American law schools typically focus on the "front end" of the criminal justice process: investigation, prosecution, and verdict. But for these offenders convicted of crimes, the trial process is only the preamble to an extended period in the custody of the state. The Prison Law and Policy Program is committed to examining the "back end" of the penal system and to exploring the way the law structures all aspects of the contemporary experience of criminal punishment in the United States, from the sentence to the administration of penalties (whether fines, probation, incarceration, or death) through the challenges of reentry and the many "collateral consequences" imposed on people with criminal convictions.
The past four decades have seen unparalleled growth in the American prison population and in the deployment of the state's penal power as a mechanism of social control. The burdens of this expansion have been borne disproportionately by poor people and people of color, making the American penal system a central driver of racial and economic injustice in this country. In recent years, American society has begun to reckon with the considerable harms caused by our now-massive penal enterprise. The Prison Law and Policy Program aims to contribute to this national conversation in a variety of ways: by exposing interested students to a wide range of related issues and perspectives; by supporting faculty research; by providing a site for communication and collaboration among students and faculty committed to this field; and by training and supporting those students planning to use their legal education to help curb penal abuse and excess and bring about meaningful change.
Among other initiatives, the Program sponsors speakers and conferences, supports student research and related projects, and publishes an annual Prison Law Summer Job Search Guide. The Program also hosts the Prison Law JD listserv for current law students and recent law graduates nationwide who are interested in working in the area of prisoners' rights and criminal justice reform more broadly.
The Program also supports the UCLA Criminal Justice Society’s involvement in the Incarcerated Persons' Correspondence Project. UCLA Law receives hundreds of letters from inmates seeking help with their criminal cases and conditions cases. While student volunteers cannot give legal advice, the project seeks to connect inmates with much-needed resources. This is a great way for students to develop client communications skills and assist an underserved population.
Many Program students also participate in the Re-Entry Legal Clinic, which falls under UCLA's El Centro Legal Clinics. The clinic allows students, as early as their first year in the law school, to work with its partner organization, A New Way of Life, to prepare petitions and declarations on behalf of clients seeking expungements to remove employment and housing barriers.