Following a visit to the White House from Kim Kardashian West last week, President Donald Trump today commuted the sentence of Alice Johnson—a great-grandmother serving life without parole for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense. Johnson’s story numbers among the many of the people that attorney Brittany K. Barnett has represented.
While working to get her law degree at Southern Methodist University, Barnett took on the case of Sharanda Jones, another woman who was sentenced to life without parole for a first-time, nonviolent offense. Barnett was also ultimately successful in securing clemency for her.
People like Alice Johnson and Sharanda Jones are hardly alone.
Right now, about 2,000 Americans are serving life without parole sentences for federal, non-violent drug offences. And Barnett plans to do something about it. She’s a practitioner-in-residence with SMU’s Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center as well as a co-founder of the Buried Alive Project, which raises public awareness about and eliminates unreasonable life sentences.
Since October the Buried Alive Project has worked with more than 50 SMU law students as well as creative writing and statistics graduate students who have volunteered more than 750 hours to the project. Students not only work on these individuals’ cases, but they tell their stories to shine a light on the human impact of current approaches to sentencing in our criminal justice system and the need for reform. And today their work made a real world impact.