Stoneleigh Fellow Nicole Pittman and her Fellowship are featured in The New Yorker.
One of the movement’s best hopes for advancing legislative change is an attorney named Nicole Pittman. In the early two-thousands, Pittman worked as a public defender on the juvenile docket in New Orleans, where she first noticed the long-term toll that the registry took on convicted offenders. (In Louisiana, teen-agers’ licenses are stamped in red with “sex offender.”) In 2011, she embarked on a cross-country trek to interview youth registrants and their families. Her findings were released in a hundred-plus-page Human Rights Watch report, which she was sure would inspire changes in policy. On the road, Pittman met with members of local government to present her findings, and most politicians listened politely. But few, if any, were moved to action.
“The biggest barrier in this work is: ‘If I act, I’m going to lose the next election,’ ” she says. She was dejected, and weighed giving up, but when she won last-minute funding from the Stoneleigh Foundation she moved her operations to Oakland, California, and launched a program called the Center on Youth Registration Reform, with a new criminal-justice-advocacy group known as Impact Justice. Then she forged a surprising alliance with Eli Lehrer, the president of the R Street Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.