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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 12 | Dec. 4, 2003

Lessons from The Pink Book

Law student prepares girls’ guide to justice system

By Erica Smishek

UBC Law student Patricia Cochran sees red when she thinks how poorly adolescent girls living in poverty are treated in the criminal justice system.

She’d prefer to see pink.

Cochran is heading up the research and writing for The Pink Book, a handbook designed to provide defence lawyers with the information they need to bring the best defence for girls aged 12 to 18 under the Youth Criminal Justice Act and protect the rights of girls in prison. Another version, The Little Pink Book, is also being prepared for girls themselves.

“Young women’s rights are often overlooked and are not responded to fairly by police, by the courts, not by the correctional system,” Cochran says. “I hope the books will help change that.”

The books are an initiative of Justice for Girls, a social justice organization that promotes support, justice and equality for adolescent girls who have experienced violence and live in poverty. Cochran, now in third-year law, began doing pro bono work for the group two years ago, completing legal research projects and making presentations at workshops and conferences on behalf of the organization.

She and fellow law student Kat Kinch are collaborating on the handbooks, which will be readable collections of explanations and tips about legal issues, including human rights, through every step of the criminal justice process.

“Essentially, we’re saying ‘here’s the law, here’s what we think about the law, here’s some background and here’s some advice,’” Cochran explains. “We’ll also be incorporating stories that are made up but are related to real lives. This will personalize issues and procedures in a way so people can understand how some obscure law can affect these young women.”

Justice for Girls, which is partly funded by the Law Foundation of B.C. and Status of Women Canada, takes the feminist position that young women in poverty are the experts of their own experience. It works to provide the support and resources that girls need to act on their own behalf in creating change in their lives.

Cochran, who has a BA from McGill University and an MA in political science from the University of Toronto, says the books adhere to the same principle.

“We want lawyers to better understand how to effectively communicate with these young women. It’s the responsibility of a lawyer that their client actually understands what’s going on and that their client has to be the one to give the lawyer instructions.

“Many girls don’t realize what their rights are in this regard. Lawyers must explain the roles clearly and put the decisions into the hands of young women in terms of whether to respond and how to proceed through the system. We need to put the power into these young women’s hands.”

Justice For Girls has also been working on a rights card, a basic outline with tips on what to do if approached by the authorities, arrested, interrogated, asked to be stripped searched, etc. that girls can carry in their pockets.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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