The students running a legal aid service for prisoners in two penitantiary institutions in the Utrecht region, have been awarded the Societal Impact Award of the LEG faculty. In the "staff" category, the winners were Peter Linde en Jeroen Vermeulen of the Learning Lab Overvecht.
Helping in prison
The jury awards all students who ever volunteered in the Legal Aid for Prisoners – “Juridisch spreekuur gedetineerden” in the prisons of Nieuwegein and Nieuwersluis. In this weekly consultation hour, two students visit detainees to help to answer legal questions of all kinds. Questions on their house and rent, their jobs, custody over children, the regime in a prison, questions about legal proceedings, it can be anything. The lawyers of the prisoners focus on the case for which they are detained, the students can help with other questions. A self-refreshing pool of about 15 law students at Utrecht University keeps this Legal Aid Service going since 2002, supported by teachers of Law, including Antoinette Bakker and Pauline Jacobs. The teachers co read the questions and the answers that the students personally return (in letters) to the prisoners. According to the teachers, however, the students do most of the work independently under the guidance of a student assistant and former participant - Tessa de Groot.
The jury praised the durable and stable character of this initiative, to which many students have contributed and will be contributing. The project has fully proved its value by continuing to operate in times of budgetary cuts to basic forms of legal aid. There is a clear connection to the academic program; students are able to put their newly acquired knowledge into practice right away. Jury member Anne-Wil Dijkstra added that the students can see that the real world can be much more difficult than the one on paper and that the students learn lessons that stay with them the rest of their lives.