News Center

Elsewhere Online twitter Facebook SLS Blogs YouTube SLS Channel Linked In SLSNavigator SLS on Flickr

Three Strikes Project Fights Life Sentences For Nonviolent Recidivists

Publication Date: 
February 15, 2011
The Stanford Daily
Marwa Farag

The Three Strikes Project, run by students at Stanford Law School, was founded in 2006 and has since reduced 15 sentences for prisoners who have committed a nonviolent crime as their third offense. The Stanford Daily's Marwa Farag wrote the following article delving into the work of this student-run group:

Students at Stanford Law School are fighting to change what is known as the Three Strikes Law in the California criminal justice system.

The Stanford Three Strikes Project, founded in 2006, takes on clients who are facing life sentences under the Three Strikes Law, which mandates a 25-year to life sentence for third-time offenders. The third offense need not be “serious” or “violent” for the law to be applied.

The Three Strikes Project has reduced sentences in 15 cases over the past two and a half years.


“It’s amazing,” said lecturer Michael Romano, a Three Strikes Project co-founder. “You start with one case and say, ‘I can’t believe that someone is serving a life sentence for such minor crimes.’ Then you realize there are more.”

The Three Strikes Project students recently held what Karlsson called a “letter-writing party” in which the group responded to about 2,000 letters written by inmates requesting for help. That was only two-thirds of the mail they currently hold.

“We try to do out best job to triage those cases that we think are the most disproportionate sentences,” Romano said.


Although the Project is focused on dealing with the law on a case-by-case basis, Romano and his students were recently hired by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to work on reforming the law.

The Three Strikes Project is one of 10 clinics at the Law School. Students apply to the clinics and work under the supervision of licensed attorneys.

“The clinics are modeled after medical school internships,” said Romano. Apprentices shadow experts and test their knowledge on real clients.

Students beginning work with the Three Strikes Project receive a quarter’s worth of units for full-time work without pay. After the first quarter, they return to taking regular classes with the option to continue their work for units.

Romano noted that the Project had both a pedagogic mission and a social mission.

“There is no other clinic or organization in the country that represents this law,” he said.