Civil Rights & Criminal Justice

Civil rights and the pursuit of justice form the bedrock of public service. Whether we’re defending minors in court, prosecuting defendants charged with crimes, representing immigrants facing deportation, or helping incarcerated men find peace, you’ll find Suffolk University’s faculty, students, and alumni protecting, advocating, and fighting for people's rights.

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Suffolk Prosecutors Program

Since 1975, the Suffolk Prosecutors Program—a hybrid clinic/externship that puts students to work for a full year in a Massachusetts district attorney’s office—has provided hundreds of Suffolk Law students with real-world courtroom experience. It’s also supplied the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office with nearly half of its 55 current district and Boston Municipal Court assistant district attorneys.

“We’ve got nothing but good things to say about the program’s contribution to our work,” says Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, JD ’83. “From my perspective, there’s no better training ground for a young lawyer than the fast pace of a district or municipal court, and there’s no greater opportunity to serve the interests of justice than as a prosecutor.”

Suffolk Defenders Program

Student attorneys in the Suffolk Defenders Program represent clients charged with misdemeanors and felonies in the Boston Municipal Court. Defenders provide their clients representation in all phases of the court process.

Immigration Clinic

Students in Suffolk Law’s Immigration Clinic represent low income non-citizens facing deportation from the United States, with a primary focus on individuals detained by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (“ICE”). Student-attorneys appear before the Immigration Court in Boston to argue for bond, exam witnesses, challenge removability, and litigate applications for relief.

Juvenile Defenders Clinic

In the Juvenile Defenders Clinic, a Suffolk Law student’s defense can help determine whether a 13-year-old gets locked up or returns to school. Students study and use the rules of procedure and discovery; master the details of evidence, the criminal code, and Constitutional law; and investigate their cases in depth.

Indigenous Peoples Rights Clinic

Students in Suffolk Law’s Indigenous Peoples Rights Clinic serve Native American tribal governments and indigenous organizations, supporting their nation-building activities and advocacy efforts. Clinic students may work with a division or branch of a tribal government and help with a variety of legal projects. [Office1]

Center for Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is a growing social movement advocating peaceful approaches to harm, problem-solving, and violations of legal and human rights. The Center for Restorative Justice (CRJ) at Suffolk sponsors events designed to foster constructive, creative dialogue about current and potential applications of restorative justice. The CRJ’s Institute for Restorative Schools, meanwhile, offers programming in restorative practices for all members of the school community.

The Jericho Circle Project

In 2002, longtime Suffolk sociology professor Steve Spitzer founded the

Undergraduate Areas of Study

Major in Sociology

Sociologists are driven by the need to improve the lives of others. As a sociology major, you’ll study how humans relate to one another and why they thrive—and flounder—in different societies. Sociology majors can choose from a number of specialized concentrations, such as General Sociology, Crime & Justice, Youth & Community, and Health & Society.

Major in Politics, Philosophy & Economics

This new interdisciplinary program, the first of its kind in the Boston area, prepares students to grapple with current and enduring social issues, with coursework spanning policy, ethics, and economics.

Government Major

The Suffolk University Government Department seeks to cultivate thoughtful, active, and responsible global citizens. Courses are intended to help students gain a foundational understanding of how institutions, ideas, and ideology shape politics, policy, and decision-making. Students may choose among four concentrations, including International Relations, American Politics, Law and Public Policy, and Political Theory.

The Government Department prepares undergraduate students for further study in graduate or professional schools, as well as careers in government, business, not-for-profit, and politics. Students develop expertise through a wide range of courses, close attention from faculty, student-driven research, and public service.

Public Service Minor

This introduction to the field of public management teaches students how to lead a publicly controlled institution and how to contribute to policy formation and strategic planning. Public service minors accepted into Suffolk’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program can waive up to four courses, enabling them to complete both degrees in only five years.

Law Major

As demand for legal professionals grows, the Law Major offers undergraduates a unique interdisciplinary and cross-school educational experience. Students benefit from professional training and can take electives in a variety of disciplines. The major offers all students excellent preparation for further study in law, public policy, or further graduate work in a range of disciplines.

