November 30, 2018


Two-day workshop brought together criminal justice stakeholders from across the county to address criminal justice needs of rural communities


The Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at SMU brought together a diverse group of national rural criminal justice stakeholders from across the country for the first time this week to address criminal justice needs in rural communities. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, sheriffs, victims’ advocates, re-entry experts and rural community researchers worked to identify the unique institutional, structural and demographic characteristics of rural criminal justice reform systems throughout a two-day seminar, an important first step in creating conversation about rural criminal justice reform. 


“As our country experiences an increasing criminal justice reform movement, this important work can often focus on the issues as they appear in urban communities and overlook the unique criminal justice challenges that confront rural areas,” said Pamela Metzger, Director, Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center. “Research shows that contrary to popular belief, incarceration rates and the jail population in major cities has fallen while rural communities have seen the highest growth. These leaders from across the country are committed to working together to find a path forward by locating system strengths, describing common concerns, identifying research opportunities and developing strategies for true reform.” 


According to research from the Vera Institute of Justice, America holds 1.5 million people in prison – 2.2 million when jails are counted. Despite rural areas having substantially lower crime rates than cities, jail populations continue to rise as rural counties have the nation’s highest rate of pretrial incarceration, are renting out jail beds to hold people for other government agencies and have fewer resources than their urban counterparts – all of which are contributing to the overuse of incarceration. 


Stakeholders at the Summit discussed access to justice in rural communities, resource challenges and solutions, systemic challenges including adequate funding, staffing and operating core aspects of the criminal justice system, and ethical challenges in rural communities. Stakeholders also identified the challenges they see in their specific communities and worked to develop potential solutions that can be implemented to address these challenges. The Deason Center will issue a public report on the summit’s findings. 


The Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center promotes criminal justice reform by conducting, supporting, and disseminating data-driven criminal justice research. By using a “Stats and Stories” model to advocate for change in the criminal justice system, the Deason Center collects, analyzes, and assesses the hard data that drives smart, sane, and sensible criminal justice reform. The Deason Center then uncovers, recounts, and amplifies the stories of people who live, work, and struggle in our criminal justice system. Together, these Stats and Stories make a compelling case for compassionate criminal justice reform. By educating law students in this innovative Stats and Stories approach, the Deason Center is building a new generation of lawyers who are engaged in the social enterprise of criminal justice reform. 


May 31, 2018


Work by SMU Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center leads to Troy Rhodes’s release to transitional reentry housing before retrial


Today, U.S. District Judge Jane Triche-Milazzo ordered the State of Louisiana to release Troy Rhodes from prison. In 2003, a non-unanimous jury voted 10-2 to convict Mr. Rhodes of armed robbery and attempted second-degree murder. Judge Triche-Milazzo had previously ruled that Rhodes had not received the effective assistance of counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.

Rhodes was thankful for a second chance at justice and the opportunity to spend time with his wife, children and grandchildren. “I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time,” he said. “I thank God for this decision. I know it’s not over yet, but this is in the Lord’s hands.”
The Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at SMU Dedman School of Law has been working on the case and petitioned for Rhodes’s release.
“We’re grateful for the judge’s decision,” said Professor Pamela R. Metzger, Director of the SMU Deason Center. “We believe this decision, along with recent steps taken by the
Louisiana legislature, show the promise of criminal justice reform.”
Earlier this month, the Louisiana House of Representatives voted 82-15 to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot and let voters decide the fate of a law that allows juries to return non-unanimous verdicts in felony trials. The Louisiana Senate passed a similar bill in early April.
Rhodes has been released to The First 72+, a New Orleans nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated people reacclimate to their new lives outside of prison. The SMU Deason Center will continue to handle legal matters pertaining to Rhodes’s case.

August 16, 2018

Across the Finish Line

Across the Finish Line (“ATFL”) is an innovative pro bono partnership between the Deason Center and the lawyers at The Decarceration Collective. ATFL offers SMU Law students a one-week experiential learning program that immerses them in federal criminal defense practice, seeking sentence reductions for non-violent federal drug offenders.

The Deason Center partnered with the Decarceration Collective who provided attorneys to oversee and guide students as they worked on cases. They are federal criminal defense lawyers who fight for people sentenced to life in prison and advance the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel, with no charge to the client.

