Brenda Smith Selected to Join Council on
Criminal Justice Women’s Justice Commission

Professor Brenda Smith, director of the Community Economic and Equity Development Law Clinic at AUWCL, has been appointed to the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) Women's Justice Commission, a landmark national initiative focused on addressing the unique challenges faced by women in the criminal justice system.

Brenda Smith

The Commission, convened by the nonpartisan CCJ think tank, brings together 15 ideologically diverse leaders representing various sectors of the justice system. Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch chairs the Commission, which also includes law enforcement officials, legislators, judges, corrections professionals, medical experts, researchers, advocates, and formerly incarcerated women.

Smith, who also serves as director of the Project on Addressing Prison Rape at AUWCL, joins a distinguished panel with decades of experience in women's justice issues.

"I hope to shine a light on women's pathways into the criminal legal system," Smith said. "That path is bounded by racial, gender, economic and social inequality that increases their likelihood of becoming enmeshed in the child welfare, juvenile justice, domestic violence and penal systems. I plan to propose preventives and palliatives for those outcomes. And where appropriate, I will vigorously advocate for strengthening and enforcing their rights under state and federal law."

The Commission's work comes at a critical time. While the incarceration rate for women has risen dramatically in recent decades, their specific needs often go unmet. Justice-involved women frequently come from backgrounds of poverty and trauma, and are more likely than men to have experienced abuse, mental health issues, and homelessness.

The Commission launched with two comprehensive reports detailing the experiences of women in the justice system. Key findings include:

  • A staggering increase (431%) in the incarceration rate for women between 1982 and 2007.
  • A rise in arrest rates for women, particularly for violent crimes (up 317% since 1980) and drug offenses (up 63% since 1980).
  • The significant impact of incarceration on mothers, with over half of women in prison having minor children.
  • Lower recidivism rates for women released from prison compared to men.

Over the next three years, the Commission will focus on building consensus for evidence-based reforms that improve the lives of women, their families, and communities. This includes exploring trauma-informed and gender-responsive approaches to prevention, intervention, and reentry programs across the entire justice system, from arrest to release.

Alongside Smith, the Women's Justice Commission includes esteemed experts who will work to improve conditions for incarcerated women throughout the country:

• Loretta Lynch (Chair) - Former U.S. Attorney General; Partner, Paul, Weiss LLP

• Courtney Bryan – Executive Director, Center for Justice Innovation

• Norma Cumpian – Assistant Deputy Director, Anti-Recidivism Coalition

• Nancy Gertner – Retired Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts; Senior Lecturer, Harvard Law School

• Ed Gonzalez – Sheriff, Harris County, Texas

• Leticia Longoria-Navarro – Executive Director, The Pathfinder Network

• Chris Mathias – Representative, Idaho State Legislature

• Anne Precythe – Owner, Precythe Sturm Advisory Group, LLC; Former Director, Missouri Department of Corrections

• Emily Salisbury – Associate Professor of Social Work & Director, Utah Criminal Justice Center, University of Utah

• Topeka K. Sam – Founder, The Ladies of Hope Ministries Communications Toolkit

• Jillian Snider – Policy Director, Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties, R Street Institute; Retired Officer, NYPD

• Carolyn Sufrin – Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics; Founder and Director, Advocacy and Research on Reproductive Wellness of Incarcerated People

• Tori Verber Salazar – Founder/CEO, Law Offices of Tori Verber Salazar; Former District Attorney, San Joaquin County

• Whitney Westerfield – Senator, Kentucky State Senate

• Pamela Winn – President and CEO, RestoreHER US.America