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UMCLC Prison Law Clinic team (left to right): Chanelle Lajoie, Articling Student; Leif Jensen, Staff Lawyer; Tréchelle Bunn (1L), Summer Student; and Allison Fenske, UMCLC Director. Photo by Shannon VanRaes.

University of Manitoba Community Law Centre Launches Prison Law Clinic

June 27, 2024 — 

Upon identifying a gap in legal services for individuals held in custody in federal prisons, the University of Manitoba Community Law Centre (UMCLC) has taken steps to address this issue by launching the province’s first Prison Law Clinic.

The UMCLC is part of a long-standing partnership between Legal Aid Manitoba (LAM) and the University of Manitoba. In 2022, the UMCLC and LAM reaffirmed their commitment to increasing access to justice in Manitoba by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining plans for expanding UMCLC services, including the establishment of a Prison Law Clinic.

The newly established UMCLC Prison Law Clinic offers a wide range of legal services to incarcerated individuals at Stony Mountain Institution, and other federal correctional settings within Manitoba. These services include representation in both institutional grievances and disciplinary proceedings, matters arising under the Corrections and Conditional Release Regulations and Corrections and Conditional Release Act, and other legal services addressing incarcerated persons’ conditions of confinement.

The clinic also aims to respond to the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples within Canada’s prison system, an issue that is particularly acute in Manitoba. Through engagement with Indigenous Peoples, representative organizations and governments, Allison Fenske, UMCLC Director and Supervising Attorney of the Prison Law Clinic, worked to ensure that the clinic’s design and delivery would be responsive to the priorities and needs of Indigenous people incarcerated at Stony Mountain Institution.

In addition to Fenske, the Prison Law Clinic team is comprised of Leif Jensen, Prison Law Staff Lawyer, Chanelle Lajoie, Prison Law Articling Student and Tréchelle Bunn (1L), Prison Law Summer Student. In September, the clinic will welcome a new cohort of law students to a clinic externship. 

Bunn, who has just completed her first year at the Faculty of Law, was eager to join the UMCLC Prison Law Clinic.

“The overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in Canada’s prison system and working to combat this issue has been the driving force behind my decision to pursue a career in law,” said Bunn. “Being able to gain first-hand experience working in a diverse legal area such as prison law and assist in addressing a critical gap in access to justice is both vital and meaningful.”

The establishment of the Prison Law Clinic also aligns with the goals of the University of Manitoba’s Strategic Plan 2024-2029, particularly under the theme of “Empowering Learners,” as the clinic “provides students with the opportunity to gain valuable experience working with one of the most marginalized groups within the legal system, strengthening and empowering their sense of social responsibility in addressing systemic law reform issues within the carceral system,” said Fenske. “Prison law also incorporates a unique mix of criminal, civil, administrative, and human rights law, so students are immersed into diverse legal areas with the intention of stimulating interest and expertise in prison law.”

The UMCLC and the Prison Law Clinic are made possible with the generous support of the Manitoba Law Foundation. The project was also partially funded by UM’s the Strategic Initiatives Support Fund. The Prison Law Clinic is currently operating as a one-year pilot program, but based on anticipated success, the clinic hopes to expand to include provincial prisons in the future. 

Through ongoing efforts such as the Prison Law Clinic, UMCLC, and LAM continue to make meaningful strides in promoting access to justice and upholding the rights of all individuals across Manitoba, including those who are incarcerated.

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