JustLeadershipUSA joins with National Partner Organizations In Opposing Revised First Step Act Legislation –


JustLeadershipUSA joins with National Partner Organizations

In Opposing Revised First Step Act Legislation –

Veteran Criminal Justice Advocates Recognize Benefits, and Warn Against Harm

November 20, 2018


JustLeadershipUSA would first like to acknowledge the leadership and intellectual and emotional labor of a group of determined women, namely our sisters from the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, the architects of the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, who stepped forward and fought for several good provisions in the First Step Act. When advocacy for this bill began, these determined women stepped forward to speak up for and represent the masses of people left behind as the initial bill included no sentencing reform; they also advocated for full transparency of the potential perils that may lay ahead for our communities. Thanks to their efforts, 2600 people that were left behind by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 will be coming home. These sisters also fought for the unshackling of pregnant women, compassionate release, and good days implementation.

Despite recent revisions, many of them good, JLUSA remains in qualified opposition to the First Step Act. Our mission is to cut the U.S. correctional population in #halfby2030. While First Step Act brings home many of our loved ones, and contains good policies including unshackling of pregnant women, earned credits, and sentencing reform – the bill does not address or seek to undo structural racism; instead it re-entrenches it and sets a precedent in creating more harm by the implementation of risk assessment tools that demonstrate biases toward Black and brown defendants. This bill, supported by the Fraternal Order of Police, directs funding to Law Enforcement instead of community reinvestment, allowing for cost savings accrued from the bill to be used by law enforcement for innovative technologies and information sharing capabilities. In addition, the Trump administration has already defunded schooling for people in prison, which is not a good sign for funding of the programs promised in the bill. JLUSA’s policy brief on the FSA can be found at this link: bit.ly/FSAbrief.

Together as directly impacted people, at the local and state levels, we must continue to demand the type of BOLD change that can truly decarcerate the correctional system without turning our communities into digital prisons. We must avoid further situations like the First Step Act and any type of incremental reform that helps the few and sets up harm for the many. We could not endorse this bill because it contains what Michelle Alexander has aptly termed the Newest Jim Crow – harmful technology and an expansion of the carceral state that will disproportionately impact Black and brown people’s freedom. A truth we must contend with is that risk assessment technology, electronic shackles and limited sentencing reform will translate more favorably for a small number of white people than for a large number of Black and Brown people including immigrants.

Moving forward we must not allow situations in which questionable agendas force binary choices between the status quo and bills that start on unethical foundations, like the FIRST STEP Act. To the contrary, the very real possibility of decarceration and wholly transforming our justice system exists. JustLeadershipUSA’s #CLOSErikers and #FREEnewyork campaigns in New York, #CLOSEmsdf campaign in Wisconsin, and the #CLOSEthecreek campaign in Philadelphia, reject this Newest Jim Crow; we’ve also worked with partners and movement leaders in California to reject SB 10 which seemed to end money bail, but in fact created other ways to keep people incarcerated with the introduction of harmful racially biased pretrial risk assessments which promise to provide undue far-reaching power to judges. The directly impacted leaders in our entire ecosystem, and those who lead our campaigns with grassroots communities on the ground don’t just want support for re-entry – but for no entry. We want decarceration and harm reduction at all levels of the system, and we rightly seek justice reinvestment.

JustLeadershipUSA was created because we will do things differently, simply because we are impacted by the system of incarceration and we are accountable to impacted leaders and communities across the country. We will not start out with the types of concessions the First Step Act began with as a nod to private industry. There is no justification for racially biased risk assessments and electronic monitoring surveillance technology that will trigger a return to prison, or make our family members wardens. In addition, none of the sentencing provisions except the revision to the Fair Sentencing Act concerning crack and cocaine sentencing disparities  are retroactive. Failure to apply retroactivity to all sentencing reforms will exclude thousands of men and women who could otherwise return home and creates unfair carve outs given the millions of Black and brown people impacted by the drug war and decades of disinvestment.


JLUSA President and CEO and Key Movement Partners on the First Step Act:

“The FSA’s carve-outs of vulnerable populations, the ushering in at the federal level of risk assessment technology and the growth of electronic monitoring must not become the norm, especially now that there is so much momentum for decriminalization and decarceration locally, at the state level, and given that formerly incarcerated women have lobbied for the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act without harmful concessions. The fact that this bill could move us a few inches forward is not nearly enough to mitigate the reality that the FIRST STEP Act opens the door for more intrusive and equally harmful policies in the future.  We will not allow regressive legislation to turn us back from #halfby2030!”  – DeAnna Hoskins, President and CEO, JustLeadershipUSA

“In our fight for just reform, we must consider the long-term impact of policy. It’s tempting to support this bill on the merits of its effort to improve conditions of confinement. But these improvements mean little if they come at the expense of freedom for this and future generations. The FIRST STEP Act threatens our fight for justice by presenting e-incarceration approaches as progressive; in reality, this is an insidious move toward expanded control and surveillance in our homes and communities. Only by addressing the root causes of mass incarceration, based in racially biased policies and procedures, can we make lasting change. Real reform means investing in people and communities, not in for-profit prisons and surveillance.” – Vivian D. Nixon, Executive Director of College & Community Fellowship (CCF)

