Melissa Leon Pons ’23

Berkshire District Attorney’s Office, Pittsfield, MA

Checking for any new updates on our project.

This summer, thanks to the generosity of the Alumni Sponsored Internship Program and the Estate of George Mead, I was able to spend my time working alongside the Community Engagement Office within the Berkshires District Attorney’s Office (BDAO). I was hired as a Juvenile Justice Reform Intern and worked in conjunction with one other Williams student, Sophie Moore ’22, who focused primarily on data analytics. Together our roles aimed to take two different approaches toward policy research that the BDAO has both historically had in place or has an interest in exploring now. DA Andrea Harrington won her election on a progressive platform that promised to reevaluate the efficacy of procedures, and I spent my internship working toward this mission. We began our work by compiling sources of information about restorative justice and produced a 20-page report on its foundation, current uses in different realms (i.e. education, the criminal justice system, community health and healing), and overall best practices while developing any such program.

Following the first leg of this assignment, and that of every future assignment thereafter, we would look to see how such practices or policies were visible in the community and how they could be implemented in culturally attuned ways for the community. Gaining a basic understanding of the demographics, the availability of resources, and the most pressing needs was a large part of our work. In this way, my work was as much centered on community as it was the innerworkings of a government office. Having this intersection was invaluable to me as I continue to explore my interests for a future career. Being a Public Health concentrator, I had the opportunity to explore the different ways that public health can be protected outside of a medical institution’s purview. Similar in nature were our default warrant assignment, 58A Dangerousness Hearings assignment, and the Community Survey we worked to create. For each of these an aspect of care was present for how the most marginalized populations were being protected, and I was allowed the space to voice any concerns along the way.

I have taken a lot away from this position. I am very excited to continue learning more about the criminal justice system this fall through my School to Prison Pipeline course, and continue applying my knowledge to my current and future work. This internship has helped me to further cement my interest in work that is community facing. I can say that I have been nervous in the past—and to some degree, continue to be nervous—about the way my degree may be applicable to the fields I foresee myself in, but this internship has proven that there are avenues that American Studies and Public Health can take you in a real-world context that are exactly in line with my interests and beliefs. I truly am grateful for this experience and I am excited to see where my future work takes me after 
this internship.