On the Road to Transforming Criminal Justice
Pre-law senior and Stanley Geen Memorial Award winner Jessica Betancourt
Graduating this spring as Phi Beta Kappa member with a B.S. in psychology and minors in neuroscience and political science, Jessica A. Betancourt’s sights have been long set on a career in law. As early as high school she began internships with the City of New York, gaining instrumental experience in the Department of Probation and at a community courthouse in Red Hook. She credits her experience serving as the captain of Fort Hamilton High School’s law team and participating in mock trials as her first affirmation to choose a path in law.
“I got to hone my public speaking, writing, and reasoning skills during my time on the team,” says Betancourt, who participated in a moot court competition at the Peace Palace in The Hague in the Netherlands, for a team of judges who sit on the International Criminal Court. “It was an incredibly shaping experience for me. It was at that competition that I was introduced to international humanitarian law and became committed to learning more about it.”
Receiving the Stanley Geen Memorial Award has smoothed her path to completing her degree. The award is a grant used to finance pre-law internship/fellowship stipends and tuition fees for LSAT prep courses. Qualified recipients include all Brooklyn College students who demonstrate academic excellence and financial need, and are not limited to students who identify as pre-law.
Help from the award enabled Betancourt to complete an internship at the office of New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, where she explored the financial workings of the city’s operations and participated in the Constituent Services and Community Affairs units. “My experience there sparked a passion for public interest law,” says Betancourt, who wants to pursue a position in the United Nations. Noting the high cost of her law school applications, Betancourt says the importance of the award cannot be overstated. “I am so grateful for the opportunities that have opened up for me and other pre-law students because of awards like the Stanley Geen Memorial Award. I would like to thank all of those involved in ensuring these awards are available and accessible to students.”
A second opportunity in a federal law setting materialized for Betancourt when she joined the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York as an intern in May 2021. Working alongside federal prosecutors, paralegals, and investigators, Betancourt assisted in ongoing investigations and trial preparation, among other tasks. There, she solidified her interest in criminal and international law and public policy.
“It was amazing to be in the courthouse all the time and gain hands-on experience with cases,” says Betancourt, who states that it was her most informative experience outside of the classroom to date. “Seeing the ins and outs of the legal process gave me a structure to aspire to in my own career,” she adds.
On campus, Betancourt is a student representative for the Psychology Department’s curriculum committee, had done work in Professor Ana Gantman’s lab in human morality and in the psychophysiology lab led by Associate Professor of Psychology Yu Gao. The pre-law student’s interests surround the intersection between psychopathic traits and criminality, and she is currently examining relationship differences between primary and secondary callous unemotional adolescents—two variants of the psychopathy dimension. By identifying and addressing the biological and social roots of these traits through tailored, early interventions she believes levels of violent crimes and prison recidivism can be greatly reduced.
Betancourt’s course is set for her long hoped-for career. The Bay Ridge native has been accepted to Columbia Law School through early admissions and will attend in the fall. With plans on pursuing a juris doctorate and a Ph.D. in psychology, she defines success as reaching a point in her career where her ability to enact change is magnified. “I believe that anyone can make a difference on some scale using the tools they have at hand, but I’ll know I’m successful when my work has much more far- reaching, long -asting, and possibly codified effects, far beyond what I am capable of doing now.”