J. Soffiyah Elijah serves as Deputy Director of the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) at Harvard Law School (HLS). In her capacity as Deputy Director at CJI, she is both an administrator and a clinical instructor. As an administrator, Ms. Elijah is responsible for leading the fulfillment, development and expansion of the Institute’s workto address the urgent needs of the powerless, voiceless and indigentin the criminal justice system. As a clinical instructor, a position she has held at CJI since 1999, she supervises third-year law students in the representation of adult and juvenile clients in the Roxbury and Dorchester Divisions of the Boston Municipal Court. Under Ms. Elijah’s leadership, HLS won the 2004 National Criminal Justice Trial Advocacy Competition, the same Competition at which HLS placed second in 2003. Ms. Elijah’s leadership proved victorious again in March 2005; her legal expertise helped secure the release of a CJI client who had been incarcerated for 31 years.
Prior to coming to Harvard Law School, Ms. Elijah was a member of the faculty at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law. She served as Director and Supervising Attorney of the Defender Clinic. At the Child Welfare Advocacy Fellowship Program, where she also served as Director and Supervising Attorney, Ms. Elijah directed the development of law students to work as creative advocates in New York City’s child welfare system. In addition, Professor Elijah taught courses in criminal procedure and juvenile rights.
Ms. Elijah practiced law through various avenues before transitioning into the clinical practice of academia. She was a Supervising Attorney at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (NDS), where she defended indigent members of the Harlem, New York community. Before joining NDS, Ms. Elijah was in private practice, specializing in criminal defense and family law. She also worked as a Staff Attorney for the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society.
With more than 20 years in the legal profession, the scope of her interests and scholarship is diverse. Prof. Elijah has authored several articles and publications based on her research of the U.S. criminal justice and prison systems. She has represented numerous political prisoners and social activists over the past 18 years. And, her travels to Cuba over the past 13 years have enabled her to conduct extensive research on the country’s legal system, with a focus on its approach to criminal justice issues. Ms. Elijah was awarded a Revson Fellowship at Columbia University to continue research in her areas of interest. Prof. Elijah’s current research and scholarship focuses on criminal justice issues and the prison industrial complex.
Born in Queens, New York, Ms. Elijah earned a Bachelor of Arts from Cornell University and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University Law School (Detroit, Michigan).
She is admitted to the bars of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and the United States Supreme Court.