The marriage of faith and law is an issue that few are brave enough to take on, but Shima Baradaran Baughman (‘04) has made it her life’s work. Since graduating from BYU Law, Shima has built a career as a staunch advocate for criminal justice reform, including shining a light on the necessity for bail reform. Shima has also channeled her interests towards gospel-centered policy initiatives. What primarily influences her professional and personal endeavors is a philosophy found in Matthew 25, in which Jesus Christ encourages his disciples to seek out and serve “the least of these.” In an increasingly partisan society, solutions to social issues can seem complicated and elusive. Through her work, Shima hopes to convince others that, in her own words,“the larger problems can only be fixed through the principles of lasting change, mercy, and redemption taught through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.”
While law school wasn’t her original plan, because of her background in sociology, Shima knew she wanted to be involved in helping solve social problems. At BYU Law School, Shima was given all the faculties necessary to narrow down her interests, focusing her time and research on helping victims of violence, as well as researching America’s mass incarceration problem. Shima recalls her time at law school provided the opportunities and tools needed to actualize her dreams of helping the disenfranchised and the marginalized. Since graduating from BYU Law in 2004, Shima has practiced corporate and intellectual property law, criminal and religious freedom pro bono work, taught law and served as an associate dean and more recently, started researching how religion creates human flourishing in connection with the Wheatley Institute.
Shima’s interest in bail reform was sparked by the horrific pretrial detention conditions she witnessed while serving as a Fulbright Scholar in Malawi in 2008. Upon returning to the U.S. to teach at BYU Law in 2010, Shima eagerly poured her efforts into researching this issue further. Additionally, there is a personal component in Shima’s enthusiasm for bail reform. Shima’s mother experienced the intense political strife and turmoil while fighting for liberty and freedom under the reign of Iran’s autocratic dictatorship. Shima describes feeling indebted to all those who came before her, and she wants to pay it forward in gratitude by helping create a more just society than the one she and her family narrowly escaped. As Shima argues in her New York Times op-ed, several articles, and a book as well, one solution to America’s mass incarceration rates can be found in releasing more people on bail. The accused’s first days in jail are extremely crucial, as this critical time period has a profound influence on whether they will reintegrate into society, or return as a recidivist criminal. Various other initiatives such as risk assessments, reducing reliance on money bail, and increasing pretrial supervision have also been essential to spreading awareness and building momentum for the cause.
Despite the efforts of Shima and countless other scholars, significant bail reform in the U.S. has only seemingly strayed further out of reach. As Shima reports, pretrial detention has only increased in the last 10 years. When confronted with this reality, the culmination of your life’s work making seemingly no difference in society, anyone would be tempted to abandon hope. Shima’s resolve has only grown stronger in the face of adversity, and she has pivoted from exclusively focusing her efforts on what she calls “secular band-aids” to channeling her energy into advocating for change through the teachings of Jesus Christ. Since joining the BYU Law faculty as a professor, Shima has shared her philosophy of forgiveness, mercy, and restorative justice with her students as well. Shima enjoys connecting with her students and curating courses to present them with a unique perspective on the world. Her students, Shima admits, keep her humble and open-minded, often presenting her with points she had not previously encountered and allowing for a beautiful exchange of ideas.
Alongside bail reform and teaching, Shima is passionate about the societal healing that can come by way of religion and faith. In her short time at the Wheatley Institute, Shima’s faith in unity, and her faith in community, have already been reinvigorated. She believes we live in an exciting time when people of various beliefs are working hand in hand to reach a mutual understanding made possible by love and faith. According to Shima, finding unity in religion is contingent on our ability to acknowledge and understand those who are different from us. Shima believes gaining a mutual understanding of our shared and universal identities as children of God can liberate us and offer us the power to bring peace to many of the societal problems we face today.
Outside of her professional work, Shima enjoys reading, yoga, hiking, and eating dessert. She is also a voice of inspiration on multiple media channels. She inspires women to recognize their potential as leaders as the newest voice of Studio 5’s newest season, “Lead.” Shima also inspires individuals on TikTok (@closertojesuschrist) by sharing her testimony of Jesus Christ and spreading positivity. Shima is blessed to be married to her husband, Ryan and have five children whom she regards as her “greatest joy and a welcome surprise”–since she never imagined she would be blessed with five beautiful children as well as a fulfilling career.