Staff & Volunteers

The Prison Policy Initiative's accomplishments are those of a much larger organization. Thanks to your support, we've added staff and our capacity to help make social change is growing quickly. Learn more about our current and past staff.

Staff

picture of Peter Wagner Peter Wagner is an attorney and the Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. He co-founded the Prison Policy Initiative in 2001 in order to spark a national discussion about the negative side effects of mass incarceration. His report, Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in New York, launched the national movement to end “prison gerrymandering” more than a decade ago. His research and advocacy caught the attention of the press — including 21 New York Times editorials — and led multiple states and more than 200 local governments to end prison gerrymandering.

Under his leadership, the Prison Policy Initiative has helped propel other parts of the criminal justice reform movement forward by achieving critical victories in regulating the exploitative prison and jail telephone industry and quantifying the counter-productive effects of geography-based punishments.

Through strategic collaborations, he has brought the need for criminal justice and electoral reform to new audiences, including authoring reports exposing the "whole pie" of mass incarceration, helping Hank Green explain the failed mass incarceration experiment in a VlogBrothers video, working with Josh Begley to put each state’s overuse of incarceration into the international context, and putting the problem of prison gerrymandering onto theatre screens nationwide.

In recognition of the victories he led on this and other issues, he is the recipient of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award (2013) and the American Constitution Society’s David Carliner Public Interest Award (2014).

He is @PWPolicy on Twitter.


picture of Aleks KajsturaAleks Kajstura, JD, Legal Director. Aleks has worked with the Prison Policy Initiative in various capacities since 2003, and has been our legal director since 2009.

A 2008 graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Aleks played a central role in building the Prison Policy Initiative’s campaign against prison gerrymandering, including her publication, Prison Gerrymandering in Massachusetts: How the Census Bureau prison miscount invites phantom constituents to town meeting. Aleks has also led the organization's work on its second major issue, sentencing enhancement zones, authoring The Geography of Punishment: How Huge Sentencing Enhancement Zones Harm Communities, Fail to Protect Children and Reaching too far: How Connecticut’s large sentencing enhancement zones miss the mark.

Aleks continues to shed light on other hidden aspects of mass incarceration, for example sparking a New York Times editorial by highlighting mass incarceration's impact on women in States of Women's Incarceration: The Global Context.

In her spare time, Aleks plays hockey, competes in triathlons, and serves on the Finance Committee for the Town of Sunderland.


Wendy SawyerWendy Sawyer is the Research Director at the Prison Policy Initiative. Wendy earned a Master's in Criminal Justice from Northeastern University and a Bachelor’s in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts. Before joining the Prison Policy Initiative, she worked as an investigator for the Civilian Complaint Review Board in New York City and as a research associate for Northeastern's Institute on Race and Justice.

Most recently, Wendy authored Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie 2019, a report illustrating where, why, and under what conditions justice-involved youth are confined, which finds that many of the problems of the criminal justice system are mirrored in the juvenile system. She also recently co-authored Arrest, Release, Repeat: How police and jails are misused to respond to social problems with Alexi Jones, and Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie and States of Incarceration: The Global Context, both co-authored with Peter Wagner.

Previously, Wendy wrote The Gender Divide: Tracking women's state prison growth and Punishing Poverty: The high cost of probation fees in Massachusetts. In addition to these reports, Wendy conducted the Prison Policy Initiative's frequently-cited 2017 50-state surveys of wages for prison labor and medical copays charged to incarcerated people, and she frequently contributes shorter briefings on recent data releases, academic research, women's incarceration, pretrial detention, probation, and more.



Wanda BertramWanda Bertram is our Communications Strategist. Wanda is a graduate of the University of Washington, where her focus on national security sparked her interest in prison policy and immigrant detention. Before joining the Prison Policy Initiative, Wanda reported on local criminal justice reform as a Seattle-based freelance writer while producing, managing, and strengthening the communications of area nonprofit organizations.


Jenny LandonJenny Landon is our Development and Communications Associate, and a University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate with a degree in Social Thought and Political Economy. Previously, she worked on anti-corruption campaigns as an organizer with Represent.Us, and on the development team at Tapestry, a local community health organization.



Emily WidraEmily Widra is a 2017 graduate of the Smith College School of Social Work. During the 2015-2016 year, she interned with us one afternoon a week helping on various research projects, including by collecting historical crime data and organizing criminal justice survey datasets to fuel future reports. She continued with us on a part-time basis and has published blog posts on what the psychology research says about the limits of video visitation technology, Travis County, Texas' experiments replacing in-person visitation with video visitation, and why Black women are disproportionately affected by HIV. She joined us full-time in January 2020.


Tiana Herring Tiana Herring is a Research Associate at the Prison Policy Initiative and recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she studied Political Science and Contemporary European Studies. For her honors thesis, she conducted research on state laws regarding prison reentry services and their impact on recidivism rates.


Andrea FensterAndrea Fenster is a Staff Attorney and is admitted to the District of Columbia Bar. Andrea is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where she served as a student attorney in the Criminal Defense and Prisoner Advocacy Clinic and a Notes Development Editor for the American Criminal Law Review. Andrea has extensive experience in both direct service and impact litigation, and has interned at organizations including the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, Equal Justice Under Law, and the Prison Law Office. Andrea holds a B.A. from American University.


Mike WesslerMike Wessler is our Communications Director. Mike has more than a decade of experience helping campaigns, political parties, nonprofit organizations and elected officials accomplish their goals through strategic communication. Mike has done communications work at the Massachusetts Office of the State Auditor and the Office of the Montana Governor, as well at the Montana Department of Labor and the Montana Democratic Party. Mike has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Florida State University.


