Jessica Jackson Sloan is the youngest-ever elected official in the charming city of Mill Valley, California, located just 14 miles north of San Francisco. In her role as vice mayor of the city where she grew up, Jessica works on local politics. That would be enough of an accomplishment for many to be satisfied, but not Jessica, who has deep life experiences that motivated her to spend her time helping those less fortunate.
As national director of #cut50, a truly bipartisan initiative to end mass incarceration, Jessica works with her colleagues and a team of notable influencers (like Alicia Keys and Richard Branson) to cut the prison population in the United States by half within the next 10 years. The organization works to raise the issue in media and inform others that the issue has become massive – and not only is a huge financial resource drain in our society, but also one that has the potential for alternative options that would keep our communities safer.
Prior to her dual jobs, Jessica worked on death penalty cases, saying that when serving those on death row, “You see the worst of the worst of the system … Unfortunately the client pays the ultimate price … their life.” It was this background that prompted Jessica to join politics in the first place, as she had a desire to move into policy work to broaden her impact.
In episode 18 of I Want Her Job: The Podcast, we hear about how Jessica’s very personal story led her to law school and then her work on death penalty cases and eventually, at #cut50 and for the city of Mill Valley. Her story is one you’ll want to hear.
TOPICS DISCUSSED IN TODAY’S SHOW:
- On Campaign Fundraising: Despite her experience with nonprofit fundraising, Jessica says that raising money for her campaign felt harder. “You have to sell yourself. If it’s an issue you’re passionate [about] and you’ve already been sold on [it], then it’s kind of easier to sell than to sell yourself, and brag on yourself, and ask close friends and family for money,” she says.
- Taking Action: One issue Jessica felt passionate about that she took action on as an elected official dealt with smoking in multi-family housing. While living in multi-family housing herself, Jessica’s neighbor fell asleep – cigarette in mouth – and burned down the neighboring apartment, as well as half of Jessica’s apartment – including her daughter’s room. Fortunately, she and her daughter were gone at the time. In addition to her personal experience, Jessica pointed out that the complications of smoke for neighbors with conditions like asthma, and the fact that many of these units share central air made smoking a problem. The ordinance is now passed, and tenants of multi-family housing can no longer smoke.
- On Thinking Local: “It feels like sometimes when you’re working on bigger issues on a national or state scale, things take a really long time to get done. On the local level, there’s an immediate return on your investment of energy,” Jessica says.
- Day In The Life: While Jessica attends official meetings on the first and third Monday of each month, she’s called on throughout the week to attend additional meetings, including participation in additional boards she shits on and the democratic party. When not working on city politics, Jessica spends her time leading #cut50 and taking care of her family.
- By The Numbers: The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, yet it comprises 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. The U.S. is jailing people at a rate higher than any country.
- Cost Versus Return: More than $80 billion is spent on the U.S. justice system in one year. “With that $80 billion a year, you would think that we’re taking individuals and turning out Harvard grads … In fact, the majority of people who get out of the prison system end up back in within five years, with our recidivism rates around 70 to 80 percent,” Jessica says.
- On Cut50: Right now the nonprofit is focused on federal sentencing reform, Jessica says. The nonprofit has worked the past 18 months to call on Congress to pass comprehensive justice reform. Of the 2.2 million incarcerated individuals in the U.S. right now, only about 200,000 are in the federal system. Despite this, Jessica says that Cut50 decided to start at the federal level to send a strong message to states and governors.
- How To Get Involved: Get informed by visiting cut50.org. You also can join more than 1 million other individuals and sign the petition for justice reform on change.org. Also, Jessica advises to start local – look at practices employed by your local Sheriff’s Office and police. Vote for district attorneys and judges that align with reform.
- Hitting Home: Jessica shares her personal story of dealing with incarceration. Her then-husband served more than three years in Georgia, right after her oldest daughter was born. “I saw firsthand how corrupt the system was, how they broke our family by charging excessive amounts for phone calls … the restrictions they put on visitation and whether or not I could bring the baby in … restrictions on even things like writing letters … All of this was because he had a drug problem, and he could have gotten help with rehabilitation, but instead he was incarcerated and never got that treatment he really needed,” she says.
- On Working Bi-Partisan: Running a bi-partisan organization can be tricky. But Jessica tells those on both sides of the aisle, “When it was my husband who was behind bars, and my child who was growing up without their child at home, I didn’t’ care whether it was a Republican who brought my husband home, or if it was a Democrat who brought him home, I just wanted him home.”
- Getting Into Government: Jessica’s advice for women considering jobs in local government is to be brave, have the ability to laugh at yourself, allow yourself to make mistakes and then learn from those moments.
- On The Topic: Podcast editor Polina recommends everyone read Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson to learn more about the issue of incarceration.
- Connect With #cut50: You can show your support by following #cut50 on Facebook and Twitter and by donating here.