The newly created California System-Involved Bar Association – CSIBA – has as its mission to increase access to legal education and State Bar of California licensure for people with prior criminal justice system involvement. The brainchild of Frankie Guzman and James Binnall, themselves attorneys with histories of criminal justice system involvement, CSIBA hopes to harness the energy and commitment of others similarly situated to provide education, mentoring, and advocacy to achieve that mission. Here is the project vision:
“The California System Involved Bar Association is above all else – a community. Our members are invested in the successes of those who come after us, as we understand that to effectuate real, lasting change, we must continually give back to our population. When one achieves their goals, we all benefit.
One of the primary purposes of CSIBA is to offer our community a sense of hope. Often, our population is discouraged from pursuing a career in law because “people like us can’t do that” or “are not allowed to do that.” We are here to dispel those myths. Our members, all formerly incarcerated or system involved, are practicing attorneys specializing in a variety of areas of law and working in a host of different fields. For example, our members include licensed attorneys who are professors, policy advocates, and non-profit leaders.
Though hope is a necessary first step, we understand that without resources, hope is of little value. Along those lines, we have built a statewide network of members to help formerly incarcerated and system involved individuals to achieve their dream of becoming a licensed California attorney. From admission to law school through licensure, members are available to share their stories, offer encouragement, and strategize next steps. In short, we will walk with you on your path to becoming an attorney.
Too often our population is viewed as having an abundance of deficits. Many talk about formerly incarcerated and system involved people as having needs and posing risks. It is our belief that such an approach overlooks the assets, strengths, and attributes that we have as a population. All of us have navigated the criminal justice system – and for some of us that included incarceration. Still, we have come out on the other side wiser and stronger. This demonstrates a type of resilience and character that we believe translates into being a successful attorney. This group is about that belief – the belief that we make good, ethical lawyers.
Thank you for visiting our site. We appreciate your interest and if you are formerly incarcerated or system involved, please reach out, join a meeting, and start to work toward your dream of entering the legal profession. If you are simply interested in our organization, we welcome your help. We collaborate with a vast array of stakeholders, because we know the difficulties our population faces and the necessary assistance we all need.
– James M. Binnall & Frankie Guzman
CSIBA Co-Founders & Co-Executive Directors”
Paul Seeman is a member of the CSIBA E-Board.