“Despite new revisions to the First Step Act, it does not go far enough to meet the demands of our communities to decarcerate. In fact, we continue to legitimize punishment when communities of color are forced to decide between electronic monitoring and a cage—always in exchange for their freedom. This presentation of digital prisons as a progressive alternative to incarceration is misguided. Meanwhile, the reliance on biased risk assessments will only keep more Black and brown people incarcerated. Ultimately we must continue to be critical of any so-called bipartisan criminal justice reform when dealing with an openly racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic administration which we know does not have our liberation in mind” – Myaisha Hayes,  National Organizer on Criminal Justice and Technology, No Digital Prisons Campaign, Center for Media Justice

“I feel gratitude to those who fought to add sentencing reform and oversight to a bill that was positioned to do such harm, and now only hope the thoughtless tactics and lack of foresight that put so many in the criminal justice reform movement in such a difficult position to work to try and simply mitigate the potential harm set forth by such a poorly thought out bill will be remembered and can represent an opportunity for learning and growth. Those of us with incarcerated loved ones are often manipulated by these efforts, but we would have expected at least a modicum of sensitivity while living under an administration that openly calls for the dehumanization of our communities, which happen to be the very same communities targeted by the system of mass incarceration. For Van Jones to try and cap off this crudely carried out campaign with an unnecessary and profoundly insensitive lauding of President Trump, who has yet to sign anything, was not only shocking, but embarrassing.” – Patrisse Cullors, Cofounder of Black Lives Matter and founder of Dignity and Power Now

Meet Chandra Bozelko & James Monteiro – 2018 Leading with Conviction Fellows

“I am a columnist, writing and publishing stories about a wide range of criminal justice reform issues.”

I’ve carved out an area in thought leadership, so my advocacy comes in challenging assumptions and encouraging people to think really hard about the issues that confront us as a movement.  For example, there is a clash of values between the Me Too movement and criminal justice reform; between accountability on the one hand, and redemption on the other.  Where do those two meet, and what are we willing to give up on either side to get any kind of consensus about how we should move forward?  I took an unpopular position in a piece I wrote for CNN about how it was not a great idea to recall the judge who sentenced Brock Turner, a Stanford student convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault, to a relatively short six month jail sentence.  I pointed out that if we’re serious about criminal justice reform it would be better to keep a liberal judge on the bench than to replace him with someone harsher.  I believe it’s vital to raise those hard questions.

It was never my goal to become a writer, but when I was in prison, I began to take notes for a book or a possible lawsuit against the Department of Corrections because I saw so many things that were horrific and abusive.  I took a writing class with the author Wally Lamb, and then my writing went into overdrive.  I submitted some articles to the New Haven Independent and they responded, “Why don’t we just let you write a regular column?”  That was the origin of my blog, “Prison Diaries” and since then I’ve published articles in   The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Elle, Forbes and many other outlets.

What’s at the top of my agenda now is my role as the new criminal justice columnist with Creators Syndicate. I’m excited that I will be included on a roster with nationally syndicated columnists like Mark Shields and Connie Schultz whose pieces appear in every state and in many big cities.  Any topic will be fair game.  I can write about individual cases, about laws, and about news stories that have to do with the way formerly incarcerated people are treated.  I can take on the big picture ideas, like who are prisons for?  I believe that 99 percent of the people currently incarcerated don’t belong there.  But after spending six years in a maximum security facility, I know that some people need to be removed from society and I would be lying if I said everyone could be let out tomorrow and we wouldn’t have any problems.  But I want to abolish the way we think about justice and transgression and accountability and put the focus on the root causes of behavior.  Bad choices and bad actions have roots in a person’s personal history.  The relationship between childhood trauma and incarceration is getting more attention today, but we also have to understand the daily trauma of poverty and trying to survive in the American economy.

My cohort was the first one to go through Leading with Conviction after our leader resigned, and grappling with that was a unique challenge.  It was also a gift because we had to figure out where we stood on issues of accountability and redemption.  I did worry about Glenn and about the movement and about members of my class.  On the other hand, we had some really important discussions about leadership and accepting the flaws of our heroes.  Going forward I will be working on co-authoring pieces with other JLUSA fellows and investing in their thought leadership.

Prison Diaries won the 2018 People’s Voice Webby Award and a number of other awards. Chandra is the Vice President of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and a Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. While she was incarcerated, Chandra published a book of poetry entitled “Up The River: An Anthology.”

“I am the Founder and Executive Director of Reentry Campus, a program to give people coming out of prison opportunities to access post-secondary education.”

I know from my own experience that there is a huge disconnect between the educational programming that happens behind the walls and what happens once you are outside. When I was in the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore, I accumulated 90 college credits, but when I was transferred up to Rhode Island, they didn’t want to accept my credits. I realized something needed to be done to make higher education more accessible and more affordable for currently and formerly incarcerated people.

The way Reentry Campus works is we prepare students for DSST and CLEP exams. They take a series of courses that we have built around these exams so they can earn transferrable college credits quickly and for free, saving thousands of dollars.  When people are released from prison they have different issues going into an educational environment than a 17-year-old does, so we provide them with support services so they can focus and concentrate on their studies. If they need housing, we help them find housing. If they need substance abuse counseling, we help them with that. Once a student gets through these introductory courses with us we register them with our partner institution, Roger Williams University, my alma mater, where 90 percent of them will be eligible for Pell Grants and Financial Aid. We’ve had about 50 students come through our program in our first year and attracting people hasn’t been a problem. In fact it’s been hard keeping up with demand.

