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Alumna uses law degree to fight for civil rights

March 14, 2016

When Latrice Lacey, LW’13, came to Drake Law School, she never planned to work in civil rights. In fact, she was going to study intellectual property.

Then one day during her first year, Lacey decided to stop by a career fair outside the Drake Law Library – a decision that changed her career path.

At the fair, she found a position working at the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. From there, Lacey participated in Drake Law School’s Legislative Practice Program and clerked for Iowa State Senator Pam Jochum.

During her final year at Drake Law School, Lacey used her experience to land a position at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa as a legal and legislative intern and later as a staff attorney and lobbyist.

Now, less than three years out of law school, Lacey serves as executive director of the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, which works to investigate discrimination complaints and provide civil rights education.

“We have begun working with various partners on programs and things we can do to change lives,” Lacey says. “I hope that we can have a noticeable impact on creating a better environment for people – not only within the city of Davenport but in the state of Iowa as well.”

As executive director, Lacey drafts decisions on cases, advises the city of Davenport on issues affecting civil rights, and goes out into the community to speak to various groups.

“Our goal is to create a better standard of living for future generations,” Lacey explains. “Creating more communities of opportunity and opening doors for people where they have previously been closed.”

In addition to her work with the Davenport Civil Rights Commission, Lacey was recently named a Juvenile Justice Reform Fellow by the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, which seeks to reduce racial and ethnic disparity in juvenile courts.

As part of the Scott County team, Lacey helped develop a diversion program for youth charged with a non-traffic, simple misdemeanor instead of placing them into the juvenile justice system.

The diversion program, which the kids attend with their parent or guardian, launched on Jan. 1 and focuses on corrective thinking, making better choices, and understanding how values, attitudes, and behavior impact their future.

“Rather than putting them in the juvenile justice system and having a mark on their record, we thought, ‘What can we do to turn these kids around and help them and their families?’” Lacey says. “So we developed this program, and so far we have heard great things about it.”

She adds that the group also works to educate law enforcement officers and schools, and as a result, they have seen a decrease in the number of kids being charged for non-traffic, simple misdemeanor crimes.

“Then of the kids who are charged, they’ve had a good experience with the program," Lacey says. "So we’re really excited.”

Lacey plans to keep working for civil rights and improving the community through the Davenport Civil Rights Commission and her many other involvements, including the recently-launched Boots on the Ground initiative.

“We are going out and meeting people and finding out the issues they’re facing,” Lacey says. “We need to figure out how they can have a better life for themselves and their families and what we can do to empower the community.”