UCLA Law and MacArthur Justice Center launch prisoners’ rights partnership

Expanded clinic will train the next generation of advocates and appellate litigators

January 26, 2023
From left: Aaron Littman, Megha Ram, and Daniel Greenfield
From left: Aaron Littman, Megha Ram, and Daniel Greenfield.

Key takeaways

  • MacArthur Justice Center attorneys Daniel Greenfield and Megha Ram join Professor Aaron Littman as co-instructors of UCLA Law’s Prisoners’ Rights Clinic.
  • UCLA Law students will gain hands-on experience in appellate litigation by representing incarcerated people who have raised civil rights claims in appellate courts.

Expanding on its nationally recognized Prison Law and Policy Program, UCLA School of Law has partnered with the MacArthur Justice Center (MJC) to train the next generation of prisoners’ rights advocates. This spring, UCLA Law students participating in the Prisoners’ Rights Clinic will benefit from the teaching and mentorship of MJC attorneys Daniel Greenfield and Megha Ram. Both co-instructors are from the center’s Supreme Court and Appellate Program. Professor Aaron Littman, who founded the clinic and serves as its faculty director, came to UCLA Law after litigating prison and jail conditions cases in the Deep South. He will work alongside Greenfield and Ram to supervise students in representing incarcerated individuals in courts of appeals across the country.

“Our students are impassioned advocates for the rights of incarcerated people, and they came to UCLA Law and joined the clinic to develop the tools they need to challenge the brutality of our carceral system,” Littman said. “This clinic offers them the chance to work as co-counsel, building relationships with imprisoned clients, digesting complex trial court records, and crafting compelling appellate briefs. I could not be more grateful to have Danny and Megha — among the sharpest and most thoughtful prisoners’ rights lawyers in the country — on board. They bring us deep experience and strategic wisdom and will help our students learn to build impactful practices.”

Littman, Greenfield, and Ram bring years of civil rights litigation experience to the clinic. All three have spent years advocating for the rights of incarcerated people, focusing on issues including access to medical and mental healthcare, ending inhumane and unsafe jail and prison conditions and challenging solitary confinement.

MJC boasts one of the country’s leading appellate programs and its attorneys are dedicated to advancing the rights of prisoners and others abused by the U.S.’s criminal legal system. They have achieved major victories on a wide array of issues, including criminal procedure and sentencing, prison and jail conditions, solitary confinement, wrongful death and wrongful convictions, and habeas corpus.

“Legal clinics are an integral part of MJC’s mission and advance our ability to do the work we do. Students are essential team members on our cases,” said Greenfield. “It is the privilege of a lifetime to work with the next generation of prisoners’ rights advocates. I am beyond indebted to the Prison Law and Policy Program at UCLA for helping us to realize this opportunity.”

Benefitting from this expertise, UCLA Law students will gain direct experience in appellate litigation by representing incarcerated people, including MJC clients, who have raised civil rights claims in federal and state courts of appeals. Students will participate in every aspect of the appeals, consulting with clients, researching the law and drafting briefs. In some cases, they will be able to present oral argument.

“Clinic was a formative part of my law school experience,” said Ram. “I am thrilled to now have the opportunity to co-teach a clinic made up of brilliant students dedicated to advancing prisoners’ rights. I’m particularly excited to do so at UCLA because of its excellent prison law program and dedication to this work.”

Former students of UCLA Law’s Prisoners’ Rights Clinic have seen the impact they can make in real-world cases. In 2021, Amaris Montes ’21 was one of several students to argue in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. As a certified law student in the case of Coston v. Nangalama, Montes represented an incarcerated person who sued prison medical providers after they abruptly terminated her client’s pain medication. And when the panel ruled, her side prevailed, in a published opinion holding that the district court had improperly instructed the jury to defer to the defendants’ asserted security justification. After graduation, Montes received a Skadden Fellowship to work at Rights Behind Bars, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to representing incarcerated people.

Professor Sharon Dolovich directs UCLA Law’s Prison Law and Policy Program, with a goal of training a new force of advocates for people in the carceral system. In addition to extensive coursework and programmatic offerings for students at UCLA Law, the Prison Law and Policy Program coordinates a national network of law students interested in careers in the field.

“I’m thrilled about this partnership with the MacArthur Justice Center,” said Dolovich, a leading scholar of prisons and punishment who also launched the UCLA Law COVID Behind Bars Data Project at the outset of the pandemic and won UCLA’s highest honor for classroom excellence, the Distinguished Teaching Award, in 2021. “The opportunity for our students to learn from and work with top advocates like Megha and Danny on real-life cases is virtually unparalleled. The experience will give our students a tremendous boost as they work toward being effective lawyers for incarcerated people.”

Training the next generation of lawyers for the incarcerated is one of the central aims of UCLA Law’s Prison Law and Policy Program. The program is also committed to examining the “back end” of the carceral 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, through the challenges of reentry and the many collateral consequences imposed on people with criminal convictions.

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