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The Sentencing Project Staff

Executive Director

Marc Mauer is one of the country’s leading experts on sentencing policy, race and the criminal justice system.  He has directed programs on criminal justice policy reform for 40 years, and is the author of some of the most widely-cited reports and publications in the field.  The Atlantic magazine has described him as a scholar who has “reframed how Americans view crime, race, and poverty in the public sphere.” His 1995 report on racial disparity and the criminal justice system led the New York Times to editorialize that the report “should set off alarm bells from the White House to city halls – and help reverse the notion that we can incarcerate our way out of fundamental social problems.” In 2018 Mauer was named a "Frederick Douglass 200" awardee as one of 200 individuals "who best embody the spirit and work of Frederick Douglass."

Race to Incarcerate, Mauer’s groundbreaking book on how sentencing policies led to the explosive expansion of the U.S. prison population, was a semifinalist for the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award in 1999.  A second edition was published in 2006 and a 2013 graphic novel version was cited by the American Library Association as one of the “Great Graphic Novels” of the year.  Mauer is also the co-editor of Invisible Punishment, a 2002 collection of essays by prominent criminal justice experts on the social cost of imprisonment, and co-author of The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences.

Mauer began his work in criminal justice with the American Friends Service Committee in 1975, and served as the organization’s National Justice Communications Coordinator.  Since joining The Sentencing Project in 1987, he has testified before Congress and state legislatures, frequently appears on radio and television networks, and is regularly interviewed by the New York Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio, and many other major media outlets.  He has served as an adjunct faculty member at George Washington University and Payne Theological Seminary, as well as a consultant to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the National Institute of Justice, and the American Bar Association’s Committee on Race and the Criminal Justice System.  In 2005, he became Executive Director of The Sentencing Project.

Mauer has received the Helen L. Buttenweiser Award from the Fortune Society (1991), the Donald Cressey Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency for contributions to criminal justice research (1996), the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award from the Drug Policy Alliance for achievement in drug policy scholarship (2003), the Maud Booth Correctional Services Award from Volunteers of America (2008), the John Augustus Award from the National Association of Sentencing Advocates (2009), the Margaret Mead Award from the International Community Corrections Association (2009), the Inside/Out Summit Award from Centerforce (2011), the Randy Steidl Excellence in Justice Award from Indiana State University (2018), the Founders Award from the Western Society of Criminology (2019), and the President's Award for Distinguished Contributions to Justice from the American Society of Criminology (2019).

A graduate of Stony Brook University, where he received his bachelor’s degree, Mauer earned his Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan.


Communications Associate

Breanna Bishop provides support to The Sentencing Project's social media efforts, newsletters, websites and other communications outlets. She also assists with research, publication production, and advocacy events.

Prior to joining The Sentencing Project, Bishop was the Communications Associate at the Alliance for Aging Research, where she managed the organization’s social media accounts, created multimedia content, and crafted copy for the organization’s websites. Bishop received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University and a Masters in Journalism from Georgetown University.

Senior Research Analyst

Nazgol Ghandnoosh, Ph.D., conducts and synthesizes research on criminal justice policies. She has written about racial disparities in the justice system, public opinion about punishment, and the scope of reform efforts. Her report, Delaying a Second Chance: The Declining Prospects for Parole on Life Sentences, examines how states and the federal government have increased prison terms for people with parole-eligible life sentences. She regularly presents to academic, practitioner, and general audiences and her work has been featured in outlets including the Washington Post, the New York Times, and WNYC’s On the Media. She also edits The Sentencing Project’s Race and Justice Newsletter. 

Dr. Ghandnoosh earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her dissertation, “Challenging Mass Incarceration: A California Group’s Advocacy for the Parole Release of Term-to-Life Prisoners,” was an in-depth study of a South Los Angeles-based group challenging severe sentences.

Director of Strategic Initiatives

As Director of Strategic Initiatives, Kara Gotsch oversees The Sentencing Project’s federal advocacy work and develops special projects and partnerships to advance the organizational mission of reducing mass incarceration. Gotsch returned to The Sentencing Project in 2016 after serving as its Director of Advocacy from 2005-2012, when she helped lead the multi-year effort to reform the notorious 100-to-1 crack cocaine sentencing disparity that resulted in the 2010 passage of the Fair Sentencing Act. Her sentencing reform advocacy was honored in 2011 by Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

Prior to her return, Gotsch led the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition, a project of the United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society, comprised of 50 national faith-based organizations. The coalition organized faith leaders and clergy to advance federal criminal justice reforms, particularly around issues of sentencing, reentry, and collateral consequences of incarceration.

Gotsch has also worked for the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union overseeing media outreach, public education and federal legislative activities. She concluded her tenure there bringing international attention to the issue of prison rape in Texas. Gotsch received her undergraduate degree from Binghamton University and a Masters in Public Policy from the University of Maryland.

Administrative Associate

Nancy Konjo is responsible for assisting with the overall office operations and fundraising/development.

Prior to joining The Sentencing Project, she worked as an Administrative Assistant with various non-profits in the DC metropolitan area. Before that, she was an Aim Higher Fellow, which helped with improving foster care programs for young people. Konjo received her undergraduate degree from Washington Adventist University (MD) and is in the process of obtaining her Masters of Theological Studies from Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, DC.

Communications Manager

Morgan McLeod oversees The Sentencing Project’s communications planning and evaluation, media outreach, report publication, graphic design and data visualization. She manages the website, social media platforms, constituency mailings and newsletters, and the organization's database of advocates, allies, media contacts and donors.