I dropped out of school in the eighth grade and spent most of my adult life in and out of the penal system. During my last stretch, I decided enough was enough. I was working in the prison’s employment resource lab and the more I read the more I realized that without a post-secondary education you couldn’t get far in the new economy. I read an article that was pivotal for me about a man who was locked up in Rhode Island and went to Brown University when he was released and then got his law degree from Yale Law School. I couldn’t believe someone could get out of prison and go to Brown. That motivated me to get my GED and I got my Associate’s Degree in Psychology, with Honors, while I was still inside. When I got out, I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Community Development at Roger Williams University.

Education = more money = more freedom–not necessarily physical freedom but the freedom of choice that education brings. I have freedom now and I have multiple choices and it’s only right for me to want that for others. There was a guy who helped me get back into school when I was struggling. I asked, “Barry, what do I owe you, man?” He said, “You don’t owe me anything. Just make sure you do it for somebody else.” That is what Reentry Campus is all about.

The best thing I got from Leading with Conviction is I’m never alone. There’s always someone I can reach out to across the country.  I’m in Rhode Island where the population of people like me is small. So to go to New York and be around a lot of individuals who are like me and to have the support around the work I do is everything.

James Monteiro is the recipient of NAACP’s Joseph Lecount Award and is an Echoing Green Fellow. He was named was named as one of Rhode Island’s “15 to Watch” for his work in youth programs that address violence in the city and prepare the next generation of Providence leaders.


POLICY BRIEF: FIRST STEP Act and Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act

Download PDF of Policy Brief

What You Need to Know

JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA) continues to oppose the FIRST STEP Act (S. 3649). The recent introduction of a new bill that includes sentencing reform provisions from the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act does not rectify or address the numerous harmful provisions still included in the bill. We urge members of the Senate to rigorously review and reject components of this compromise bill because of the negative impacts it will have, driven in large part by its harmful policies that will lead to devastating unintended consequences. This country’s criminal legal system harms people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds and economic classes, and it disproportionately harms Black and brown people and immigrants. This bill does not meaningfully address or eradicate that harm, and it is not proportionate to the strength and sacrifice of the directly impacted people who have built a movement to do just that.

The fact that this bill may yet become law represents the short-sighted manner in which criminal justice reform is often debated: we are forced to choose between an incremental step or the unacceptable status quo. We demand a third option. We demand that elected officials reckon with the legacy and reality of the US criminal legal system and pass bold, transformative reforms that will truly move us closer to our goal of #halfby2030. This legislation, that includes electronic monitoring, risk assessment instruments, and charge-based exclusions, will never allow us to reach this goal.

Michelle Alexander unequivocally stated in her New York Times Op-Ed, that e-carceration and risk assessment instruments would usher in the newest era of Jim Crow practices. The First Step Act opens the door wide open for the federal government to use these tools to expand mass supervision into communities across the country. JLUSA believes that creating a carceral system reliant on the utilization of electronic monitoring and risk assessments will inflict further harm on directly impacted people.

A century ago, Southern legislators created Jim Crow laws to contain and control Black people in the wake of slavery. In the 1960s after years of nationwide resistance against oppression, Civil Rights leaders succeeded in securing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Acts of 1965 to curb structural and institutional racism impacting Black and brown people. Not a year later however the Law Enforcement Assistance Act of 1965 was passed and the Moynihan Report published which provided the rationale for over-policing  and perpetuated racist stereotypes of Black criminality. The criminal legal system quickly became the means to contain and control the same communities that Jim Crow had oppressed for nearly a century. The “War on Drugs” quickly followed as justification to begin incarcerating thousands and then millions of people creating the mass incarceration crisis we face today. The Law Enforcement Assistance Act, the War on Drugs and the Omnibus Crime Bill were all bipartisan measures intended to reduce crime but instead created far reaching harmful policies plaguing communities, namely Black and brown, across this country.

Now, after years of directly impacted leaders demanding an end to mass incarceration and gaining wide popular support toward that end, we are again seeing a new form of control with the increasing trend toward e-carceration and risk assessments as the solution to our mass incarceration problem. We must not fall prey to this same trap again and mutation of the carceral system.

How We Got Here & Next Steps

The FSA passed in the US House of Representatives on May 22, 2018 with more than ⅔ of Representatives supporting the bill. The bill stalled in the Senate for many months due to opposition from both Republicans and Democrats. Now, after months of lobbying the Senate is poised to pass a compromise bill that includes the First Step Act along with sentencing reform provisions.  The President has also signaled his support for the legislation. As supporters of the legislation continue their campaign urging the Senate to pass legislation and send the President a bill, JLUSA will remain opposed to any type of compromise that preserves harmful provisions.