Certificate in Paralegal Studies

A Certificate offers students a work credential from the American Bar Association approved program. After six classes, students are ready to step into a law firm government agency or other law-related placement and get to work as a paralegal.

Graduate Areas of Study

Master of Science in Crime & Justice Studies

This program equips students with the knowledge they’ll need to make real improvements in the criminal justice system and agencies that work with justice-involved peoples. Suffolk’s community-oriented program is pragmatic and career-oriented, and emphasizes the impact of crime on victims as well as criminals. Concentrations are available in Victim Advocacy and Youth, Crime & Justice; you can also pursue a dual degree with a Master in Mental Health Counseling, Master in Public Administration, or Juris Doctor.

Master of Public Administration

As one of the nation’s top-tier academic programs in public administration and one of only five New England schools fully accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), Suffolk students learn to anticipate, respond to, and lead change. Our program emphasizes flexibility, including multiple concentrations and dual degrees with Mental Health Counseling, Political Science, Crime and Justice Studies, and Juris Doctor.

Juris Doctor

Students can choose to target their studies around specific areas of focus such as Civil Rights & Human Rights Law, Immigration Law, or Criminal Law, among others, and gain hands-on world-changing experience in Suffolk Law’s nationally ranked clinical programs.


Can’t Catch a Break

Suffolk sociology professors Maureen Norton-Hawk, co-director of the Center for Crime and Justice Policy Research, and Susan Starr Sered, senior researcher at the Center for Women's Health and Human Rights, have collaborated on several research papers and projects studying the needs and lives of incarcerated women. In 2014, the pair drew from five years of fieldwork in Boston to co-author Can’t Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility, an award-winning book, which documents the day-to-day lives of 40 women as they struggle to survive sexual abuse, violent communities, ineffective social and therapeutic programs, discriminatory local and federal policies, criminalization, incarceration, and a broad cultural consensus that views suffering as a consequence of personal flaws and bad choices. Publisher’s Weekly called it a “compelling and important book [that] deserves to be widely read.” The book won the 2016 Distinguished Book Award from the Western Social Science Association.

Justice League, Unite

Reducing gang and youth violence requires a collaborative, comprehensive approach. And with the help of a $286,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department, Suffolk University professors Erika Gebo and Brenda Bond are currently studying how cities can best work together to reduce youth and gang violence using the Comprehensive Gang Model approach in four Massachusetts cities. Over three years, Worcester and Fall River will adopt intervention efforts compatible with the Comprehensive Gang Model, while Lowell and New Bedford will act as comparison sites.

Theirs is a true cross-discipline collaboration: Gebo is a professor of sociology and director of the graduate program in Crime & Justice Studies, while Bond is chair of the Institute for Public Service and associate professor of public administration at Sawyer Business School.

The pair co-edited the 2012 book Looking Beyond Suppression: Community Responses to Gang Violence, in addition to many other publications. Gebo has also been researching how a public health framework can be applied to gang violence, and recently published her findings in the journal Preventative Medicine Reports.

“My research has clearly shown that, compared with other youth, those most involved in violence and gangs are those with more risk factors, such as high levels of victimization,

exposure trauma and lack of access to institutions that build upon their assets,” Gebo says. At the same time, she says, these youth have fewer protective factors working in their favor, such as positive adult role models and peers or healthy community spaces. “A public health approach is the best way to address these realities, with the end goal of promoting positive youth development and reducing youth and gang violence.”


Exposing ‘Discrimination with a Smile’

Transgender and gender nonconforming individuals responding to apartment ads in Greater Boston were more likely to be quoted a higher rental price, were shown fewer apartment amenities such as storage or laundry, and were less apt to be offered a financial incentive to rent, according to a study conducted by Suffolk Law’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program.

The study, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will be published in the forthcoming Yale Journal of Law & Feminism. It’s one of the largest studies to document specific evidence of such discrimination, an effort which could help supporters of so-called “bathroom bills” and other antidiscrimination laws that include gender identity.

“Transgender and gender-nonconforming people deserve the full protection of our civil rights laws so they can live free from discrimination and can reach their potential as their true selves,” said William Berman, one of the study’s co-authors. Berman is clinical professor of law and director of Suffolk Law’s Housing Discrimination Program.

