Last spring, the Criminal Justice Policy Program developed an initiative to provide representation to incarcerated people petitioning President Obama for clemency.
Twenty-six Harvard Law students volunteered to work with a team of pro bono attorneys to represent clemency petitioners, in what has become the largest law student-based clemency initiative in the country. The initiative was managed by CJPP’s 2015-2016 law fellow Anna Kastner.
Working under the supervision of attorneys from private firms, with assistance from the Clemency 2014 Project and NYU Law’s Clemency Resource Center, students have filed petitions for more than a dozen federal inmates to the Office of the Pardon Attorney and have thus far won the freedom of three inmates.
In April, the program was also involved in a White House convening on clemency as part of the administration’s broader efforts to reform the criminal justice system.
During the Obama administration, more than 21,000 prisoners have submitted clemency petitions. To date, Obama has granted 673 commutations and thousands more are pending.
In June, CJPP’s faculty co-directors, Alex Whiting and Carol Steiker, and executive director Larry Schwartztol joined other leading criminal justice advocates and scholars, including HLS Professors Ronald Sullivan and Nancy Gertner, to call on President Obama to accelerate the pace of his administration’s clemency initiative.
Read more about the students work:
How Harvard Law students won 3 inmates their freedom
By Adrian Walker, The Boston Globe (Excerpt)
President Obama granted (Darryl Dewayne) Edwards clemency in August, and he probably will be released by the end of the year.
Edwards’s release — and those of two other federal prisoners so far — was won by a group of young legal advocates. A group of Harvard Law School students, supervised by attorneys from the law firm of Goodwin Procter, has filed clemency petitions for more than a dozen federal prisoners who could qualify for release under guidelines set forth by the Justice Department.
The Obama Administration set the process in motion in 2014, when it announced that it would consider granting clemency to nonviolent offenders serving lengthy sentences. It was the administration’s response to the scourge of mass incarceration, which has filled prisons with offenders, especially drug offenders, serving excessive sentences. The White House issued a call for volunteer lawyers to help qualified inmates apply.
Among those answering the call was Larry Schwartztol, director of the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School. He had students who were eager to work on the applications. But the highly technical project would require lawyers and supervision. James Rehnquist of Goodwin Procter oversaw the finished products, on which three of the firm’s young associates served as the attorneys of record.
“We wanted to contribute to this work because clemency is playing this unusual role in addressing big-picture systemic problems but also just because of the compelling need,” Schwartztol said.
Support for second chances
HLS students join in clemency initiative
By Liz Mineo, Harvard Gazette (Excerpt)
Early in the spring, first-year Harvard Law School (HLS) students Chloe Goodwin, Nora Ellingsen, and Josh Looney jumped at the opportunity to volunteer with a national organization to help felons get a second shot at life.
Working with Clemency Project 2014, a coalition that supports petitions by nonviolent drug offenders for executive clemency, the students wound up enlightened and inspired.
“It was a wake-up moment for me,” said Looney, who plans to pursue a career in criminal defense. “I realized that what I was doing was really different from writing a brief for class.”
With a group of 26 students working under the supervision of pro bono attorneys from the Boston law firms Goodwin Procter and Clements & Pineault, HLS provided the largest contingent of students among the law schools participating in the project.