We acknowledge that this new version of the First Step Act contains reforms that will help reunite loved ones with their families and improve opportunities for some incarcerated people to leave prison sooner; however some of the good proposals contained in the bill could simply be enacted with an executive order. President Trump would not need the passage of a bill to stop shackling women during pregnancy, provide compassionate release or establish good time. We must not fool ourselves in thinking, and it is a misrepresentation, to say as President Trump has, that this is “a nice first step.” This legislation sets in motion dangerous precedents with ramifications that will endure for years. For these reasons we will continue to oppose enactment of this legislation as long as it contains potential for long-term harm. We urge you to call your US Senator and Representative and tell them to vote NO on this version of a compromise bill that includes the harmful provisions listed below. You can learn who that is and get their contact information from www.govtrack.us/congress/member.


Good Policies

  • Prohibition on shackling pregnant women in prison
  • Increase in annual cap on earned good-time credits-

Harmful Policies

  • Creation of a risk assessment instrument that will rely on racially biased factors to determine who is eligible for in-prison programs or “release”
  • Reversal of needs/programming alignment: people deemed “medium” or “high” risk – the people most in need of direct services – would be ineligible for credits leading to early “release”
  • Unaccountable private partnerships: prison wardens would be allowed, or even encouraged, to enter into programming contracts with private, for-profit businesses who are not accountable to incarcerated people, their families, or taxpayers
  • Reliance on electronic monitoring, which will not only invade a person’s privacy, but that of our families as the carceral state expands into our homes and communities and lowers the threshold for re-incarceration, as a “release” mechanism for the select few deemed eligible for release
  • Directs funding to law enforcement instead of community reinvestment: Allows for cost savings accrued from the bill to be used by law enforcement for innovative technologies and information sharing capabilities

Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act

Good Policies

  • Limit on use of mandatory-minimum sentences currently authorized under 18 USC § 924(c)
  • Retroactively-applied cutbacks on use of mandatory-minimum sentences, and elimination of life-without-parole sentences, currently authorized under 21 USC §§ 841 and 851
  • Retroactive application of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which addressed the racially charged sentencing disparities related to crack and powder cocaine charges
  • Clarification and strengthening of provisions in 18 USC § 3553(f) that are meant to ensure that people with low-level drug-offense charges do not face mandatory-minimum sentences

Harmful Consequences

  • Narrow application of all SRCA provisions would leave far too many people behind that deserve early release.
  • Even where mandatory-minimum sentences are reduced, these provisions do little to wholly eradicate these harmful, misguided, and racialized tools for most people.
  • Some reforms determine sentencing eligibility based on data from the criminal justice system – data that is tainted by decades of racial bias, disproportionate prosecution, and over-policing of communities of color, working class people, and people living in poverty.

You Need to Know

In a USA Today OpEd Jared Kushner writes that First Step Act policies would ‘lead to reductions in the costs associated with corrections operations in general.” The most recent estimate from the Congressional Budget Office says the policy changes in the bill would lead to savings of $729 million over the next 10 years. What Kushner doesn’t say is that these policies would shift incarceration costs from the government  to directly impacted people who would be forced to pay the cost of their electronic monitoring devices – a requirement of their “early release.” Electronic monitoring devices cost up to $25 a day and can cost a person more per month than what they would pay in rent. We cannot allow the federal government to reduce the size of its prison population and justify cost savings at the expense of the very people they supposedly say they want to help.

The total number of people impacted by the First Step Act and its sentencing reform provisions would be minimal in comparison to the total number of people incarcerated and supervised by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The legislations would affect less than 3 percent of the 181,000 people currently incarcerated in federal prisons. Specifically:

Proposed Changes

As the Senate and House continue their deliberations on these policies, it is crucial that directly impacted leaders raise their voices to highlight both the explicit and the unintended harm that could result from these bills. In order to protect against that harm, JLUSA urges adoption of the following policies :

  1. Make expanded in-prison programming available to all incarcerated people, regardless of their charge, and eliminate provisions in the FSA that would exclude people with violent offenses or higher risk assessment scores.
  2. Eliminate the FSA’s introduction of a risk assessment instrument, altogether, and demand, instead, use of a human-centered and individualized needs assessment for incarcerated people.
  3. Create a real release mechanism that allows people to return home, to their families and communities, without an electronic shackle and the dangerous, long-lasting harm and stigma that come with that.
  4. Introduce proposals that would limit the ability of prison wardens to engage in private partnerships that are immune from accountability and allow for-profit actors to drive revenue off of incarcerated people and families.
  5. Eliminate all mandatory-minimum sentences, especially ones that heavily rely on a person’s offense record or that could be driven solely by a prosecutor’s discretion.
  6. Make all baked-in SRCA components retroactive so that, even with their limited reach, they offer sentencing relief to as many people as possible.

Meet Jennifer Rodriguez & Chris Kimmenez – 2018 Leading with Conviction Fellows

“I spent my childhood in foster care and I was in and out of the juvenile justice system from the time I was twelve years old, often because a more suitable placement couldn’t be found.”

The way children are pushed from foster care to juvenile and adult justice systems has not been given enough attention.  It’s very common to move youth between systems even though we know that spending even one night in the juvenile justice system exposes you to a multitude of harms.  When I exited my last placement, I was in the same position I had been in when I entered foster care.  I had no relationships with adults.  I was homeless. I had a juvenile record. I had no education.  I had moved so many times that I had never completed a single semester anywhere.  Most importantly, I didn’t have a vision for my future and I didn’t have the belief in myself that would be necessary to have or execute a dream.

