Sofia’s Call to Walk for Justice

Sofia Basso Betancourt (2019) isn’t just your usual university student.

If completing her Law and Criminology degree at UWA, and working at an employment law firm wasn’t enough, she’s also started volunteering her time as an Outreach Officer at the WA Justice Association (WAJA).

This organisation aims to reduce incarceration rates and improve outcomes for people coming into contact with WA’s criminal justice system, an area in the legal industry which Sofia feels extremely passionate about. 

Sofia, along with WAJA, will be participating in and raising funds for Law Access’ 2022 Walk for Justice, which will be held on Tuesday 17 May. The walk celebrates the pro bono (free) work of the WA legal profession by raising funds for state-wide charity Law Access. Law Access matches individuals and community organisations seeking legal assistance with pro bono lawyers.

With Walk For Justice soon approaching, we thought we would sit down with Sofia and dive a little deeper into some of the work she has been doing as an Outreach Officer at WAJA.

How did you hear about WAJA and become involved with the association?   

To complement my law and criminology studies, I had been interested in getting involved with an organisation who were passionate about making a difference in the WA community. I had come across WAJA last year during their onboarding period, and was instantly inspired by their mission. WAJA is a student-led charity that seeks to reduce incarceration rates and improve outcomes for those who come in contact with WA’s criminal justice system.

What is your role at WAJA?  

My official title within the WAJA portfolios is ‘Outreach Officer’. This role focuses on liaising with students, external bodies, and the community to raise awareness around WAJA’s projects and mission, as well as creating events for the public. Our team is made up of six dedicated students from different WA universities, and we work together to engage the WA community with WAJA’s efforts.

What are some of your favourite projects you’ve undertaken at WAJA? 

Our current ‘Raise the Age’ campaign would have to be my favourite project so far. It was unknown to me before I joined WAJA that children as young as 10 can be held criminally responsible in WA. To put this in perspective, this could be a young sibling, a cousin, or a student in Years 4 or 5 who can be arrested, kept in police custody, sent to prison, and receive a criminal record. As part of WAJA’s efforts, we are actively raising awareness and working alongside organisations to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years. It’s a project that has shown just how dedicated and passionate our team are in working towards a goal larger than ourselves.

Could you tell us a little bit about the Walk For Justice? How did this come about?  

Walk for Justice was created by the state-wide charity, Law Access. The organisation provides pro bono (free) lawyers to some of the most vulnerable individuals and communities in WA seeking legal assistance. The seventh annual event is on National Pro Bono Day, Tuesday 17 May, and is part of National Law Week. The walk welcomes organisations, such as WAJA and other legal bodies, to join in walking 4.4km along the CBD foreshore.

How can people participate/donate/get involved? What are the funds going towards? 

The funds raised go to Law Access in promoting and supporting equal access to justice in WA and supporting the pro bono legal efforts provided by WA lawyers. People who are interested in getting involved can do so by making a tax-deductible donation to our WAJA fundraiser and spreading awareness to the broader community about the event. Additionally, people can register and attend the walk with us on 17 May.

Why would you encourage people to get involved with WAJA?  

The essence of WAJA’s mission is to help vulnerable people in our society. Reforming the criminal justice system requires the efforts of those who believe in fair justice, and getting involved with WAJA’s efforts is just one way people can do so. Change can only happen once we realise the potential for better.

How do you think your time at Santa Maria influenced your career pathway and involvement with WAJA?  

Santa Maria opened my eyes and challenged me to think critically about our community and the world. It was through opportunities such as Just Leadership, guest speakers at assemblies, and even class discussions, that I was able to look beyond my privilege and acknowledge the injustices that are happening in our own community. Santa Maria inspired me to serve and help the community, and after my first Politics & Law lesson, I knew I could do this by pursuing law.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I like to think that in 10 years’ time, I will be using my law degree to help the WA community, as well as the global community. I hope to still be involved with criminal justice reform but in a legal capacity, and aim to eventually pursue a PhD thesis focused on Indigenous youth incarceration and recidivism rates.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, Sofia.

We hope to see some familiar faces down at the Walk for Justice, next Tuesday 17 May!

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