September staff updates

DRNC is pleased to welcome three new staff members who joined our team this month, and to announce an exciting update.

Joonu Coste

Joonu-Noel Coste, who joined DRNC in September 2019 as the our Equal Justice Works fellow, successfully completed her fellowship. We are excited to report that she has transitioned to the position of attorney on DRNC’s Investigations and Monitoring team. Coste has had a transformational impact in her work to reduce North Carolina’s over-reliance on Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (PRTFs) and end the “PRTF-to-prison pipeline” in North Carolina. As part of her fellowship, she developed a campaign to educate community members and lawmakers on the many benefits of community-based mental health and substance abuse treatment. She will continue her critical advocacy work and seek legal remedies for systemic abuse and mistreatment of youth at PRTFs.

Meet DRNC’s newest team members!

Sarah Hoffman

Sarah Hoffman joined DRNC in September 2021 as an Equal Justice Works fellow. Her work focuses on understanding how NC prisons treat people with mental health disabilities and developing strategies to protect these individuals from solitary confinement-like conditions. Hoffman graduated with a law degree from UNC School of Law and a master’s degree in public policy from Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Her experience includes working with the National Disability Rights Network, the NC Department of Behavioral Health, and the Mental Health Division of the D.C. Public Defender Service. Hoffman is dedicated to expanding public access to high-quality behavioral health treatment with a focus on people involved in the criminal justice system. In her free time, she enjoys baking, playing piano, watching old sci-fi movies, and spending time with her loved ones.

Candace Speller

Candace Speller joined DRNC in 2021 as a staff attorney on our Client Assistance Services & Engagement (CASE) team. A native of North Carolina, Speller received her undergraduate degree from NNC State University and her law degree from UNC School of Law. While in law school, Speller interned with DRNC and developed an appreciation and passion for advocating for people with disabilities. She previously worked with Legal Aid of North Carolina on the Disaster Relief team, providing legal support to survivors of Hurricane Florence. In her free time, Speller enjoys spending time with family, friends and her two “fur-babies” Tyson and Betsy.

Ashleigh Swayze

Ashleigh Swayze joined DRNC in August 2021. Her work focuses on investigations involving Social Security beneficiaries and their representative payees. Swayze has over 10 years’ experience in the social services field. Prior to coming to DRNC, she worked in economic and child protective service for several local departments of social services. Swayze earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from NC State University and a master’s degree in public administration from Western Carolina University. For many years, she has advocated for the rights of her youngest son, who has a rare genetic syndrome. Outside of work, Swayze and her husband enjoy attending music concerts and taking their boys hiking and camping.