My road from system involvement to lawyer and leader required supportive policies and programs and the investment of adults who cared. I went to Job Corps, received  my GED and was able to start at a community college. I had a teacher who became my mentor.  She was the first person who believed I had potential and could have an impact on the world around me.  She told me I could be anything I wanted to be.  I realized that what I really wanted to do  was to make sure that system-involved children had a different life than mine, and that those systems treated them like the special, unique and amazing potential leaders that they are.  I don’t have any siblings, but I consider all of the children who are living today in detention facilities, group homes and foster care to be my siblings. I wanted to be their advocate, so I went to law school and I received my law degree in 2004.

I have been working at the San Francisco-based Youth Law Center for 11 years, the last six as Executive Director.  We are a national organization and we’ve worked in 37 states and Washington, D.C.  Our advocacy is focused on system transformation, and the strategies we use are targeted to have the greatest  impact for children–litigation, policy reform, public education, technical assistance, and collaboration.  The problems and solutions we work on are identified by the children and families that are most affected and we integrate cutting edge research from other fields–brain science, child and adolescent development, and marketing and branding–into our work.  Our Quality Parenting Initiative is aimed at strengthening foster care. We’ve introduced it into close to 80 jurisdictions across the country.  We work to create opportunity for justice involved youth by prioritizing the relationships between parenting youth and their children (including fathers) in our Just Beginning Program, and work to build pathways between higher education and the juvenile justice system so that youth have the access, information and supports to attend and excel in college.   Most importantly, our goal is to  change the culture of these systems so that instead of seeing the youth in their care as a laundry list of the worst experiences and things they ever did, they see them as they were meant to be seen: as whole and valuable children who are worthy of love, who will be the parents of the next generation and as promising and inspiring leaders who will be neighbors, colleagues and friends.

I often tell people that I have learned the most about what children deserve and how much we need to transform the system from my 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.   Their job as teenagers is to take risks and challenge authority to become independent, and my job is not to punish them, but to protect them from harm and help them learn and use those experiences to launch themselves into the world.  The only way to do that is with love, compassion and in the context of family. That’s what our systems have to understand.

The Leading with Conviction training has been a life-changing experience.  When I look at the amount of growth I’ve experienced in my own work over the past year in the areas where I have been the most stuck, I am inspired that anything is possible. This is important, because the issues we are tackling are the hardest and can seem intractable. For us to lead the necessary transformation of policy, practice and culture, we  need the best possible leadership training, skills, and coaching, and that’s what we are receiving through JustLeadershipUSA.

“I am a Bishop Designate, an ordained Baptist minister, a psychologist, and a medically-retired marine warrant officer and combat veteran.”

I am also the National Director of Support Services for Healing Communities USA, a faith-based prison reentry initiative.   My work involves reaching back into the faith community to reengage them in the social justice movement, with a focus on criminal justice reform.  There are so many barriers that returning citizens have to overcome today—an estimated 40,000 laws and regulations nationwide that prevent people from finding jobs, homes, and educational opportunities.  It’s like someone taking a Polaroid picture of you at one moment in time and having that one moment define your entire life.

I help churches, synagogues and other places of worship set up reentry ministries so they can create supportive environments within their congregations for returning citizens and their families, and also for the people they harmed.   Our practice is based on the principles of restorative justice, a process that focuses on the rehabilitation of people through reconciliation with their victim and the community at large.  I have experienced restorative justice personally, as both a formerly incarcerated person and the family member of a victim of crime.  Twenty-three years ago, when I was emerging from my own addiction, my 14 year old son was killed in an act of street violence by another youth.  I know what it’s like to be standing in a morgue at 1:30 in the morning to identify your baby boy.  I felt a tremendous amount of guilt for not protecting my son.  The other boy, who was only 12 years old, was tried and sent to a juvenile facility.  A few years later, I was asked to preach at a facility in Maryland, and halfway through my sermon, I realized that the boy who killed my son was in the audience.   I wanted to do what any father would have done, but God tapped me on the shoulder and said, “That’s not what I brought you here for.”  I ended up telling him in front of the whole audience that I forgave him and we began a relationship and we’re still in contact today.  He lives in California with his family and he does anti-violence work with gangs in LA and we are still very much in contact.

I’ve always been able to see multiple sides of all the issues, and that allows me to speak to different audiences.   I’m a formerly incarcerated person with a military law enforcement background and I’m the father of a crime victim.  I’m a pastor and a practicing psychologist, and the integration of faith and treatment informs my life’s work.  I can speak from all those perspectives.  As Co-Chair of the Restorative Justice Committee of the Pennsylvania Reentry Council I recently had a positive interaction with a member of the committee who was constantly blocking consensus on everything we were trying to do.  So I took him out to lunch and asked him to tell me how he felt.  I just let him talk for 45 minutes and used techniques I’ve learned from Leading with Conviction—just listening and providing feedback in a way that made him feel that he was being heard.  Now we have a very different and much more constructive working relationship.

To be in a room with 30 other leaders has been literally life changing.  As powerful as each and every one of us is, we are more powerful together and we are forming lifelong relationships.  As a pastor, it’s refreshing to be with people who aren’t afraid to push back when I fall short.