“This kind of discrimination is devastating, and it’s happening,” Berman told the Boston Globe. “It affects every single aspect of your life,” he said, “to be turned away from a place to live just because of who you are.”

Download: Transcending Prejudice: Gender Identity and Expression-Based Discrimination in the Metro Boston Rental Housing Market (Yale Journal of Law & Feminism, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2017)

Jessica Drew, JD 16, has been fighting the good fight since she was 12 years old. “My mom used to call me her jailhouse lawyer,” she says. “I was always getting people out of trouble, always arguing some cause.”

As a student at Suffolk Law, her interest in social justice deepened as she began to apply the law to her advocacy work. Drew volunteered for Veterans Legal Services, an organization that provides legal assistance to indigent and homeless vets, and joined the staff of the student journal Bearing Witness, whose mission is to raise awareness of how the law can help create a more compassionate and just society. After her second year, she applied for an internship with the City of Boston’s Office of Fair Housing & Equity, which works to help identify and counteract discrimination to ensure citizens have equal access to housing and employment.

“I fell in love with the work,” she says. “You don’t understand how important housing is until you don’t have it, but you have to have a place where you feel safe before you can do anything else. Everyone has a right to housing, and discrimination is one of the ways we limit people’s right to it,” whether by refusing to rent to a family with small children or to someone on housing assistance. That led her to enroll in Suffolk Law’s Accelerator Clinic, the University’s in-house law practice that represents low- and moderate-income clients facing eviction, discrimination, and other housing issues while also providing law students with hands-on training.

Fresh out of law school, Drew now works with the underrepresented as well as the elderly as an AmeriCorps legal fellow at South Coastal Counties Legal Services. “People who have been ostracized or have had difficulty accessing the justice system still have important stories to share and lives to carry on,” she says. “Sometimes legal problems are the problems that keep them from housing, a job, stability. I want to be the person who can help them.”

(Adapted from Suffolk University Magazine)

Expanding His Horizons

Bryan Clain, MPA ‘14, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Executive Office of Public Safety and Security Project Manager.

Formerly the CIO of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, Bryan was working as a project manager at the agency when he applied for and was selected as the 2013 Commonwealth Suffolk Fellow, enabling him to attend the Suffolk MPA Program full time.

“As a project manager, I interact with different agencies on a regular basis.  The MPA Program helped me understand how everything connects to one another and how we, as public servants, help make those connections.  I learned so many different ways of seeing problems, which helps me identify and recognize the forces at play in different discussions and decisions.”

“People always told me I should be a lawyer. The idea of law school kept creeping back in, I would shut it down—you don’t hear about single moms going to law school! But on the other hand, I thought, I still have so much life left to live. Do I want to be complacent, or do I want to show my daughter you can be anything you want?”

Over the course of her final year at Suffolk Law, Cavanaugh spent Mondays and Wednesdays in court as part of the Suffolk Prosecutors Program.

“I thought, going into school, that it was all about the argument, [But] being a prosecutor is also about compassion, communication, and doing the right thing.”

Angela Cavanaugh JD'16

Suffolk Law student Cherina Clark, JD 17, was recently honored as a “Law Student of the Year” by National Jurist magazine. As one of just 25 students in the country selected for the honor, the magazine highlighted examples of Clark's service, including her work mentoring first-generation law students, training urban high school students, and crafting legislation to help people 700 miles away in Flint, Mich.

Clark began her service as president of Suffolk Law’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA) in 2015. Throughout law school, the publication notes, Clark trained Boston Public Schools teens on Miranda rights, Fourth Amendment/search and seizure, and how to interact with police as a student teacher in the Marshall Brennan program. Clark also worked with the national office of the BLSA on draft legislation submitted to the state of Michigan to address the Flint water crisis.

“There is nothing like being able to use the tools I have learned while in law school to effectuate change and advocate for those who cannot or do not know how to do so. BLSA’s contribution to the Flint water crisis was certainly one of those moments where I was able to be a voice for my community.”

In 2014, Clark received the Governor’s Citation Award from then-Massachusetts’ Governor Deval Patrick for her work with the NAACP on amicus briefs for civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cherina Clark JD'17