Naila AwanNaila Awan serves as the Director of Advocacy at Prison Policy Initiative. Naila is a civil and human rights lawyer with years of experience collaborating with, supporting, and representing Black- and Brown-led grassroots organizations in policy reform and litigation efforts. Prior to joining Prison Policy Initiative, Naila worked for multiple civil rights organizations and served on the legislative staff for Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin.

Most recently, Naila served as Senior Counsel at Dēmos, where her work centered on combating voter suppression and expanding access to the ballot for traditionally marginalized communities. In this role, she led a cross-functional project to end the disenfranchisement people experience when then come into contact with the criminal legal system, testified before Congress, and served as counsel in A. Philip Randolph Institute v. Husted, a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging Ohio’s voter purge practices, and Mays v. LaRose, a class action seeking to expand access to the ballot for voters detained in jail. She also co-authored Enfranchisement for All: The Case for Ending Penal Disenfranchisement in Our Democracy and How to End De Facto Disenfranchisement in the Criminal Justice System.

Naila holds a L.L.M in International Studies from the New York University School of Law, a J.D from the Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, and a B.A from Miami University of Ohio.


Emile DeWeaver Emile DeWeaver is the Prison Policy Initiative Senior Strategist in Advocacy. He is a community organizer, journalist, and literary writer who co-founded Prison Renaissance while serving a life sentence in prison. While incarcerated in California, Emile successfully organized for the passage of Senate Bills 260, 261, and 394 which together create a second chance for people who were given extreme sentences for crimes committed before they turned 26. His writing has been featured by the Brennan Center, Mercury News, SF Chronicle, SF Bay View, Colorlines, and TruthOut. Prior to his work with the Prison Policy Initiative, Emile worked as a consultant for social justice organizations like the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Prison Law Office.


Leah Wang Leah Wang is a Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. Leah holds a M.S in Sustainability Science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a B.A in Economics and Environmental Studies from Bowdoin College. Prior to joining the Prison Policy Initiative, Leah was an analyst at the Massachusetts Department of Correction, and has worked in agriculture, local food systems, and outdoor education. Leah has spent several years teaching and working with prison and jail education programs, like Petey Greene and The New Garden Society.


Stephen Raher Stephen Raher is Prison Policy Initiative’s general counsel. He worked as a criminal justice reform advocate in Colorado for several years before going to law school. Prior to joining Prison Policy Initiative, Stephen worked as a litigator and bankruptcy lawyer, both in private practice and as an attorney in the federal court system. For many of those years, he was also an active volunteer with Prison Policy Initiative’s Young Professionals Network.

Stephen has written several pieces about the sale of goods and services to incarcerated people, including our report The Company Store: A Deeper Look at Prison Commissaries. His advocacy against financial exploitation includes spearheading our campaign to expose the abusive release card industry, and authoring rulemaking comments regarding the financial privacy rights of families of the incarcerated. Stephen has also supported the Prison Policy Initiative’s groundbreaking work on telecommunications and technology in correctional facilities, authoring our report on electronic messaging, exploring problems with computer tablets for incarcerated people, and submitting comments to the FCC, among other projects.

Stephen lives and works in Portland, Oregon. He holds a J.D. from Lewis & Clark Law School, and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Colorado. He is admitted to practice law in the state of Oregon and Washington.


Part-time staff

Bernadette Rabuy Bernadette Rabuy is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. Bernadette’s research has focused on prison and jail visitation and making key criminal justice data accessible to the public. She co-authored the first comprehensive national report on the video calls industry, Screening Out Family Time: The for-profit video visitation industry in prisons and jails, which has played a key role in protecting in-person family visits in Portland, Oregon, California, and Texas. Her research was also essential to the movement that led the largest video call provider, Securus, to end its automatic bans on in-person visits.

Bernadette is passionate about making the criminal justice system easier to understand and therefore reform. She co-authored the report, Detaining the Poor: How money bail perpetuates an endless cycle of poverty and jail time, which finds that the median bail bond amount in the U.S. represents eight months of income for the typical detainee.

In her day job, Bernadette is a Trial Attorney in the Homicide & Major Crime Defense Unit at New York County Defender Services. She is grateful to the following organizations that have allowed her to become a stronger advocate: Southern Poverty Law Center, Prison Law Office, National Council on Crime and Delinquency, VOTE, and Californians United for a Responsible Budget. She is a graduate of University of California, Berkeley and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law. You can say hi at @BRabuy.



Katie Rose Quandt Katie Rose Quandt is a Senior Editor at the Prison Policy Initiative. Katie Rose is a freelance journalist who writes about criminal justice, incarceration and inequality. In addition to her work at the Prison Policy Initiative, Katie Rose is a writer and editor at Solitary Watch, and has written for Slate, Mother Jones, The Village Voice, The Appeal, The Nation, Vice, and In These Times, among others. She was a 2017 Soros Justice Media Fellow and a 2020 Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellow.




Consultants

Bill Cooper helps us access and analyze geographic and demographic data.

Bob Machuga designed our new site and has developed our new branding in addition to making videos and maps about prison-based gerrymandering for us.

Jordan Miner develops the code behind some of our interactive features and internal tools. He made our map of sentencing enhancement zones in Hampden County Massachusetts interactive, upgraded our Prisoners of the Census FAQ, and created a lot of clever little features that help various parts of our websites talk to each other. Jordan lives in Illinois.



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