Lead National Organizer


JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA) is dedicated to cutting the US correctional population in half by 2030. On the guiding principle that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, JLUSA empowers people most affected by incarceration to drive policy reform. JLUSA was launched in November 2014.

Open Positions

JLUSA seeks a driven, inspired, and energetic National Organizer. The National Organizer will work with JLUSA’s dynamic team to mobilize directly impacted communities across the country in support of advocacy campaigns to end mass incarceration. The ideal candidate is an experienced organizer who has worked on grassroots, policy and advocacy campaigns. This position will involve managing organizing staff, campaign leaders, and coordinating with partner organizations, as well as JLUSA’s national base of directly impacted Fellows and leaders; thus, a history of demonstrated leadership is essential.

The ideal candidate is committed to JLUSA’s mission, is flexible and effective in a fast-paced environment, and possesses a great sense of humor. With our bold and ambitious goal and unique theory of change, the right candidate can have a significant impact on redefining justice in America. In addition, the National Organizer will work to organize formerly incarcerated leaders from across the United States into a powerful force for change, while developing and managing innovative campaigns in multiple cities.

JLUSA’s National Organizer reports to the Chief of Strategic Initiatives and works closely with our campaign partners and members to build a movement to reach #halfby2030.

Responsibilities include:

  • Work with the Chief of Strategic Initiatives, Advocacy team, and Policy team to develop and execute strategy for national criminal justice reform agenda, including political landscaping and lobbying;
  • Develop and implement organizing curricula as part of JLUSA’s leadership training;
  • Partner with JLUSA’s leaders and members to learn about on the ground developments in criminal justice reform across the United States;
  • Build partnerships with criminal justice advocacy organizations;
  • Develop, launch and coordinate multiple campaigns in different jurisdictions;
  • Cultivate and drive outreach efforts to build membership and identify leaders within the supporter and member network;
  • Manage staff, interns, volunteers, including staff working remotely;
  • Identify, measure, track and be accountable for personal outcomes and outcomes for subordinates; and,
  • Create leadership opportunities for JLUSA leaders and members.


JustLeadershipUSA seeks a candidate with the following qualities and skills:

  • 5-7 years of community organizing experience (required);
  • Ability to develop leaders and employing grassroots strategies for social change;
  • Ability to work on coalition-based campaigns to effect national policy change;
  • Ability to collaborate with remote staff and/or volunteers;
  • Ability to supervise staff, interns/volunteers (required);
  • Knowledge of and interest in criminal justice reform, including a serious commitment to end mass incarceration;
  • Ability to develop relationships with community leaders around the country and collaborate on community driven policy reform;
  • Knowledge of federal policy-making;
  • High energy, strong interpersonal, public speaking and problem-solving skills;
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Suite and Internet use; and,
  • Comfort working with a team in a fast-paced and dynamic environment, and working independently on specific projects.

To Apply

Please send a resume and cover letter detailing your interest in JustLeadershipUSA and the role of National Organizer.  In addition, include a writing sample of no more than five pages, and three references to jobs@justleadershipusa.org with subject line: Last Name, First Name, Lead National Organizer.

Salary commensurate with experience. Competitive benefits. Only applicants selected for interviews will be contacted. The deadline for responding to this job posting is October  13, 2017.  Although JustLeadershipUSA is based in New York City, the opportunity to work remotely can be discussed on a case-by-case basis.

JustLeadershipUSA is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.  All qualified applicants will be considered for employment without unlawful discrimination based on race, color, creed, national origin, sex, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, military status, prior record of arrest or conviction, citizenship status, or current employment status.

JustLeadershipUSA values diverse experiences, including with regard to educational background and justice system involvement. We depend on a diverse staff to carry out our mission.

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Meet Steven Mangual & Robin Vander Wall – 2018 Leading with Conviction Fellows

“I served 14 years in New York State prisons, and it was while I was incarcerated in the Woodbourne Correctional Facility that I discovered my passion for learning and for activism.”

The year was 1996, and I met a group of older men who were lifers and long-termers.  They were involved with the New Prison Movement which was born out of the Attica rebellion of 1971, and had formed study groups called the Resurrection-Conciencia Study Groups.  They developed an analysis called The Non-Traditional Approach to Criminal and Social Justice that examined and explained the relationship between prisons and urban communities of color.  I became a student and then the facilitator of a study group and for the rest of my time inside I organized, I spoke, I read, I wrote, and I did advocacy from inside supporting some outside organizations like the Coalition for Parole Restoration.

Today I work as a Senior Intervention Manager for Common Justice.  Common Justice develops and advances solutions to violence that transform the lives of those harmed and foster racial equity without relying on incarceration.  Locally, we operate the first alternative to incarceration and victim service program in the US to focus on violent felonies in the adult courts.  Nationally, we leverage the lessons from our direct service to transform the justice system through partnerships, advocacy, and elevating the experience and power of those most impacted.  We build practical strategies to hold people accountable for harm, break cycles of violence, and secure safety, healing and justice for survivors and their communities.  As a Senior Intervention Manager, I work with responsible parties in our alternative-to-incarceration and victim-service program, a rigorous, cutting-edge response to serious felonies, including assault and robbery, based in restorative justice principles. If—and only if—the survivors of those crimes consent, Common Justice diverts the cases into a process designed to recognize the harm done, honor the needs and interests of those harmed, and develop responses to hold the responsible party accountable.  Those who successfully complete their commitments to those they harmed and the violence intervention curriculum don’t serve the jail or prison sentences.

