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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.


Alternative to the Death Penalty Will Contribute to Mass incarceration in the United States 
Professor De La Vega's address at the Fifth World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Madrid, Spain, on June 14, 2013 

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.


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.