This seminar provides students with a doctrinal introduction to the rights of California prisoners, with a focus on the 35,000 serving life sentences with the possibility of parole. Through a review of relevant caselaw, statutes, regulations and case studies, students will learn the current legal and political landscape for prisoners serving life sentences. Students will become familiar with how California’s 34 prisons have unique characteristics in terms of demographics, security restrictions, privileges, rehabilitative programs and “political” structures. Also, through presentations and question-and-answer sessions with former “lifers” now living in the community, students will receive critical first-hand accounts of how prisoners can successfully navigate through the system. Lastly, the Seminar provides important context for how the administration of California’s life sentences is establishing some important national precedents in its treatment of juveniles, the expanding role of crime victims in the criminal justice system and an initiative process that circumvents the Legislature in implementing “tough-on-crime” policies.
Students will receive one unit of credit and will be evaluated on a Pass/No Pass basis depending on both class participation and a short writing assignment. The Seminar will meet seven or eight times during the January Term 2016; however, students in this course are invited to apply for a Part-time Externship with UnCommon Law, beginning in Fall 2015 and culminating in representing a client in his parole hearing during Spring 2016.