Separate from my work at Common Justice, in my personal capacity, I am the Latino Affairs Producer/Co-host for “On The Count: The Prison and Criminal Justice Report,” a 60-minute talk, news, and interview program featuring criminal and social justice subjects on radio station WBAI, 99.5 FM.  It airs weekly on Saturdays from 11:00 am until 12 pm (ET).  I’ve produced several segments on solitary confinement, healthcare in prisons, the struggle to free Puerto Rican Political Prisoners, reentry, and the #CLOSErikers and #FREEnewyork campaigns, and moderated an all-Spanish language webinar on the #FREEnewyork and #JusticeLA campaigns.  I’m also member of Latino Justice PRLDEF, Justice Reform Collaborative which works to create a more just society by using and challenging the law to secure justice by empowering our community and by fostering leadership through advocacy and education. The Collaborative is dedicated to promoting fairness, rights restoration and safety by using litigation, advocacy, community engagement, policy analysis and narrative change to make the invisible, visible to all – the concomitant plight of Latinos under a broken and racialized criminal justice system in America. Our program focuses on rights restoration, as well as policing, sentencing, bail and drug policy reform.

It’s been humbling and inspiring to meet all these wonderful people in the Leading with Conviction trainings.     Being humble is something I aspire to; it’s been my nickname for many years.   I need to remain grounded and focused in my life no matter where I am. I know I’m still a human being and nothing that I have is better than anyone else’s.   I’m looking forward to staying in touch with my cohort and hearing about the amazing work they’re doing.

“I am the Vice Chair of the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (NARSOL) and the founder and president of Vivante Espero, the foundation that supports it.”

Our main focus is on reforming the incredibly onerous and punitive sexual offender registry laws that exist throughout the country. We are opposed to public registries in any form, but if the tool is going to be used, it should be used in such a way that comports with constitutional restraints, and today, that is not the case.  The registry laws vary from state to state, but one thing they all have in common is the absence of any kind of due process.  Our mission says it all:   “NARSOL envisions effective, fact-based sexual offense laws and policies which promote public safety, safeguard civil liberties, honor human dignity, and offer holistic prevention, healing, and restoration.”

Our strategy is three-fold.  First try to engage the public, which is difficult because of the stigma surrounding people charged with sexual offenses.  But in spite of the stigma, our support has grown since our first national conference in Boston in 2008.  Most of our support comes from family members, spouses and moms in particular.  These are folks who, if you’d met them before a family member got in trouble, they would have been in favor of the registry and totally supportive of everything it purports to achieve.  But after they deal with this upfront and personal, it’s a totally different reaction.  They see the damage, harm and destructive force of public registries.  Second and third are a combination of legislative lobbying and litigation.  We go into places where we as a team feel like the restrictions are so onerous that they’re probably low hanging fruit legally speaking.  And we work to build partnerships with other criminal justice reform organizations because unless we place some restrictions on this Pandora’s Box, states will start to use the registration tool to cover other categories of felonies, and that kind of mission creep is very dangerous.

While I was in prison I went through a massive transformation spiritually and practically.  Before prison I never had any concept of social justice and was a self-identified conservative Republican who grew up as a Southern Baptist.  In prison I converted to Catholicism because I saw where social justice fit in, and understood Christ’s teaching that whatever you’re doing to the most marginalized man or woman, you’re doing to me.  It was a dramatic, eye-opening experience, and I realized that I wanted to be a conduit for change.  It occurred to me that a lot of skills I developed during my previous life–managing campaigns, being involved in politics, direct mail copy writing, raising a lot of money for candidates—I could use to advocate for fair sexual offense laws.  After my release, I hit the ground running.

I am very pleased and honored to be part of the Leading with Conviction cohort.  I’ve learned a lot and look forward to using the tools and honing my skills to become a more effective leader and to raise up other leaders, because that’s what this is all about.

Meet Donald Perry & Hernán Carvente – 2018 Leading with Conviction Fellows

“I was paroled in 2001 after serving nineteen years in the Massachusetts correctional system and I was committed to being an asset to my community instead of a liability.”

Meet Susan Mason & Luke Pamer – #LwC2018 Cohort Fellows

I’ve been out of prison for fifteen years, but I have been reconvicted over and over again because of my criminal record. Over those years I received multiple job offers, but as soon as the employers did a background check, the offers were rescinded, one by one.





“Due to the United States’ detrimental, regressive, and misguided overreliance on mass incarceration and mass criminalization as a solution to socioeconomic challenges, particularly in Black and Latinx communities, over 7o million Americans – that’s 1-in-3 working-age adults – now have a criminal record. Some of the consequences that these men and women are forced to endure are contained in the 48,000 laws and regulations collectively known as collateral consequences; the laws and regulations that prevent someone’s successful and holistic reentry into their community. These consequences are anything but collateral; they are the purposefully built, harmful impediments that prevent someone with a conviction from having access to a job, a home, healthcare, or education. Expunging those convictions from people’s records is a key step in eradicating these barriers, healing the harm that these barriers have created, and pushing back against the shadow that the criminal legal system casts over communities.

