I discovered the world of criminal law as an undergraduate student, and never looked back. In fact, I went to New York University School of Law for the sole purpose of becoming a public defender. I knew I wanted to work on behalf of poor people, particularly from communities of color, who were often unfairly targeted and prosecuted for crimes.
I worked in New York City as a public defender doing appeals and trial work for almost 10 years. What I saw was a system that was stacked against my clients. The police and prosecutors had all the resources and all the advantages, while my clients were forced to make important decisions — like whether to plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit — based on whether they could afford to make bail or miss work for more court dates or arrange for expensive child care. Poverty, not justice, often dictated the outcome of any given case.
When I left the practice of law in 2005 to join the faculty in the Department of Justice Studies at Montclair State University, I knew I had the perfect opportunity to keep working for justice. Through my teaching, research, and writing, I seek to challenge the ideas, and misconceptions, that people have about crime and our legal system. I’m working hard to raise awareness and bring more justice into our criminal justice system.
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*I use my middle initial S. in my professional life because there are a lot of people out there named Jessica Henry.