Supporter Spotlights

Emily Tow Jackson
Executive Director, and Board President
The Tow Foundation

In 2017, the Tow Foundation generously committed $1 million in unrestricted support, over four years, to help Vera build capacity and allow for the organization to move quickly to take advantage of new opportunities for reform. 

“Vera has been our partner since the early days of the Foundation,” said Emily Tow Jackson, executive director and board president. “Over the years we’ve interacted in many ways, learning what our foundation’s unique role can be in the justice reform movement. All along the way, Vera has been a strategic partner, a trusted partner, and an important sounding board.  And their research has been tremendously valuable in our advocacy efforts.” 

She explained that while Tow has worked with Vera on particular programmatic areas, such as juvenile justice reform, for many years, the Foundation decided to make a special commitment now to building Vera’s organizational strength. “Project support is really important, but so is keeping the lights on and supporting an organization’s infrastructure.  It’s important to have a plan to be sustainable, but also to have the ability to be responsive and nimble.”

Timing is also important, especially when the political climate challenges organizations like Vera to continue to pursue reform. “The positive direction that criminal justice has been going in our country is clearly threatened in this moment,” said Tow Jackson. “We need the trusted, stalwart institutions that have been on front lines all along to be doubling down at this time.”

She added: “Beyond their federal work, Vera has been very influential at the state level. That deep experience on [the regional] level is so important to us.” She cited Vera’s groundbreaking program for incarcerated young adults in Connecticut, and the organization’s fact-finding trip to Germany, which helped inspire that work. “They sparked change. We are a regional funder so we need partners who are working nationally and internationally.  They help us to both see the challenges faced by other jurisdictions and learn from models that are working well elsewhere.”

Annual Report Emily Tow Jackson
Annual Report Laurie Robinson

Laurie O. Robinson
Honorary Trustee
Vera Institute of Justice

In 2017, former Vera Board Chair Laurie O. Robinson (now Honorary Trustee) and her husband Sheldon Krantz committed to a planned gift to eventually benefit the organization with a bequest from their estate. 

“It was very much a joint decision,” said Robinson, who serves as the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University and has been involved in national criminal justice policy for more than three decades, most recently as President Obama’s co-chair of the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing. “We considered very few organizations [for legacy gifts] and we thought long and hard about it. But when we came to justice reform, there was only one choice, and that was Vera.” 

In part, that was because of Robinson’s long association with Vera, where she served as a Trustee for 13 years. But she noted that Vera’s own history played a role as well. “Vera stands out for its innovation and its commitment,” she said. “You think about an organization that you know will be around when you’re not, one that is working hard today but also committed to long-term impact.” 

Robinson said Vera’s national reach and model of innovation, research, pilot projects, and working directly with the public sector helped to inspire the commitment. “The impact is so much broader,” she said. “Consider the work in policing, pre-trial release, the jails work, solitary confinement, conditions in prisons - taken separately, these contributions may seem more narrow, but together they cast a much larger shadow.  They have a great impact.”

She talked about the challenges now facing justice reform, especially at the national level: “Institutions like Vera play a real leadership role, providing needed ballast during times when not just the government is unsettled, but  so many people are unsettled. Vera keeps the focus on the role of justice in this challenging environment.”

Considering what is a generational commitment via bequest, Robinson - who teaches undergraduates as well as graduate students - touched on the generation of Americans now coming of age. “I think that for millennials, there’s a real movement to question the fairness of the justice system. For them to be real leaders, they need an organization to show that institutions can work, and work well. That beacon of hope is Vera.” 

To discuss making a planned gift to Vera, please contact Jordan Kessler, Director of Development, at or 212-376-3003.