My Summer with the ACLU’s Smart Justice Campaign

Ariyiana Haynes, Legacy Scholar, Howard University Class of 2019

When I decided to come back home to Oklahoma for the summer I remember being nervous that I would not be able to find a productive way to spend my summer. Going to a university in Washington, DC, the pressure to find a glamorous internship or take an insightful trip abroad was on and I did not want to be the odd one out. After much searching online, I came across the American Civil Liberties Union’s website and found that they were hiring interns for their Smart Justice Campaign on a rolling basis. The Smart Justice Campaign is a multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50% and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system through sentencing reform, bail reform, prosecutorial reform, parole reform, and reentry. When I learned this, I knew that I needed to become an intern for this campaign. It aligned with my future career goals and my interests in community outreach and legal systems. 

 I sent the Smart Justice Campaign Manager my cover letter and resume, and when I returned to Oklahoma from school I was contacted for an interview. A few days later I found out that I would be granted an internship with the campaign. I was so excited and honestly, a little nervous too. I did not know what to expect. What would the office dynamic be like? Would everyone be nice? Will I be given opportunities to actually contribute to the campaign? 

From the day I started my internship in May to my last day in August, everyone in the office was incredibly nice and welcomed me with open arms. They created an environment where I felt comfortable asking questions, and people from other departments at the ACLU that I did not intern for assured me that I could learn from them as well. The office was laid-back and calm, aside from the occasional joke of the day announcements and the witty banter amongst co-workers. Despite this easy-going atmosphere, everyone was always eager to contribute and seemed to feel as if we were all there to make a difference in our communities. 

The timing of my internship lined up with the Oklahoma Primary Elections, so the bulk of my internship dealt with preparing for that. My tasks included recruiting volunteers from colleges in the area, reaching out to organizations and community leaders about possible partnerships, and canvassing and making daily calls to inform communities about the upcoming elections, District Attorney candidates, and prosecutorial reform. During this time, I learned a great deal about the justice system, elections, and different ways that public policy can affect communities. I was also given the opportunity to strengthen many of my own personal skills like interpersonal, research, and professional. One of the things that I appreciated about interning with the campaign was my freedom. I was trusted to complete the work that was assigned to me and allowed to work independently, as well as encouraged to present my own ideas. Under this leadership, I always felt validated and appreciated. 

I am extremely grateful for my time as an intern for the ACLU’s Smart Justice Campaign. Throughout my summer, I gained new relationships and learned a great deal about prosecutorial reform and public policy. Interning with this campaign reassured me to continue on my path to law school. I would definitely recommend applying for this internship to any college student who is interested in community outreach, public policy, the judicial system, or mass incarceration.