9 Black Women Who Went Hard For Criminal Justice Reform Before Kim Kardashian

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Written by Dana Sanchez

criminal justice reform
Van Jones, left, and Kim Kardashian attend Variety & Rolling Stone’s Criminal Justice Reform Summit at The Jeremy Hotel on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, in West Hollywood, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

CNN commentator Van Jones famously credited Kim Kardashian West and her celebrity status with helping to pass the First Step Act, which is expected to bring about sweeping criminal justice reform.

Kardashian West met President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, where she asked for clemency for Cyntoia Brown, who was convicted of killing a man when she was 16 and forced into sex work. Brown would not have been eligible for parole for 51 years.

“If Kim Kardashian had not gone to the White House and talked to Donald Trump, we would not have passed this bill,” Jones told TMZ in December.

Kardashian West has strategically used her platform to help other incarcerated people including Alice Marie Johnson and Mathew Charles.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 53: Frederick Hutson

Part 1: Jamarlin talks to justice-tech pioneer Frederick Hutson, who founded Pigeonly to create communications products for inmates and their families that reduce the destructive impact of incarceration.

After Brown’s clemency was announced on Jan. 7, 2019, Kardashian West received thousands of notes and letters from prisoners asking for help. She got the title “The Princess Of Prison Reform” by prison staffers and inmates, MSN reported. “Both hilarious and filled with admiration, the name is a questionable moniker for the reality star,” wrote Zoey Johnson for MSN.

This praise raised questions about the women working in the trenches — the community organizers and lawyers and activists who, without the money and voice and visibility of Kardashian West, laid the groundwork for the passage of the First Step Act.

As Selena Hill wrote in Black Enterprise, “Even though Kardashian West has used her platform to amplify injustices and has been a helpful resource, it’s (others) who have made waves in exposing inequity and pushing for change in the criminal justice system.”

Here are 9 women who worked extensively on prison and criminal justice reform in the U.S.


About Dana Sanchez

Dana Sanchez was born in South Africa and is a U.S. citizen. After working in advertising, she went back to school and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida. As a business writer, she won regional and national writing awards. As editor of a daily newspaper, she coordinated staff writers, freelancers and photographers in the fast-paced environment of daily news. Dana was an editor at Moguldom Media Group for four years, helping to build and manage a team of staff and freelance writers. She works now on Moguldom.com for Nubai Ventures. A long-distance hiker and cyclist, she writes about the business of technology.