“In South Carolina, the state Legislature voted to override Governor Henry McMaster’s veto of H3209, a bill aimed at creating pathways to expungement for some people. This bill had earned support from advocates and private employers across the state because it is a positive step in the right direction. It will help people with certain convictions achieve expungement and gain access to jobs that need to be filled throughout the state. There are many issues, though, that remain unresolved in this Legislation. This bill restricts its own effectiveness by: offering expungement to too few people; limiting the number of times people can utilize this bill’s provisions; forcing people to wait far too long to be eligible for expungement while in the interim they are relegated to perpetual second-class citizenship; and maintaining unnecessary, burdensome fees.

“In partnership with allies, advocates, and impacted communities across South Carolina, we will push the Legislature to reconsider this issue in their next session and to pass the bold expungement legislation that South Carolinians demand and deserve. The #WORKINGfuture campaign believes that expungement should be automatic for most offenses and presumptive upon application for others. We believe that expungement applications should be free and easily understood. We also believe that expungement should be available within a short timeframe after a sentence ends. We will hold Legislators accountable to meeting each of these demands by amplifying the voices, experiences, and leadership of directly impacted people across the state.”

#CLOSEmsdf:  A Dispatch from the Field

#CLOSEmsdf:  A Dispatch from the Field

By Sharyl McFarland, JLUSA Milwaukee Community Organizer

The #CLOSEmsdf Campaign is going strong, and we’ve only just begun.  The Wisconsin Department of Corrections is stubborn, but so are we!  On June 28th hundreds of community members, campaign partners and supporters will be gathering to celebrate the progress we have made since our launch in June of 2017.  We will also be bearing witness to the terrible suffering the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF) has brought down on our community.  We call it a special kind of dungeon: no sunlight, no fresh air, extreme heat, no outdoor recreation, no windows, 22 hours of lockdown a day, and no in-person visits.  I have heard about people being thrown into solitary for things like “aggressive eyeballing”—staring a CO in the eye.  Thousands have been tortured there, hundreds made sick, and in its 17 years of existence, 16 men and one woman have died there.

I have lived in Milwaukee all my life and many of the men in my extended family have been incarcerated in Wisconsin including in MSDF.  My own son spent three horrific weeks there when he was only seventeen years old.  This is not surprising because my family lives in or close to zip code 53206 which has the highest incarceration rate for Black males in the whole country.   My neighborhood is 95 percent African American, and an incredible 62 percent of men here have spent time in prison by the time they are 34.  Once they leave prison they are still under correctional supervision, and that’s where the MSDF comes in.  Close to 65,000 Wisconsinites, disproportionately people of color, are on probation or parole, and even the slightest violation of a rule, like missing an appointment with a parole officer, can lead to revocation.  That means being locked up in the MSDF, sometimes for months, waiting for a revocation hearing.  Once you are in the system, it’s almost impossible to stay out.   The majority of people locked up in the MSDF are there because of alleged crimeless rule violations. The right to due process is nonexistent. This has to stop!

Going up against an entrenched and powerful system like the Department of Corrections is hard work that can wear you down.  But all I need is a good night’s sleep and then I’m ready to go out and fight for justice..  Our campaign gets stronger every day.  On June 12th we held a press conference and revocations rally outside the probation and parole office and then marched to the MSDF to attend what had been described to us as a public meeting, open to the community.   But when we got there, only two of our members were allowed in.  Instead of folding up and going home, we stood our ground.  We held up our signs, passed out our leaflets, and staged a live Facebook video protesting the fact that we, the public, were not permitted to attend a public meeting.   We’re passionate, and we want people to know they’re not alone.  Last time I looked, close to 3,000 people had watched the video.

I am out there every day talking to people about the issues.  I go everywhere.  Imagine me walking down the street with my #CLOSEmsdf T-shirt on, holding up my clipboard that has the campaign logo on it.  I introduce myself to people as they pass by, and if they stop, I talk to them about MSDF and hand them a flier.  I’ll stop at a bus stop and talk to the folks waiting for a bus.  I’ll tell them their voice matters and hand out pledge cards and voter engagement fliers.  I’ll tell them they can canvas with us or come to our office and do data entry.  If they have a story about MSDF, and many many people do, I’ll encourage them to share it with the campaign.  We’re getting stronger, one person at a time.

I’m very optimistic that in the long run, we will win.  In the past, many Milwaukeans didn’t know what the initials MSDF stood for; now they do.  People are talking about how inhumane the conditions there are, and pressure is building to reform the parole and probation revocation system. Earlier this month  WISDOM, a Wisconsin faith-based social justice organization and #CLOSEmsdf partner, organized a gubernatorial forum. Close to 700 people were there to hear seven candidates for governor promise to end crimeless revocations and to shutter MSDF.  A year ago we weren’t on the public’s agenda.  Now we are.

Once #CLOSEmsdf is victorious, there will still be a lot of injustices to deal with.  Milwaukee is one of the worst places to live if you’re a Black person whether you’re looking at incarceration rates, home ownership, child poverty, unemployment, teenage pregnancy, or any other measure of a community’s well-being.[1]  That’ll keep me busy until the Lord calls me home!

[1] http://dollarsandsense.org/archives/2015/1115schneider.html