Three Strikes Project


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We find the people serving the longest and most unjust sentences and represent them in state and federal courts across the county. Almost all of our clients are serving life sentences “Three Strikes” law for crimes as minor as shoplifting a pair of socks, attempting to steal a car radio, and simple drug possession. We have won reversals of life sentences in over 150 cases. We also pursue civil rights impact cases challenging mandatory minimum sentences and unfair prison conditions and policies. More.


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We develop, enact, and implement innovative criminal justice reforms to repeal and amend the harshest and least effective criminal laws across the country. Our initiatives have reduced sentences for nonviolent crimes, lead to early release of over 2,200 prisoners serving life sentences for petty offenses, improved public safety, and saved hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. Our strategies have been praised as a “proven path” for successful criminal justice reform by The New York Times and serve as a model for other criminal justice reforms across the county. More.

Legal Training


Training a new generation of attorneys is at the core of our work. Law students participate in every aspect of our cases and policy reforms. Students receive hands-on experience studying mass incarceration, criminal justice reform, and post-conviction litigation up close and in real time. Coursework covers constitutional doctrine, advanced criminal procedure, and litigation skills and strategies. Students contribute to live cases, draft court pleadings, visit clients in prison, conduct investigations, and help develop policy reforms. More.


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Our “Ride Home” re-entry program was developed with the Obama administration and U.S. Dept. of Justice to provide intensive support to immediately upon their release from prison. 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 transfer them to a safe residential reentry program. On President Obama’s last day in office, the White House said that his clemency initiative “could not have been realized” without the Project’s support. More.


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We leverage expertise and resources at Stanford to evaluate what works (and doesn’t work) in the criminal justice system. We develop unique data and rely on our in-field experiences to publish original 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.


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We were proud to work with President Obama, who said that our partnership was set an example for his executive clemency initiative. Project director Michael Romano is currently chair of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code. The Project is also counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and frequently collaborates with elected local, state, and federal officials, government agencies, civil rights groups, law enforcement leaders, community service providers, and other stakeholders.  More.

Publications & Reports

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A Different Kind Of Sentencing Commission: A Model For Prison Downsizing Across The Country read more

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Striking Back: Using Death Penalty Law to Fight Disproportionate Sentences Imposed Under California’s Three Strikes Law read more

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Justice That Heals: Promoting Behavioral Health, Safeguarding the Public, and Ending Our Overreliance on Jails read more

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The Prevalence and Severity of Mental Illness Among California Prisoners on the Rise read more

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Law Enforcement is on the Front Lines of Race War read more

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Proposition 47 Progress Report: Year One Implementation read more

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When Did Prisons Become Acceptable Mental Healthcare Facilities? read more

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Proposition 36 Progress Report: Over 1,500 Prisoners Released; Historically Low Recidivism Rate read more

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Progress Report: Three Strikes Reform (Proposition 36); 1,000 Prisoners Released read more

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In the News

The Three Strikes Project has been called “a voice for the forsaken” by The Economist, “a path forward as the country considers how to reduce incarceration without increasing crime,” by The New York Times, and a “champion of change” by the Obama administration.

Three Strikes Project

The Bicycle Thief. Twenty years ago, 60 Minutes profiled our client Steven Bell, who was sentenced to life under the Three Strikes law for stealing a bicycle. In this update, they describe his release, thanks to advocacy from our students implementing a reform we advocated for over a decade.

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PBS/POV feature documentary follows the first year implementing California’s Three Strikes Reform Act (Proposition 36).


You Just Got Out of Prison. Now What?
New York Times Magazine

A Voice For the Forsaken
The Economist

Law Students Help Free Three-Strikes Offenders
The Los Angeles Times

The Stupidest Law Ever
Rolling Stone

Out of Prison, and Staying Out, After 3rd Strike in California
The New York Times

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