Criminal Justice Clinic at UC Irvine Law School Hits Stride

The program is overwhelmingly successful with compassionate release cases.
UC Irvine Law School professor Katharine Tinto helps get prisoners released after excessive sentencing. Photo by Emily J. Davis

Law professor Katharine Tinto is the director for the Criminal Justice Clinic at the UC Irvine School of Law. Students are required to take a clinic where they work on real cases. Tinto and her team work on several programs, including compassionate release and excessive sentences projects, representing people who are serving decades-long terms that wouldn’t be issued today and those who are aging or in failing health. They have represented 19 clients, and 16 have been released.

In Tinto’s words:

“In the ’90s and early 2000s, we had this strategy that if you punish people more, you’ll have less crime. That really hasn’t proven to be true. …You can no longer get mandatory life in prison for drug offenses only, but it’s not retroactive. So you have hundreds of men serving life in prison for crimes they would not get that sentence for today.”

“That’s pretty compelling in my mind: If someone is doomed to die in prison, and we’ve acknowledged that that’s an unfair sentence, it strikes me that that person deserves a shot to get released.”

“There are very few lawyers who work on behalf of prisoners—there isn’t money in it and there aren’t a lot of pro bono attorneys—and it’s really meaningful work. You can change someone’s life and save someone’s life if they’re spending life in prison.”

“My favorite part is telling someone they’re going home. These men have really worked hard. … They did their crimes in their 20s … but (they’ve) been long since punished. Telling someone that the judge has agreed and has recognized the person they’ve become today and will release them is very powerful.”

“I think it’s amazing to see the resilience of people, to find it within themselves, to transform and change and stay positive. Not everyone can do that when they’re faced with prison. I’m humbled by individuals’ ability to find it within themselves to make the best of an impossible situation. … These people had the potential to become who they are outside in the community, but we never gave them a chance.”


UC Irvine Law School: By the Numbers


Percentage of graduates who are people of color


Number of deans in the school’s history


Hours of pro bono work completed by students


Year the school opened


Ranking on the Princeton Review’s Best Law Schools of 2022

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