The Vera Institute of Justice Mourns the Passing of Herb Sturz

Herb Sturz, leader of the Vera Institute of Justice, from its founding in 1961 through 1978, passed away on Thursday, June 10. He was 90 years old.

When Herb founded the Vera Institute of Justice—then called the Vera Foundation—with Louis Schweitzer in 1961 and, at 30 years old, became its first executive director, he set his sights on ending New York City’s overreliance on cash bail. More than 60 years later, his advocacy and commitment to Vera led to the creation of dozens of organizations that serve the needs of communities both locally and around the world, including Safe Horizon, Legal Action Center, La Bodega de la Familia, Harlem Defender Service, Midtown Community Court, Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services, Center for Employment Opportunities, Red Hook Community Justice Center, and the Center for Court Innovation.

“They are not Vera’s children,” Herb’s friend Jack Rosenthal said in Sam Roberts's 2009 biography, A Kind of Genius: Herb Sturz and Society's Toughest Problems. “They’re Herb’s children.”

After serving as Vera’s executive director for 17 years, Herb was deputy mayor for criminal justice in the Koch administration. While in his new role, he continued to pioneer efforts to close the Rikers Island jail complex, recognizing the toll of mass incarceration and the need to invest resources in services that would benefit communities. After serving as chair of New York City’s Planning Commission and as a member of the editorial board of the New York Times, Herb worked with Open Society to help create the National Urban Reconstruction and Housing Agency (NURCHA), in partnership with the Mandela government in South Africa. Then, during his tenure at the Open Society Foundations, he worked in coalition to form the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, also known as the Lippman Commission after former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who chaired it. Even in his last few years, he continued to attend monthly meetings to close Rikers, leading to the historic city council vote to do just that in 2019.

Herb Sturz has left an incredible and meaningful legacy. Gara LaMarche, the president of Democracy Alliance, once called Herb Sturz “the good Robert Moses.” He will be remembered for his humility and devotion to others and will be missed by the many he mentored throughout his career.

About the Vera Institute of Justice

The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and activists working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles.