We represent individual inmates serving unjust prison sentences in state and federal courts across the county. We have won reversals of over 100 life sentences. Our clients have sentenced to life for crimes as minor as shoplifting a pair of socks, attempting to steal a car radio, and simple drug possession under California’s “Three Strikes” law. We also pursue civil rights impact cases challenging mandatory minimum sentences and unfair prison conditions and policies. More.
We develop, enact, and implement innovative criminal justice reforms. Our initiatives have reduced sentences for nonviolent crimes, lead to early release of over 2,200 prisoners serving life sentences for petty offenses under California’s “Three Strikes” law, improved public safety, and saved hundreds of millions of dollars. Our work has served as a model for other reforms in California and across the county and our strategies praised as a “proven path” for successful criminal justice reform by The New York Times. More.
Law students are involved in every aspect of our work. Enrolled students receive hands-on experience studying mass incarceration, criminal justice reform, and post-conviction litigation up close and in real time. Coursework covers sentencing policy and constitutional doctrine, advanced criminal procedure, and post-conviction litigation strategies. Students contribute to live cases, draft court pleadings, maintain relationships with clients, and help develop policy reforms. More.
Our “Ride Home” re-entry program was developed with the Obama administration to support the President’s executive clemency initiative and was named a White House “Champion of Change” in 2016. The program employs formerly incarcerated re-entry counselors to greet freed inmates at the prison gates, when they are most vulnerable to relapse and recidivism, and provide immediate, intensive support, transportation, and connections to long-term residential programs. More.
We leverage expertise and resources at Stanford to conduct original empirical research into what works (and doesn’t work) in the criminal justice system. We develop unique data and rely on our in-field experiences to develop research that often leads to policy proposals addressing efficacy of long prison sentences, disparities among racial groups and people with mental illness, reform implementation, addiction, and recidivism mitigation. More.
All of our public policy work is advanced in partnership with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. We have also partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice and Office of White House Counsel (2014-16), elected Republicans and Democrats in local, state, and federal offices, civil rights groups, grassroots organizers, and community service providers in our effort to develop, enact, and implement fairer and more effective criminal justice laws and policies. More.
Publications & Reports
|A Different Kind Of Sentencing Commission: A Model For Prison Downsizing Across The Country read more|
|Striking Back: Using Death Penalty Law to Fight Disproportionate Sentences Imposed Under California’s Three Strikes Law read more|
|Justice That Heals: Promoting Behavioral Health, Safeguarding the Public, and Ending Our Overreliance on Jails read more|
|The Prevalence and Severity of Mental Illness Among California Prisoners on the Rise read more|
|Law Enforcement is on the Front Lines of Race War read more|
|Proposition 47 Progress Report: Year One Implementation read more|
|When Did Prisons Become Acceptable Mental Healthcare Facilities? read more|
|Proposition 36 Progress Report: Over 1,500 Prisoners Released; Historically Low Recidivism Rate read more|
|Progress Report: Three Strikes Reform (Proposition 36); 1,000 Prisoners Released read more|
In the News
PBS/POV feature documentary follows the first year implementing California’s Three Strikes Reform Act (Prop. 36) and two prisoners freed from life terms as they are reunited with their families and a new world.
You Just Got Out of Prison. Now What?
New York Times Magazine read story
A Voice For the Forsaken
The Economist read story
Law Students Help Free Three-Strikes Offenders
The Los Angeles Times read story
The Stupidest Law Ever
Rolling Stone read story
Out of Prison, and Staying Out, After 3rd Strike in California
The New York Times read story
CASE OF THE WEEK: In 1999, Alejandra H., was convicted of second degree burglary and sentenced to life under California’s Three Strikes law. Alejandra is a male-to-female transgender woman and has been housed in a male prison facility, where she endured endured violence and sexual assault for almost 20 years. Last year, a trial court found that “it is clear that the CDCR does not currently have a plan to safely house transgender inmates” but nonetheless ruled that Alejandra was unsuitable for release under Proposition 36, based largely on her prison disciplinary record, which includes multiple rule violations for attempted suicide. This week, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision, and we are now appealing to the Supreme Court.