Human Rights in Criminal Sentencing Project
The Human Rights in Criminal Sentencing Project has compiled new comparative research about countries’ sentencing laws to situate the U.S. sentencing system within a broader global context.
Unlike other areas of penal reform, such as prison conditions, fair trial standards, and racial discrimination, criminal sentencing remains an area rarely viewed through a human rights lens. In the United States, harsh sentencing practices such as life without the possibility of parole, consecutive sentences, mandatory minimums, “three-strike” laws, and juveniles tried as adults all contribute to one of the country’s major human rights issues—a flawed penal system. These practices, focused on goals of deterrence and retribution, neglect the possibility of rehabilitation. Meanwhile, international human rights law places social rehabilitation and reformation as the aims of any penitentiary system.
The project, funded by the Ford Foundation, has produced a report that covers a range of sentencing issues, including life sentences without the possibility of parole, consecutive sentences, increased sentences for recidivists, retroactive application of positive law, double jeopardy in countries with both state and federal criminal systems, juvenile maximum sentences, transfer of juveniles to adult courts, and age of criminal liability.
The project hopes to aid lawyers and activists who are advocating for sentencing reform in the United States by availing international law and the practices of other nations as potential tools. We welcome input, questions, and comments from our partners and other interested parties. Please feel free to contact the project staff below.
Cruel and Unusual: U.S. Sentencing Practices in a Global Context
Press release about the project's report
Connecticut v. Santiago, Supreme Court of Connecticut, Amicus Brief
This brief addresses the issue of retroactive application of ameliorative laws in the context of the death penalty.
Lani Virostko – Human Rights Fellow/Interim Project Director
Since graduating from USF School of Law in 2010, Lani has specialized in indigent criminal defense at the San Francisco Public Defenders’ Office and at Wallraff and Associates in Santa Cruz. While in law school, she gained experience in international law and extreme sentencing through her work on various projects related to human rights, death penalty, and juvenile life without parole sentences. She utilizes her hands-on experience with criminal defense and international law to advocate for sentencing reform in the United States and internationally.
Amanda Solter – Human Rights Fellow/Project Director
A 2009 graduate from the USF School of Law, Amanda has worked on diverse issues related to the UN Human Rights Council including the general elections and the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Having most recently focused on migrants' rights issues and juvenile justice, Amanda has been working on this project for the past year, bringing her expertise in international human rights law and advocacy to the issue of criminal sentencing.
Professor Connie de la Vega – Professor of Law and Academic Director of International Programs
This project is largely inspired by Professor de la Vega’s work on human rights standards and juvenile sentencing which has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roper v. Simmons and Graham v. Florida. De la Vega manages the project and advises on all aspects of research and the report.