Learn More


May 24, 2018

Statement from Pamela Metzger, Director of SMU’s Deason Center for Criminal Justice Reform, Regarding the Sterling Brown Video

 The Deason Center for Criminal Justice Reform at SMU Dedman School of Law supports our friend and fellow SMU Mustang, Sterling Brown, in his quest for justice and change. The video of Sterling being verbally and physical abused, and subjected to a stun gun over a parking violation depicts the ugly reality of racial bias and discrimination that can exist in law enforcement.

Incidents like this one breach the trust between police and their communities.  They also tarnish the reputations of the many brave and honorable police officers, across the country, who serve their communities with dignity and fairness and in pursuit of equal justice for all. The Deason Center is committed to disrupting broken systems in criminal justice and engineering constructive new policies that restore justice, balance and compassion to law enforcement and criminal justice.
We proudly stand behind Sterling Brown and support him in his pursuit of justice and change.


May 1, 2018

SMU Dedman Law Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center Seeking Prisoner Release After Federal Judge Overturns Conviction

Case highlights importance of quality public defense and need to address Louisiana’s controversial rule permitting conviction by non-unanimous jury vote 

 (DALLAS) Today, the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at SMU Dedman School of Law announced that it is seeking the release of Troy Rhodes in a case that amplifies the need for justice reform. In 2003, a non-unanimous jury voted 10 to 2 to convict Mr. Rhodes of armed robbery and attempted second-degree murder, based largely on the testimony of a single eyewitness.  Last month, a federal judge ruled that Mr. Rhodes had not received the effective assistance of counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
“This case is emblematic of why a well-funded public defense system is essential,” said  Pamela R. Metzger, Inaugural Director of the Deason Center and Professor Law at SMU Dedman School of Law. “All defendants should have representation from an attorney who performs their job effectively under the law.”  Read more.

April 2018


Nation’s leading criminal justice researchers partner for the Center’s first data-driven research initiative

  • April 16, 2018: Featured in American Association of Law Schools LEGAL EDUCATION IN THE NEWS

  • April 6, 2018: DALLAS (SMU) – The Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at SMU Dedman School of Law is partnering with some of the nation’s leading criminal justice researchers to conduct the Prosecutorial Charging Practices Project, the Center’s first data-driven criminal justice research project. READ MORE.

February 21, 2018
Dallas Morning News


Dallas attorney Brittany K. Barnett is best known for her work representing clients pro bono in their quest to break free from disproportionate sentencing. She has won the release of 10 people, including Sharanda Jones, a Terrell woman who served more than 16 years of a life without parole sentence as a first-time nonviolent drug offender. Barnett has just launched the Buried Alive Project, aimed at eliminating life without parole for federal drug offenses.

A lot of Americans remember the Obama administration's clemency initiative and believe that corrected out-of-proportion federal drug sentences.  What's the real story and why have you stayed involved?

Over 30,000 men and women in federal prison applied for clemency, and President Barack Obama granted clemency to 1,715 people [including Jones]. Thousands of people who are just as deserving of a second chance were left behind. Of the 185,000 people in federal prison today, 46.2 percent of them are there for drug offenses. Nearly half of the people in federal prison serving life without parole are serving this fundamental death sentence for drug offenses and 80 percent of them are people of color. READ MORE

Feb. 22, 2017


Nationally respected criminal justice scholar Pamela R. Metzger has been named director of SMU Dedman School of Law’s new Deason Family Criminal Justice Reform Center.

Beginning July 1 Metzger will oversee the new center’s independent research and its development of educational opportunities focused on issues ranging from wrongful convictions to over-incarceration. The overarching goal of the Deason Family Criminal Justice Reform Center will be to promote the fair, ethical and compassionate treatment of people involved in every stage of the criminal justice process. READ MORE

April 21, 2016


New center, supported by $7 million in gifts, to conduct innovative research and educational programs to address need for reforms in US criminal justice system

SMU is launching the new Deason Family Criminal Justice Reform Center in its Dedman School of Law, where scholars will undertake independent research and develop educational opportunities on topics such as the causes of wrongful convictions and over-incarceration, and ensuring the fair and ethical treatment of individuals at all stages of the criminal justice process. READ MORE.