Today, REFORM Alliance announced that its Executive Board has appointed renowned criminal justice advocate Robert Rooks to serve as the organization’s new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and elevated founding CEO Van Jones to join the Executive Board. The changes will formally take place on March 1, 2021.
“Robert is a game-changing hire for our organization,” REFORM co-chairs Meek Mill and Michael Rubin said. “He has a proven track record of changing laws and is universally-respected by leaders on both sides of the political spectrum. We’re incredibly grateful for Van’s leadership in laying the groundwork for REFORM and spearheading our first round of legislative victories. We’re thrilled for Van to join the Executive Board where he will continue to help build the organization.”
Most recently, Rooks served as the co-founder and CEO of Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ). There he partnered with governors, legislators, and community leaders to advance reforms that reduced over-incarceration and prioritized smarter safety investments for communities. Since launching ASJ in 2016, Rooks led the organization’s wide-ranging achievements, which include new policies in Illinois that reduced incarceration by over 30 percent, reforms that lowered California’s incarcerated population by more than 30,000 and reforms in states such as Florida, Michigan, Texas and Ohio which have reduced incarceration by more than 75,000 people and invested hundreds of millions in violence prevention and trauma recovery.
Robert also served on the Executive Committee of Florida’s Amendment 4 campaign that restored voting rights for more than 1.4 million Floridians with past convictions and was the Organizing Director for California’s Prop 47 campaign in 2014, one of the first ballot initiatives to enact sweeping justice reform. During his tenure, Rooks was instrumental in recruiting and developing a pipeline of staff leaders who have experienced the failings of our justice system. This has become a hallmark of the organization, and Rooks’ influence on building a leadership team that reflects the most-impacted communities will fuel ASJ’s continued growth and success. He will remain involved with ASJ as President Emeritus of its board of directors.
A longtime criminal justice reform advocate, Rooks also served as the first Criminal Justice Program Director for the NAACP, where he brought Right on Crime and NAACP leaders together for reform.
“I’m honored to lead REFORM into the next phase of growth,” Rooks said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the organization’s founding partners and know their commitment to criminal justice reform is truly unparalleled. I look forward to building on the foundation that Van established and helping drive meaningful legislative change that will positively impact the millions who are unjustly trapped in our country’s broken probation and parole system.”
Once Rooks transitions into his new role, Jones will formally shift to becoming a full-time member of the Executive Board. He will serve as the co-chair of the REFORM Action Fund – REFORM’s 501c4 entity – while continuing to support the organization’s advocacy, growth and communications opportunities. He will also continue to appear on CNN.
“With Robert Rooks as our CEO, the sky’s the limit for us at REFORM,” Jones said. “When we first launched two years ago, I set out to build a robust team, elevate REFORM from a start-up to a high-performance organization and generate major legislative wins. We’ve made incredible strides on all three fronts. But Rooks is going to put a rocket booster under everything we have done so far. He knows how to build, he knows how to lead and he knows how to win. I am very proud to join the REFORM board, where I will be supporting him and the whole REFORM team to take everything to the next level.”
During Jones’ tenure as CEO, REFORM successfully passed a series of bipartisan legislative wins in several states across the country, including AB 1950 in California, which is widely considered to be the most transformative probation reform bill in the United States and will decrease the state’s probation population by 33 percent, give 24,000+ life years back, and prevent 48,000+ prison admissions due to technical probation violations over the next five years.
Most recently in January 2021, REFORM successfully passed new laws in Michigan – SB 1048, SB 1050 and SB 1051 – that will decrease overall probation caseloads by 8.4 percent, provide 12,500+ years of life back and save taxpayers $29.6 million that could be reinvested into evidence-based anti-recidivism programs that put people on a path to success.
REFORM also worked on HB 77 in Louisiana, which was the first bill in the country to create a remote reporting system for people on probation. It allowed people to report to their probation officer remotely rather than being forced to leave a job, struggle to find transportation or childcare to meet with an office in-person and risk the chance of a technical probation violation. Additionally, REFORM helped pass HB 643 in Louisiana to create a pathway to reduce supervision and fines/fees for people on felony parole.
Under Van’s leadership, REFORM’s revenue more than doubled from $9.3 million in 2019 to over $24 million in 2020. That increase enabled REFORM to develop an aggressive COVID-19 response plan to purchase and deliver over 12.5 million masks and PPE to every prison and jail in America to help ensure that the incarcerated population, correctional officers, healthcare workers and personnel working in state, federal and private facilities were protected from the virus.
© 2021, Seth Barmash. All rights reserved.