First-year Ohio Access to Justice Foundation Justice for All Fellow Russell Hauser had three key moments that solidified his path to juvenile justice work.

First, he worked at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as an office assistant. While there, he conducted research on the shackling of juveniles. It was then that Hauser’s eyes were really opened to juvenile justice issues.

“[I was shocked] that kids were being shackled in a courtroom, and that they were even able to waive their right to counsel,” Hauser said.

Next, Hauser worked with the AmeriCorps program City Year because he thought he wanted to be a teacher. Hauser discovered that although he liked aspects of teaching, he enjoyed mentoring students the most.

“I didn’t like being in charge of a classroom or being a disciplinarian, really,” he said.

Working with City Year also showed him the harsh reality of the school-to-prison pipeline, which involves disciplinary policies that disproportionately affect Black and brown students and leave them more susceptible to encountering the juvenile justice system.

“[The Black students] are already facing an uphill battle, and then they’re facing those zero tolerance policies,” Hauser said. “Things can just derail really quickly.”

Finally, Hauser ended up working as a paralegal at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, where he worked primarily with men and women who were returning from prison sentences, helping them get their lives back on track. At legal aid, Hauser realized that many of his clients first encountered the criminal justice system in their youth.

“When a lot of my adult clients at legal aid were kids, they were going in and out of school, and were essentially the result of what you see with the zero tolerance policies,” he said. “I saw what happened with a lot of my students, and it was very sobering and eye opening.”

Now a law school graduate and Ohio Access to Justice Foundation Justice for All Fellow, Hauser is back at The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. His fellowship integrates educational advocacy and offender reentry to mitigate the effects of the school-to-prison pipeline, particularly on Black and brown students.

One major component of his fellowship is building a partnership with the Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s Juvenile Division.

“If they notice that their kids have any educational issues that might be related to their criminal case, they’ll send that over to me,” Hauser said. “And I can help out with the educational part, whether it’s getting them back in school, fighting against a suspension, or dealing with proper educational accommodations.”

Hauser also wants to push for school accountability and reduce the impact of harmful policies on vulnerable youth, to promote racial and juvenile justice.

Sometimes the best way to advocate is just by being present.

“Just being in the room, having a legal representative there, it makes the school a lot more flexible and willing to find alternative solutions to figure another option out,” he said.

“A lot of kids don’t even realize the disadvantages they have,” he added. “But I’m hoping through my advocacy to push things in the right direction.”

The Ohio Access to Justice Foundation funds law school graduates with a passion for public service to address urgent legal problems facing Ohioans. Meet the Justice for All Fellows.