Michael Romano

Founder and Director, Three Strikes Project

Mike Romano

Michael Romano is the director and founder of the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law School. Previously, he was founding director of the Stanford Criminal Defense Clinic. He currently teaches criminal justice policy and advanced criminal litigation and has published several scholarly and popular press articles on criminal law, sentencing policy, prisoner reentry and recidivism, and mental illness in the justice system. In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Michael as inaugural chair of California’s criminal law and policy reform committee, the California Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code. Michael has been at the forefront of criminal law reform and litigation for over decade.

He was principal author of the Three Strikes Reform Act (Proposition 36), one of the country’s first criminal justice reform initiatives, which led to the release of over 3,000 people serving life sentences for non-serious, non-violent crimes. He has gone on to develop and co-author numerous other reforms and led impact litigation, which together have resulted in reduced sentences for tens of thousands of additional people. Michael also founded the Ride Home prisoner reentry program, which has provided immediate assistance to formerly incarcerated people in 38 states and in 2015 partnered with the U.S. Dept. of Justice in support of President Obama’s executive clemency initiative. The work received numerous honors, including recognition by the White House as a “Champion of Change.”

In addition, with assistance from his students, Michael represents incarcerated individuals in state and federal courts, winning the reversal of over 200 life sentences. Michael is also counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and has partnered with law enforcement and other leaders at all levels of local, state, and federal government. The New York Times called Michael’s work “a proven path to clearing out its overcrowded prisons,” and The Economist called him “a voice for the forsaken.” He has been named one of California’s top lawyers and his work has been profiled in several news outlets, including The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, The Economist, and the award-winning PBS feature documentary The Return.

Michael graduated with honors from Stanford Law School in 2003 and was a John Knight Fellow at Yale Law School. He clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.