The University of Minnesota Law School’s Clemency Project advocates for individuals serving disproportionately long prison sentences, with the primary goal of obtaining reductions in these sentences. It is an integrated program, involving individual representation, impact litigation, advocacy and research aimed at connecting law students directly to the human realities of mass incarceration – aptly described by former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger as “the great unappreciated civil rights issue of our day.” The Project also explores issues relating to the quality of incarceration and ways in which criminal convictions impact people’s lives outside custody. We use our experiences in individual cases to generate research ideas and catapult judicial and policy changes that will impact a larger group of criminal justice-impacted individuals.
The Project was inaugurated in 2014 by Professor JaneAnne Murray in response to President Obama’s clemency initiative for non-violent and low-level federal inmates. Initially, its sole focus was federal clemency petitions, but it has since expanded its mission to include state clemency petitions, compassionate release applications, post-conviction litigation to secure a judicial “second look” for individuals serving long sentences, an innovative clinic, and policy advocacy on behalf of individuals serving disproportionately long prison sentences. It has had unprecedented success, securing the release of 32 individuals.
The Project’s motto is one client at a time, with a view to zeroing in and showcasing the kinds of advocacy that can make a difference for other similarly-situated incarcerated and justice-impact individuals. The Project’s work includes:
- Clemency Applications on behalf of federal and state incarcerated individuals:
see e.g. Star Tribune Reports that Board of Pardons Cuts Sentence of Client of the School's Clemency Clinic and 14 Clemency Project Clients Granted Commutations By President;
- Compassionate Release Applications for incarcerated individuals who are elderly, of limited capacity or facing unexpected family obligations:
see e.g. Prof. Murray, Clemency Project Secure Compassionate Release for Grandmother Vulnerable to COVID-19
- “Second Look” Litigation identifying and developing novel legal routes to a judicial “second look” at the integrity of the sentence an incarcerated individual is serving:
see e.g. Prof. Murray, King & Spalding Score Major Victory in Pro Bono Clemency Work and Newly Minted Attorney Connor Shaull ’20 Argues Clemency Project Case before 8th Circuit;
- Clemency Project Clinic exploring cutting-edge clemency advocacy through hands-on representation of clients in a unique interdisciplinary law class: see course information;
- Clemency Advocacy for Incarcerated Individuals promoting expanded use of clemency powers, development of “second look” procedures, and sophisticated mitigation advocacy:
see e.g. Prof. Murray Participates in Panel with U.S. Pardon Attorney Liz Oyer about President Biden's Marijuana Pardons and Prof. Murray Participates in Panel on Federal Clemency and Compassionate Release in Second Chances Symposium at University of Chicago Law School
- Impact Litigation on Behalf of Incarcerated Individuals addressing conditions of incarceration: see e.g. Star Tribune Reports that Department of Corrections Backs Off Plan to Reincarcerate Individuals Released on Covid Grounds as a Result of Suit Filed by the Clemency Clinic and Prof. Murray's Clemency Project Assists ACLU Action Against Federal Prison for Handling of COVID-19 Spread.