In partnership with state and local jurisdictions, the Institute is focused nationally on sentencing guidelines, prison release, and community supervision — and locally on the Minnesota criminal justice system.
As part of the vibrant University of Minnesota campus, and located at the University of Minnesota Law School, the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice is a mission-driven organization dedicated to engaging in original, interdisciplinary education, research, and policy analysis to achieve transformative change in sentencing and correctional policies and practices.
Professor Richard S. Frase, the Benjamin N. Berger Professor of Criminal Law, and Professor Kevin R. Reitz, the James Annenberg La Vea Land Grant Chair in Criminal Procedure Law, lead the Robina Institute with Executive Director, Kelly Lyn Mitchell. Professor Frase leads the Institute’s sentencing guidelines focus area. Professor Reitz leads the Institute’s work in parole release and community supervision. Kelly Lyn Mitchell specializes in criminal justice policy.
“Since 2014, the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission has been overhauling its 20-year-old sentencing guidelines. This complex and diffcult task has been assisted by the go-to expertise and technical assistance of the Robina Institute’s Executive Director Kelly Mitchell and Professor Richard Frase, along with Professor Kevin Reitz.”
The Honorable John T. Lu, Chair Massachusetts Sentencing Commission
The Robina Institute’s work is grounded in research. By examining existing laws and practices across jurisdictions, and by examining the impacts of those policy decisions, we can assist jurisdictions in identifying promising ideas for reform that serve public safety. The Robina Institute then connects this research to practice by partnering and collaborating with sentencing and corrections agencies in jurisdictions across the United States. Through these partnerships, the Robina Institute impacts policy decisions and assists with making practice improvements.
Since the inception of the Robina Institute, we have:
- Built the one-of-a kind Sentencing Guidelines Resource Center, a cutting-edge, online resource that is dedicated to providing insight, information, and analysis about sentencing guidelines systems in the United States.
- Provided consultation to the Nevada Advisory Commission as they considered whether to establish a sentencing commission to reduce disparities in sentencing. The Legislature passed a bill to establish such a commission in June 2017.
- Assisted the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in their process of engaging in a full-scale revision of its sentencing guidelines. If Massachusetts succeeds, it will be the first state to adopt sentencing guidelines in over a decade.
- Conducted original research with partner jurisdictions for the Probation Revocation Project and the Parole Release and Revocation Project in Bell and Lampass County, Texas; Wharton and Matagorda Counties, Texas; the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; New York City Probation Department; Hennepin County Adult Probation, Minnesota; Ramsey County Adult Probation, Minnesota; the Minnesota Department of Corrections’ Marshall District; the Pennsylvania Parole Board; and the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission. Further partnerships are planned for the state of Georgia Parole Board, the state of Kansas Parole Board, and continued partnerships with Hennepin and Ramsey County in Minnesota.
- Developed and distributed a national survey of releasing authorities that focused on the release decision-making process, yielding multiple publications, infographics, and reports and allowing for a comprehensive look into the complex nature of parole practices in the U.S.
- Published the Criminal History Enhancements Sourcebook, providing an in-depth examination on criminal history scores and the impact they have on sentencing and policy.
- Presented and been invited to speak on our research findings to judges, court systems, probation chiefs, parole board chairs, academic events, and national criminal justice conferences.
- Provided discipline-related public service, engagement, and outreach to stakeholders in the legal community including students, criminal justice practitioners, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, probation of offcers and chiefs, parole boards, and others by hosting multiple conferences and events. The Robina Institute events have focused on a wide variety of criminal justice-related topics, including the reality of life on probation and parole; the consequences of criminal history scores; life without the possibility of parole for juveniles; criminal justice and mental health in Minnesota; racial disparities in criminal justice; women in prison in Minnesota; and American exceptionalism in crime and punishment.
The University of Minnesota Law School has many opportunities for law students who are interested in pursuing work in criminal justice. Students can complete a variety of courses in criminal law and criminal procedure, and enroll in several criminal justice clinics that provide experience in prosecution and defense, working with the Innocence Project, or assisting detainees in immigration court. Students may also join the student-led Criminal Justice League or participate in the Minnesota Law Public Interest Residency Program, a third-year real-world job placement in public interest and government organizations.
In addition to what the Law School offers, the Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice partners with student groups to hold events that connect students with criminal justice professionals and offers paid research assistant opportunities for promising pre-career law students. This gives students a pathway to learn and work beyond the classroom on criminal justice research and policy issues with faculty and staff.
The body of research produced by the Robina Institute informs smarter criminal and sentencing law and policy. Research shows that high rates of incarceration (whether by longer sentences or by repeated failure to meet the conditions of community supervision) trigger associated costs for the community, strains community livability, and creates high social costs for individuals and families. Our research aims to achieve transformative change that will impact and reverse the revolving door of incarceration and its detrimental impacts on families and communities.
The Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice was founded in 2011 through a generous grant from the Robina Foundation, created by James H. Binger to generate transformative ideas and promising approaches to addressing critical social issues. The Robina Institute is actively developing new resources to sustain its general operations, research, public education, and outreach because the Robina Foundation will soon sunset.
Top goals for the future include maintaining and developing additional content for the Sentencing Guidelines Resource Center as a robust resource for the promotion and support of sentencing guidelines systems; building a resource center about parole to promote transparency in the parole release decision-making process; and continuing to partner with state and local agencies to improve community supervision practices.