Three Advocates on the Lasting Legacy and Hopeful Future of the Criminal Justice Reform Movement

The Vera Institute of Justice recently welcomed three new members to its board of trustees. Now in its 60th year, the organization has changed and grown, ebbing and flowing with the most critical issues facing criminal justice reform.
Damien Dwin Chair
Jul 08, 2021

Nonprofits like Vera are accountable to many people. There are the thousands of individuals who may be impacted by the policy, programmatic, or advocacy efforts made by the organization; the community partners and coalitions that the organization works with every day; and the staff, donors, volunteers, and supporters who keep the work moving forward. Then there are the board of directors and board of trustees—both groups of volunteers who serve terms of anywhere between four and eight years. These boards govern the nonprofit itself and, in the case of trustees, take on a leadership role in their personal connections with supporters.

Three new trustees—Helam Gebremariam, Lili Lynton, and Nelson O. Fitts—are helping to steer Vera itself as well as its supporters into the coming years. These representatives join the organization in its 60th year, and each has their own personal connection to the criminal justice reform movement.

Vera's work has shifted over time to become more inclusive of and responsive to the needs of those most affected by the far reach of the criminal legal system. The organization remains dedicated to ending mass incarceration, and three questions have served as guideposts as it has pushed its work forward:

  • How can we scope our future work?
  • What resources do communities that are most targeted by the criminal legal system need to heal and thrive?
  • What can Vera do to redress the racism and white supremacy that fuel the system?

Helam, Lili, and Nelson join a dedicated board of trustees and directors who will work to advance this important work: from celebrating and amplifying Vera’s 60th anniversary this year; to continuing Vera’s groundbreaking, actionable research and strategic partnerships to drive meaningful policy change; to advocating on behalf of those most targeted by the system.

From Vera’s work to end mass incarceration in its hidden hot spots around the country—rural communities and small cities—to its efforts to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline in favor of restoring the promise of young people, hear what drives these three advocates.

Helam Gebremariam

“Through all the pain and loss of this past year, we also saw states and localities make tremendous strides and adjustments to our criminal justice system.”

Helam Gebremariam speaks to the possible future of criminal justice reform the COVID-19 pandemic showed us.

“We can do better. We must do better. And the time to act is now. The wheels are turning, and we have the opportune moment to really galvanize ourselves, to focus ourselves, and to have our voices heard in this quest for justice.”

Learn more about Vera’s Center on Immigration and Justice.

Lili Lynton

“I became involved with Vera and criminal justice reform, like so many Americans, once it started touching me personally. By the time it came home to me, it was already of crisis proportions.”

As a dedicated advocate of young people’s education, Lili Lynton witnessed firsthand the devastating impacts of the school-to-prison pipeline.

“What is most extraordinary is that we are taking our most vulnerable population and, instead of supporting them, instead of helping them achieve their dreams, we are making it as difficult as possible.”

Learn more about Vera’s Restoring Promise program.

Nelson O. Fitts

“Access to education and training in jails and prisons—especially postsecondary education—is critical.”

Nelson O. Fitts and his law firm have been invested in Vera’s work for years. Now, he directs his attention to improving access to education and job training for incarcerated people and reducing overincarceration in rural communities.

“A generation from now, what kind of American society we live in will turn, in part, on reducing the populations of jails and prisons, and successfully reintegrating formerly jailed people into the community and the economy.”

Learn more about Vera’s work to end overincarceration in rural communities.