Laura Cohen, Clinical Professor of Law at Rutgers School of Law–Newark, has been recognized by the MacArthur Foundation Models for Change program for her zealous and effective advocacy on behalf of youth in the criminal justice system. Cohen received a 2012 Champion for Change award yesterday at the 7th Annual Models for Change National Conference in Washington, DC. Award recipients are selected both for their long-time commitment to creating change on behalf of youth and their innovative and creative use of resources provided by Models for Change.
Supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Models for Change is a national initiative that promotes a variety of replicable reform models for achieving a more rational, fair, effective, and developmentally appropriate juvenile justice system. Cohen is a team leader for the Models for Change Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network (JIDAN), which consists of eight states with teams that collaborate on strategies to improve juvenile indigent defense policy and practice. She also is co-director of the Northeast Regional Juvenile Defender Center, an affiliate of the National Juvenile Defender Center.
A member of the Rutgers faculty since 2001, Cohen teaches in the Urban Legal Clinic, where her work includes juvenile cases, and a seminar on Juvenile Justice. Her legal arguments have been pivotal in cases like In the Interest of P.M.P. (2009) that helped to expand a juvenile’s right to counsel when the prosecutor’s office initiates a complaint and In the Interest of V.A. (2012) which significantly raised the bar for transferring a youth to adult criminal court.
“Laura Cohen has dedicated her career to representing indigent juveniles,” said Dean John J. Farmer, Jr. “She has advocated on their behalf from where the right to counsel attaches prior to arrest through to post-release representation. Laura’s efforts on behalf of justice-involved youth show a profound understanding that a measure of the quality of our civilization is how we treat our most vulnerable people.”
In writing about Cohen’s Champion for Change award, Models for Change stated: “Her realization of the severity of systemic service gaps in the New Jersey justice system that created barriers to treating, rehabilitating and caring for children and promoting community safety most effectively led Cohen to take a leadership role in creating a model protocol for representation at initial detention hearings, expanding access to special education attorneys, and creating a post-disposition representation pilot, all of which are improving access to counsel and outcomes for children.”
Professor Cohen received her B.A. summa cum laude from Rutgers University and her J.D. from Columbia University School of Law, where she was managing editor of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review. She is the former director of training for the New York City Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Division, where she oversaw both the attorney training program and public policy initiatives relating to juvenile justice and child welfare. She also has served as a senior policy analyst for the Violence Institute of New Jersey; deputy court monitor in Morales Feliciano v. Hernandez Colon, a prisoners’ rights class action in the U.S. District Court in San Juan, Puerto Rico; adjunct professor at New York Law School; and staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society.
Watch the video about Professor Cohen shown at the Champions for Change award presentation.