[As the primary writer of Unprison, I am honored to share with readers that my best efforts will flow through Voice of the Ex-Offender, an organization at the forefront of the criminal justice reform movement- and at the epicenter of incarceration. Expect to see more blogging from that forefront, and I encourage you to help.]
We are excited to announce that Bruce Reilly, J.D., has assumed the position of Deputy Director of VOTE (Voice of the Ex-Offender). Bruce is a proven leader in the national criminal justice reform movement, while also serving as a strong voice among formerly incarcerated people in New Orleans, home of the highest per capital incarceration rate in the world.
“From the time he moved to New Orleans four years ago to attend Tulane Law School, I’ve been waiting for the chance to get him working with us full time,” says Norris Henderson, Executive Director of VOTE. “Now that we got him in house, we can amp up the leadership development of our members, build out the economic empowerment services for people coming home from prison, continue to expand the electoral engagement of formerly incarcerated people and their families, and achieve policy victories to stop the over-incarceration of our communities on local, state and national levels.”
After working for years as a jailhouse lawyer, Bruce cut his organizing teeth and sharpened his policy change expertise with Direct Action for Rights & Equality (DARE), in Providence, Rhode Island. Bruce was instrumental in putting DARE at the forefront of unprecedented victories, including a 2006 ballot initiative restoring voting rights to people on probation and parole, eliminating mandatory minimum drug sentences (2009), reforming probation violations (2010), the Healthy Pregnancies for Incarcerated Women Act (2011), the Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act (2012), marijuana decriminalization (2012), and statewide Banning the Box for public and private employers (2013). As a gifted spokesperson and writer, Bruce has continued to deploy data and analysis that counterbalances the tired “Tough on Crime” narrative, shifts public opinion, and advances the credibility of formerly incarcerated people regarding issues that affects them and their community.
“I want to help build a movement led by directly impacted people, alongside Norris, VOTE’s base, and allies in New Orleans,” Bruce explains. “For too long others have claimed to speak for us while denying our expertise. Those of use who know what it means to be locked in a cage or visit our family through a glass partition are best informed, and have the most at stake, in our collective commitment to end state polices and administrative practices sustaining mass incarceration at the expense of healthy communities. For over forty years the United States has engaged in a disastrous campaign to criminalize social and public health problems including poverty, unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse, and mental illness. If we are ever going to switch our approach, while also dealing with reentry and rehabilitation, people with the wisdom of experience must be at the policy table. VOTE is committed to organizing strategies that ensure people in positions of leadership and influence come from the 80 million people impacted by convictions. I am one of 110,000 people in Louisiana, and six million nationwide, denied the right to vote in a nation striving to be the world’s model democracy. For us to claim that title, second-class citizenship needs to end, and only a genuine movement of civil and human rights can do it.”
Previously Bruce has worked with the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Capital Appeals Project, and most recently with the Vera Institute of Justice. He is a graduate of Tulane University Law School, where he was an NAACP Legal Defense Fund Earl Warren Scholar. Bruce co-founded the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People, and Families Movement and authored their landmark 2013 report on public housing, “Communities, Evictions, and Criminal Convictions.” He is also a co-founder of the Transcending Through Education Foundation, a college scholarship and mentoring organization that supports people who are incarcerated or recently released.
“VOTE could not have found a better Deputy Director, period,” says VOTE Board Chair Robin Templeton. “Bruce brings to VOTE a fierce intellect and a honed set of skills—coupled with his brilliant creativity—that positions VOTE to grow its organizational capacity by leaps and bounds. But what’s most impressive and inspiring about Bruce is his indomitable passion and loving commitment to VOTE’s mission and to the community that VOTE serves.”
Hiring Bruce comes on the heels of organizer Gahiji Barrow transitioning out of VOTE. Gahiji’s tireless work ethic and loving spirit has been a staple of VOTE and the wider social justice community, and will be missed. The organization expects to expand in the near future, and continues in its central role for criminal justice reform in New Orleans.