Shavonna Green awarded Commendation for Excellence in Community Engagement Scholarship

February 17, 2021

Shavonna GreenShavonna Green, a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at Michigan State University, recently received the MSU Commendation for Excellence in Community Engagement Scholarship for her work on “Criminal Justice Reform: Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration.” Ms. Green will be formally recognized at the 2021 Michigan State University Outreach and Engagement Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, February 24, 2021 at 4:30pm.

Within the School of Social Work, Ms. Green is in the Advocacy Scholars program, which is a competitive scholarship and intensive training program for MSW students pursuing careers in social policy and social change. As part of their training, Advocacy Scholars are matched with field placements where they focus 80%+ of their time on advocacy/policy work. She also currently serves as an intern at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, where she works on their Smart Justice Campaign. This campaign aims to end mass incarceration and eliminate racism within the criminal legal system. Her enthusiasm and commitment to criminal justice reform stems from her experience working in behavioral health and witnessing mass incarceration of many individuals whose crimes stemmed from experiencing side effects of untreated mental illness.

Through her role on the ACLU’s Smart Justice Campaign, Ms. Green has advocated for the expansion of stakeholders, inviting new community partners to the table to ensure that the Campaign’s goals are representative of constituents’ needs and perspectives from different parts of the state. One of the partners that Ms. Green advocated be invited to participate in the Campaign was the National Association of Social Workers Michigan Chapter (NASW-MI). She now serves as the liaison between the ACLU and NASW. Her initiative in building this inter-organizational partnership has created a tremendous opportunity for the voices of mental health providers in Michigan and the individuals they serve to help shape criminal justice policy reform within the state.

One of the largest initiatives that the Smart Justice Team embarked on was introducing 18 bills during the last two weeks of the legislative session. Ms. Green arranged constituent meetings with Michigan legislators so they could express their opinions and share relevant personal experiences related to these bills. She trained constituents on how to host legislative/advocacy meetings and how to use data and personal experiences to express the need for new criminal justice policies. At the conclusion of the 2020 legislative session, all 18 bills, decriminalizing several misdemeanor offenses to civil infractions, eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for certain minor offenses and discontinue sending individuals to jail for driving offenses unrelated to safety, were passed in the Michigan House and the Senate. These bills were signed into law by Governor Whitmer during the first week of January 2021.

Dr. Sacha Klein, Associate Professor and Ms. Green’s Advocacy Scholars advisor said, “Shavonna’s work with the ACLU has been impactful not only for this community partner organization and for her own learning and professional development, but also for the entire state. Moreover, she has done an excellent job representing the university and strengthening the school’s relationship with this community partner. The relationships she has built have led to new partnership opportunities between the School of Social Work and the ACLU-MI. For instance, Shavonna helped facilitate a structured dialogue between this year’s cohort of Advocacy Scholars, the ACLU-MI Political Director and the ACLU-MI Policy Counsel that helped our Scholars learn more about potential career opportunities in policy advocacy, principles of effective lobbying, and several of the ACLU’s current campaigns. Thanks to the doors that Shavonna has helped open, our school looks forward to a continued partnership with the ACLU-MI, including opportunities for community-engaged scholarship.”