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.
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.
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 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.
Wendy is the author of numerous reports, including Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2022, which gives the big picture of mass incarceration in the United States. She is also the co-author of Mass Incarceration, COVID-19, and Community Spread, which shows how mass incarceration and the failure to reduce prison and jail populations quickly led directly to an increase in COVID-19 cases, not just inside correctional facilities, but in the communities and counties that surround them.
She's also authored or co-authored reports on youth confinement, the misuse of police and jails to respond to social problems, gender disparities in incarceration, and probation fees. 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 Bertram is our Communications Strategist, serving as the Prison Policy Initiative's primary media contact and spokesperson. She is also our expert on tablet computers in prisons, and has written for the Prison Policy Initiative about prison tablet contracts, bans on physical mail behind bars, and other policies that force incarcerated people and their families to shoulder the costs of incarceration. In her spare time, she is a freelance writer.
Emily Widra is a Senior Research Analyst. She oversees Prison Policy Initiative's work examining the criminal legal system's pandemic response, and was co-author of Failing Grades: States' responses to COVID-19 in Jails & Prisons. She is also the co-author of States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2021 and has published blog posts on various topics, including how states' "good time" systems can reduce prison populations during the pandemic, resources and data for organizations focused on policing, and why Black women are disproportionately affected by HIV. She is a 2017 graduate of the Smith College School of Social Work.
Mike 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 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. She is the co-author of Executive inaction, a report that reveals how states and the federal government fail to use commutations as a release mechanism. 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.
Leah Wang is a Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. She is the co-author of Beyond the count: A deep dive into state prison populations and Building exits off the highway to mass incarceration: Diversion programs explained. 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.
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.