Criminal Justice Alumnus Gets Assist from Point Park University in Helping Improve Legal Outcomes for People in Need Wednesday, July 20, 2022
The JASON Project is run by Mark Thompson, a Point Park alumnus who earned a B.S. in Criminal Justice.
“The work Mark is doing through the JASON Project is critical for the improvement of the community. Our students are getting real-world experience while making a difference in people’s lives.”
The JASON Project, a nonprofit that supports people in need of assistance navigating the court system, is preparing – with support from Point Park University – to make its services more widely available to Pittsburgh-area residents.
The JASON Project, which stands for Judicial Assistance Serving Our Neighborhoods, is part of Vision Enterprises Legal Research LLC and is run by Mark Thompson, a Point Park alumnus who earned a B.S. in Criminal Justice.
“Our main clients are people who must use a public defender. Normally, you see and converse with your public defender minutes before you go into a courtroom unless you have a pretrial conference,” Thompson said. “We help them understand what their case is about and the charges pressed against them.”
Michael Botta, D.S.S., chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Intelligence Studies at Point Park, recently joined the board of directors of the JASON Project as vice chairman. Dr. Lorelei Stein, former director of graduate programs for the department, is chair of the JASON Project’s board of directors. In addition, students from the criminal justice program are working as interns for the project.
“The work Mark is doing through the JASON Project is critical for the improvement of the community,” Botta said. “Our students are getting real-world experience while making a difference in people’s lives.”
About the JASON Project
The JASON Project helps clients understand the charges against them, but also educates in other critical areas such as court etiquette – how to behave, how to dress – and court function, so they have a better understanding of the process.
“We do not work independent of public defenders, magistrates, judges – they have received us well,” Thompson said. “They see how we’re helping, especially overwhelmed public defenders with very limited time. One client might see four different public defenders at each court appearance from the magistrate’s office to the county level. We are a constant with our clients, so when they do see a public defender, they are less stressed and can make more informed decisions about their cases.”
The project is developing a network of organizations, including the Center for Family Excellence, Benefiting African American Mothers and Minority Males, and others, for clients to be referred for other issues in their lives. While there also is a reliance on the Point Park student interns, Thompson hopes to raise enough money to hire full-time staff and continue to expand the reach of the organization.
Thompson has been doing similar work for about 15 years. A Marine Corps veteran, he spent time as a veteran’s service officer, helping resolve issues surrounding claims with Veterans Affairs. Through that work, he noticed a lot of veterans had other legal issues and would offer guidance in those areas.
For Thompson, the acronym “JASON” has special meaning. “Jason” was the nickname of Terrance Williams, a jailhouse lawyer who was Thompson’s friend and encouraged him to study law. Williams died in 2005 at Western Penitentiary. After his death, Thompson wrote a paper on the JASON Project in 2007 while studying at Point Park. In 2012, his company, Vision Enterprises Legal Research LLC, launched an initial JASON Project website focusing on work with Butler County veterans.
In May 2021, the current iteration of the JASON Project organized as a nonprofit and opened its office at the Energy Innovation Center in November. It started officially taking Pittsburgh-area clients in March 2022.
“We have yet to have a client we have not been able to help in some way,” Thompson said. “My hope is that we continue expanding our work and helping as many people as possible. Like Dr. Botta and others, I believe we have the beginnings of a national criminal justice reform program.”
The JASON Project will officially be presented to the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County on Friday, Aug. 5, at the Energy Innovation Center by Pittsburgh Green Innovators – the project’s fidiuciary – where both of its offices are located. The event runs from 2-6 p.m. and includes appetizers and dinner. Seating space is limited. To reserve a seat, contact Dr. Charlene A. Hill-Coleman, President of the JASON Project, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Potential clients can reach out to the JASON Project here.
Press release by Lou Corsaro
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