Public Health Program Social Justice Speakers Series 2017

Session 5: 10/23/17 - Mental Illnesses & Incarceration


Susan Champion, JD Susan Champion, JD
Three Strikes Project Fellow
The Stanford Justice Advocacy Project

Susan Champion found her first client in 2009. She was an enthusiastic student at Stanford Law School, and he was serving a life sentence in a California state prison. The crime that put him away for life? Three relatively minor thefts. High on meth, he used a key hidden under a mat to sneak into his mother’s house and steal her VCR player, wanting to sell it for more drugs.

Strike one.

He did his time. Got sober. But soon after he got out of the pen, he relapsed. On the waiting list for a bed at a rehab facility, he was homeless, sleeping outside in the bushes. One day, the police picked him up at a bus stop and found items in his backpack that had been reported missing in a daytime break-in.

Strike two.

After being released from prison a second time, he committed a third burglary, stealing beer steins from someone’s commercial storage unit and trying to sell them at a flea market.

Strike three.

Under California’s Three Strikes sentencing law, “persistent offenders” at the time had to be incarcerated for 25 years to life if a third felony was preceded by two crimes that were “serious or violent,” even if the last felony didn’t meet those criteria. Because of the stringent rule, this man was sentenced to life in prison without parole, simply for swiping a few mugs. Champion submitted a habeas corpus petition (a motion asking the courts to review his detention) on her client’s behalf to determine if life for stealing beer glasses counted as cruel and unusual punishment. She won the case, convincing the judge that his sentence had been disproportional to the crime. Since then, she’s stayed on at Stanford to help many more like him through the law school’s Three Strikes Project.

Dr. Saki CabreraDr. Saki Cabrera,
Solano Community College

Dr. Saki Cabrera, a first generation bi-cultural and bi-lingual Puerto Rican native of Bronx, New York, serves as faculty in the departments of Psychology and Human Services at Solano College, where she also coordinates the Human Services program and is an Accreditation Coordinator. Her overall interests include evaluation research, program development and implementation (blending theory with practice), quality assurance, grant writing, and training. She is especially interested in assisting underrepresented/underserved populations realize their worth and contribution to the strength and success of communities. She has founded an organization with these interests in mind: SC Associates: Strengthening Communities and serves as the CEO. After graduating summa cum laude at Iona College with a bachelor of arts, with a double major in psychology and humanistic communications, she completed her M.A. and doctoral degree at Claremont Graduate University in psychology, with an emphasis on applied social psychology and evaluation. Saki has successfully led various federally funded and local research projects and has developed, implemented and evaluated programs focused on diverse aspects related to health, education, and vocation. She is a successful grant writer, serves on several boards, is a member of various professional organizations, is published, and involved in several community based programs and research projects. Familia means everything to her!