizer, and lawyer.  After working as a student attorney in IEMI’s first law school clinic cohort and graduating magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 2022, she joined the Institute as its inaugural postgraduate fellow.  As an attorney at IEMI, Joan works 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 current work with IEMI’s Carceral Infrastructure Project supports the Building Community Not Prisons coalition to fight the construction of a proposed federal prison in Eastern Kentucky.

Joan currently serves on the Board of Directors and Mass Defense Committee of National Lawyers Guild (NLG) Chicago, where she also volunteers as a Legal Observer Coordinator to support organizers’ right to political expression. While in law school, Joan organized with Families for Justice as Healing’s (FJAH) Building Up People Not Prisons coalition to fight the construction of a new women’s prison in Massachusetts.  As co-president of Harvard’s NLG chapter, she activated students to work in tandem with abolitionist community organizers, including FJAH and the Material Aid and Advocacy Project (MAAP). Joan’s law school career also included serving as Policy Director for the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), interning at the Chicago Community Bond Fund (CCBF) and Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts (PLS), and working as founding member of the Harvard Alliance Against Campus Cops (HAACC). 

In 2017, Joan 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 coordinate trial strategy.  Ultimately, the government could not convict any of the protesters who rejected plea agreements.  Joan’s experience as a J20 defendant laid the foundation for her future work on prison and police abolition.

Joan is admitted to practice law in the state of Illinois.