Alex Dutton LAW ’15 has won the 2014 PJSD Pro Bono Publico Award. This prestigious award honors one law student nationwide for their pro bono contributions to society, and recognizes the significant contributions that law students make to underserved populations, the public interest community, and legal education through public service work.
In 2012, as a 1L, Alex volunteered to assist with Philadelphia’s first Youth Court, located at Strawberry Mansion High School-the only high school on the Philadelphia School District’s list of “persistently dangerous schools.” Youth Court initiatives are exercises in restorative justice, using positive peer pressure to reshape student behavior and interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by providing an alternative to suspension for students who commit minor offenses. Philadelphia’s new program had significant expertise behind it: it was backed by the US Attorney’s Office and run by Mr. Greg Volz, a seasoned practitioner who had already implemented Youth Courts successfully elsewhere. Even among such company, Alex distinguished himself by teaching as much as he learned. In order to reach students overtly distrustful of anyone associated with the criminal justice system, he convinced his supervisor to set aside the Court manual temporarily and meet with students in small groups so the students could take the lead and educate the program staff and volunteers about their lives and their values. (Alex later added to the manual and helped create new curricula.) Alex’s involvement with the program has continued throughout his law school career, as he has successfully attracted other law students from all six Philadelphia region law schools to support the city’s burgeoning Youth Court programs.
In his letter of recommendation, Mr. Volz summarized best the impact of Alex’s contribution to the Youth Court program and to the Philadelphia community: “Alex[‘s] efforts have sparked a potential paradigm shift in law school pro bono activity and shown how youth courts help disadvantaged youth help themselves.”