FacultyFaculty/Author Profile

Deborah LaBelle

ACLU of Michigan
Director, JLWOP Project
Detroit, MI, USA


Deborah LaBelle, is an attorney and writer whose advocacy focuses on the human rights of people in detention, the intersection of race and gender, and the rights of children in the criminal justice and education systems in the United States. In addition to her private practice, Ms. LaBelle is the Director of the Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative for the ACLU of Michigan and Coordinator of Michigan’s Juvenile Mitigation Access Committee. She has been lead counsel in over a dozen class actions that have successfully challenged policies affecting the treatment and sentencing of incarcerated men, women and children, utilizing a human rights framework. She has represented clients before the United States Supreme Court and in international forums with an integrated model for reform utilizing concurrent litigation, documentation and advocacy strategies.

Ms. LaBelle is a Senior Soros Justice Fellow and was the first American recognized by Human Rights Watch as a Human Rights Monitor, for her work on behalf of incarcerated women and girls. Her publications include Basic Decency: Protecting the human rights of children (2012); Ensuring Rights for All: Realizing Human Rights for Prisoners in Bringing Human Rights Home (Praeger Press, 2008); and Bringing Human Rights Home to the World of Detention (Columbia Human Rights Law Review Article, Vol. 40.1, Fall 2008); Second Chances: Juveniles serving life without parole in Michigan prisons (2004); Women at the Margins, Neglect, Punishment and Resistance (Haworth, 2002).

Ms. LaBelle has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Trial Lawyer of the Year Award from Public Justice Foundation, the Federal Bar Association Wade McCree Jr. Award, Michigan’s State Bar Champion of Justice Award, the National Lawyer Guild’s Law for the People Award, Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan Justice for All Award, the Integrity in the Community Award, Women Lawyers Association of Michigan Jean King Leadership Award, WAJ Outstanding Attorney Award, the Susan B. Anthony Award, and the Martin Luther King “I Have a Dream” Award and the ACLU of Michigan Civil Libertarian of the Year Award.
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