Our mission is to empower local leaders to implement innovative and practical solutions to problems in the criminal justice system. We use an approach that is bipartisan and includes all relevant stakeholders. Consistent with this mission, we will be awarding two exceptional African-Americans (one man and one woman) that have a demonstrated commitment to promoting criminal justice reform in a bipartisan fashion with measurable results at the national, state or local level.
CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR WINNERS!
Candance J. Wesson
Founder/Director, The Help Reentry Program
Candance Wesson is a product of the Kansas City, Missouri School District. She became a mother at the young age of 16 and was often told from family members and friends that she would not graduate; nonetheless, she graduated high school on time with her class and went on to attend a community college. In 2009, the job market shifted and jobs became difficult to find and maintain. So, in order to provide for her daughter and herself, Candance became involved in a tax scheme in which she ultimately pled guilty to, as a first time non-violent tax offender in 2012. Upon turning herself in to authorities to begin her 20-month sentence, unknowingly, she was told that she was seven weeks pregnant.
During her incarceration, she was bounced around to three institutions that were far away from family and her support network. She served a total of eleven months in custody, six months in an under-resourced reentry center resources, and three years of supervised release. The vision of The Help (a reentry program for women) was revealed to Candance as a result of her personal experiences. These experiences included the challenges associated with women being incarcerated and the long-term traumatic experiences; from giving birth to her son while in custody, inadequate medical care and mental support, to lack of adequate counseling services to cope with being separated from her child or her post-partum depression.
Upon release from prison, Candance was determined to reenter society and be a positive influence and contributor to her community. She sought employment with over 20 different companies only to be shunned and rejected due to her felony conviction. It then became crystal clear to her that her past mistake could possibly overshadow her future and her ability to help support her family. She was still determined to make a difference in her community, and allowed her challenges to be her motivation. In 2016, The Help finally launched. Since that time The Help has helped close to 200 women with reentry initiatives in the areas of life-skills training, employment, and health care referrals through a partnership with Swope Health Services, toiletries, transportation assistance, counseling and other services.
Learn more about The Help Reentry Program: https://www.thehelpkc.org/
Co-Founder & Vice President, Alliance for Safety and Justice
Robert Rooks is one of the premier criminal justice reformers in the country with more than 20 years experience. His work in the political and legislative arena over the past two decades has achieved landmark wins in criminal justice reform. Robert is co-founder and Vice President of Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ), where he leads state-based advocacy strategies across the nation. His leadership has been instrumental to the enactment of policies that are now reducing prison populations in California, Illinois, Florida and Michigan by more than 40,000 people and increasing investments into community prevention programs by millions of dollars. Examples include California’s Proposition 47 and 57 to reduce state imprisonment and allocate savings to treatment, Illinois’ SB 2872 to eliminate mandatory prison sentences and build trauma recovery centers, and Florida’s AB 7125 Florida to expand alternatives to incarceration and increase victim services. Robert also played a strategic leadership role in Florida’s historic Amendment 4 campaign to restore voting rights for people with past convictions. The campaign garnered national attention and is now giving hundreds of thousands of people the opportunity to vote.
In each effort, Robert’s steadfast leadership has combined investing in people directly impacted while reaching out to liberals, conservatives and law enforcement to build diverse support. It has been a tremendous formula for transformation and success. To help train other leaders, in 2019, Robert established the Campaign Academy for Safety and Justice as a training program for justice reformers, especially people of color and those directly impacted by crime and/or incarceration, to develop high-level campaign expertise and skills. It just graduated its first cohort of 35 people, from grassroots community organizers to executive directors. Grounded in his personal experience of growing up in a community impacted by violence, his work to create trauma recovery centers for victims of violent crime has led to the opening of these centers across the country. Through his work with Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ), Robert has built a powerful constituency of survivors nationwide who are advocating for policies that both reduce incarceration and increase support survivors. Previously, Robert served as the National Criminal Justice Director for the NAACP. Robert also served as an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and St. Joseph’s College, and at Central Connecticut State University.
Learn more about the Alliance for Safety and Justice: https://allianceforsafetyandjustice.org/