by Leah Sakala, April 1, 2014
Next up in our blog series introducing several accomplished new members of the Prison Policy Initiative board: Ruth Greenwood. Ruth is a voting rights attorney and Fellow at the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. We are so glad to have her on our team here at PPI.
Why did you decide to join the PPI board?
Ruth Greenwood: I am really excited to have joined the PPI Board. I first heard about PPI through its work to end prison based gerrymandering. I saw Peter Wagner explain the concept in Gerrymandering: the movie, and couldn’t believe that a modern democracy with access to all sorts of technical data had not fixed the problem. Once I had discovered the great work of PPI in this area, I started reading about all the other work it does to highlight the problems of mass incarceration. The thing I like most about PPI is that it doesn’t just explain the problems clearly, but sets out workable solutions and then works to implement them.
What does your work focus on? And what’s the connection between that work and PPI?
RG: The work of PPI directly intersects with my work. I am a voting rights attorney and I focus on redistricting. In particular, I look at ways to improve minority representation in the United States. Ending prison gerrymandering would improve minority representation in my state of Illinois because pre-trial detainees can vote in the districts from which they come, yet are counted in the district where they are awaiting trial (sadly, there are tens of thousands of pre-trial detainees in Illinois and many await trial for years). I really hope PPI can end prison gerrymandering by 2020, so in 2021 when state and congressional districts are drawn again, we will have removed at least one of the distortions to our democracy.
What do you think is most unique about the Prison Policy Initiative and the projects it takes on?
RG: I like that PPI chooses “bite size” pieces of problems to expose and solve. There is a clear overall goal (reducing the negative effects of mass incarceration on public welfare), and fixing each issue PPI focuses on takes us a step towards that goal. I love that PPI is so good at clearly explaining complex issues and is always ready to provide additional research and advice to help out state advocates like me.
What’s something that you wish more people knew about the Prison Policy Initiative?
RG: I was shocked to find out that PPI does all that it does with so few staff members and such a small budget. It really made me realize that even though I’m a public interest lawyer and don’t have a big budget for charitable donations, my donations go a long way with PPI. I like knowing that I am helping a small organization do big things.