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Criminal Sentencing Reform Fellowship

Amanda Solter ’09
2010–2013

The University of San Francisco’s Center for Law and Global Justice was the recipient of a generous Ford Foundation grant for the project “Marshalling Global Human Rights to Reform Criminal Punishment and Sentencing in the United States.” The grant provided for a two-year fellowship to conduct research and advocacy on international law and practice related to extreme sentences, such as life without parole and consecutive sentences that amount to life without parole. By conducting a global survey of criminal sentencing, the project demonstrated that the United States is not only in violation of international law but is an outlier in the global community in relation to its harsh sentencing practices. The project published a report in May 2012 to advocate for sentencing reforms in the United States. The Ford Foundation extended its grant in 2012 for one more year to conduct additional advocacy. 

I have always known that I wanted to pursue a career in international human rights work but it was USF’s exceptional programs that helped me narrow my focus and make my goals a reality. I was incredibly fortunate to have participated in USF’s programs in Cambodia and the Dominican Republic, as well as the Frank C. Newman International Human Rights Law Clinic in Geneva. This training has been invaluable to the work that I am doing now.

As the Human Rights Fellow, I was tasked with collecting data on sentencing laws and procedures in countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa. I performed intensive research on each country due to the lack of existing research on criminal sentencing practices. I routinely corresponded with attorneys and advocates in different countries to ascertain the actual practice in the countries they work in.

Each country poses its own unique problems in terms of research. Argentina was difficult in part because of 2004 reforms to their penal code that created much harsher sentences and, for the first time, a provision for life without parole. Due to the recent legislation and the lack of clarity on actual implementation, I traveled to Buenos Aires in order to explore this issue first hand. I met with attorneys, activists, and judges and toured Argentina’s most notorious maximum-security prison. The experience was invaluable on a personal level and provided much needed clarity on Argentina’s criminal laws.

This fellowship has helped to cement my goals in pursuing a career in international human rights advocacy. Whether in criminal sentencing reform or some other area of human rights work, I know that I will be well prepared for whatever comes next. I am tremendously grateful for this unique opportunity.

 —Amanda Solter ’09