UC Hastings Grad Works With Incarcerated People Through Summer Fellowship

smiling female law student
Karissa Provenza ’22 is using her law degree to help reduce long prison sentences and improve access to education thanks to two post-graduate fellowship awards.

This summer, Karissa Provenza ’22 is putting her new UC Hastings law degree to work at the nonprofit For the People. There, she works to get prison sentences reduced for incarcerated people thanks to a fellowship awarded by the Legal Services Funders Network. She reviews case files and makes recommendations for prosecutors to reconsider previously imposed prison terms.

Provenza, who graduated in May with a social justice lawyering concentration, said she chose UC Hastings because of its clinical programs and social justice focus, “My primary interest when entering law school was to gain access to the tools sometimes necessary to enact greater social change.”

After her summer fellowship, Provenza will work with parent advocates and others to push for improved access to educational resources as an Education Equity Fellow with the San Francisco-based nonprofit Public Advocates. While there, Provenza will collaborate with a team to monitor school districts and ensure they spend earmarked funds on high-need students as required by state law.

“I will be using my law degree to do social justice work and movement lawyering,” Provenza said. “Movement lawyering to me in part means to take a collaborative approach to lawyering by following the lead of community members who are most impacted.”

A Canadian-born immigrant who grew up in Hawaii, Provenza is the first in her family to attend college. In law school, Provenza served as director of community affairs for the UC Hastings student government group ASUCH; director of development for the Hastings Public Interest Law Foundation; student advisory board member of the Center for Advocacy, Resources and Education; and staff editor of the Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal. She was also a member of the Legal Education Opportunity Program (LEOP) at Hastings, which admits students from underserved backgrounds and supports them to succeed.

“LEOP not only provided me with tutoring and mentorship support, but also with an environment where I built some of my closest friendships,” Provenza said.

Provenza took advantage of multiple experiential learning opportunities during her time at Hastings. She worked with Legal Services for Children representing kids in the foster care system. She helped survivors of sexual assault and workplace discrimination as an extern with Equal Rights Advocates. As a participant in the Individual Representation Clinic, she helped people with criminal convictions clear their records. She also worked on an advocacy campaign to reform California’s child welfare system as a Community Group Advocacy Clinic extern with the ACLU of Northern California.

Provenza, who was previously trained as a trauma counselor, said some of those experiences taught her “how to specifically support clients who are experiencing varying traumas, and that legal representation should go beyond just helping with the legal issue at hand.”

Provenza earned several awards and honors for her work, including a Nancy Stuart Public Interest Award, two Public Interest Achievement Awards, LSC Certificate in Child Advocacy, Liz Butler Steyer Award for commitment to child advocacy, and Pro Bono Society recognition for hours committed to public-interest work during law school.

Her advice to future law students? “Take advantage of the clinical programs, not only for the invaluable direct service experience, but for the loving, supportive, and inspirational professors who lead the clinics. I have been overwhelmed by the level of support I continue to receive from the professors who lead the clinical programs. Everyone is so willing to do whatever they can to support their students.”