Kelly Orians graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Colorado at Boulder where her thesis addressed the effect of public housing policy on the lives of mothers in Brooklyn, New York whose children were involved in the criminal justice system. After graduating she worked for three years at the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana in New Orleans, Louisiana coordinating public policy campaigns, impact litigation, and direct services for juveniles sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (JLWOP). In conjunction with this project, Kelly assisted four men returning home after 30-50 years in prison with issues related to housing, employment, education, health care, social services, parole compliance, and in parole revocation proceedings.
Kelly also managed a statewide advocacy campaign to end JLWOP. She helped create public policy and impact litigation strategies, including the implementation of the Graham v. Florida decision, which made JLWOP unconstitutional in non-homicide cases. Kelly worked on the legal team that secured the release of the first two people in the country under Graham, drove them home from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, and continues today to assist them with their reentry.
Through this work Kelly was exposed to the many barriers people and their families face when someone returns home from prison and began taking innovative approaches to combat the lack of reentry resources in New Orleans. In 2012 Kelly was accepted into the David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy at the UCLA School of Law where she has focused on the collateral consequences of incarceration, community and economic development, criminal procedure, and social entrepreneurship. In 2013, Kelly co-founded the Communal Re-Entry Fund (a project of Voice of The Ex-Offender), a $3000 fund providing 0% loans to people leaving prison in Louisiana after being sentenced as juveniles to life without the possibility of parole.
On May 2015, she received her Juris Doctorate from UCLA School of Law, and later that year, she was awarded a prestigious Echoing Green Fellowship to launch Rising Foundations. In May of 2016 she was sworn into the Louisiana State Bar.