Prior to joining The Sentencing Project, McLeod was the New Media Strategist at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, where she oversaw social media outreach and managed website content and re-development. She also provided communications, research, and programmatic support to the Joint Center's Energy and Environment Program, and managed their Commission to Engage African Americans on Energy, Climate Change and the Environment. Her research and professional interests focus on race, health, social justice, and the built environment. McLeod received her undergraduate degree and a Master of Science in Global Medicine from the University of Southern California.

Senior Research Analyst

Ashley Nellis, Ph.D. has an academic and professional background in analyzing criminal justice policies and practices, racial disparities, juvenile justice systems, and long-term imprisonment. Her documentation of the prevalence of life imprisonment has served as a national resource for academics, advocates, policymakers, reporters, and incarcerated persons. She is the coauthor with Marc Mauer of The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences (The New Press, 2018) which has received praise from the Los Angeles Review of Books, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly, and has been featured on National Public Radio. Dr. Nellis is also the author of A Return to Justice: Rethinking our Approach to Juveniles in the System (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015) which chronicles America’s historical treatment of youth in the justice system and the need to reorient juvenile justice practices toward the original vision. She has presented her work at a wide range of academic and policy convenings, and is frequently interviewed by a range of news media. Dr. Nellis received her Ph.D. in Justice, Law and Society from American University’s School of Public Affairs.

Director of Operations

Terry Nixon is responsible for day-to-day operations of the office including coordination of financial functions, management of employee benefits, contract commitments and expenditures, and liaison with the agency’s board of directors.

Prior to joining The Sentencing Project, he worked as Managing Director of Operations for the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Before that, he was Director of Administration and Human Resources for the National Academy of Social Insurance. Nixon received his undergraduate degree from Albany State University (GA) and his Master of Applied Sciences from Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, FL.

Director of Advocacy

Nicole D. Porter manages The Sentencing Project’s state and local advocacy efforts on sentencing reform, voting rights, and eliminating racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Her advocacy has supported criminal justice reforms in several states including Kentucky, Missouri, and California. Porter was named a "New Civil Rights Leader" by Essence Magazine for her work to eliminate mass incarceration.

Since joining The Sentencing Project in 2009, Porter's work has been cited in several major media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, and National Public Radio. She has given a number of talks on state sentencing policy, collateral consequences, and racial disparity to various audiences including the League of Women Voters, NAACP, and the United Methodist Women's Assembly.

Porter is the former director of the Texas ACLU’s Prison & Jail Accountability Project (PJAP). PJAP’s mission was to monitor the conditions of confinement in state jails and prisons. Porter advocated in the Texas legislature to promote felony enfranchisement reforms, to eliminate prison rape, and improve prison medical care. Porter received her undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Public Affairs from the University of Texas at Austin. Her master’s thesis addressed exploring self employment among formerly incarcerated African Americans. She also studied African Politics at the University of Ghana, West Africa.

Senior Advocacy Associate

Joshua Rovner manages a portfolio of juvenile justice issues for The Sentencing Project, including juveniles sentenced to life without parole, the transfer of juveniles into the adult criminal justice system, and racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice. His work has supported reforms in numerous states through research and testimony. He is the author of several papers and fact sheets for The Sentencing Project, including How Tough on Crime Became Tough on Kids: Prosecuting Teenage Drug Charges in Adult Courts and Racial Disparities in Youth Commitments and Arrests, and has had opinion pieces published in the Atlantic, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, and the Hartford Courant.

An expert in child and adolescent well-being, Rovner has worked on juvenile development issues, such as access to primary and mental health care, tobacco prevention, and comprehensive health education. Rovner previously worked at the School-Based Health Alliance, Metro TeenAIDS, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the Council of the District of Columbia. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Rochester and a Master of Public Policy from the George Washington University.

The Sentencing Project Board of Directors

Cynthia Jones

Cynthia Jones is a professor of law at American University’s Washington College of Law where she teaches courses in Evidence, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, and a seminar on “Race, Crime and Politics.” Jones served as a law clerk to the Honorable Frank E. Schwelb of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and worked as an associate at the law firm of Dickstein, Shapiro and Morin. In addition to serving as a public defender, she was also the Executive Director of the Public Defender Service and the Deputy Director of the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency. Jones received her undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware and her law degree from American University’s Washington College of Law.

Judge Gregory A. Weeks
Vice President

Judge Gregory A. Weeks is a former judge for the Fourth Division and Twelfth Judicial District of the Superior Court of North Carolina. He served the court for 24 years and took on many challenging cases. Weeks held some of the state's first hearings on whether racism put convicted killers on death row unfairly and as a result converted the sentences of three individuals from death to life without parole. Weeks worked several years in private practice and was an assistant Cumberland County public defender for 10 years. He received his law degree from the University of North Carolina School of Law.

Bobby N. Vassar

Bobby N. Vassar recently retired as Chief Counsel to the Minority, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, U.S. House Judiciary Committee. He previously served as Senior Counsel and Legislative Director in the Office of U.S. Congressman Robert C. Scott, where he was responsible for all legislative and professional support to the Congressman. He also served in various capacities in the Commonwealth of Virginia state government including as Board Chairman for the Virginia Parole Board. Vassar received his undergraduate degree from Norfolk State University and his law degree from University of Virginia School of Law.

Mark MacDougall

Mark MacDougall is a trial lawyer with extensive civil and criminal trial experience. He formerly served as a federal prosecutor with the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. For more than a decade, MacDougall has devoted considerable time to the pro bono representation of defendants facing the death penalty in South Carolina and has received national recognition for this work, including the Foot Soldier Award from the NAACP and the Exemplar Award from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. MacDougall received his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame, his MBA from Boston University, and his law degree from the George Washington University.

Michael Blake

Michael Blake is an independent consultant who advises endowments, foundations, and private family financial offices on governance and management of investments. Jones served as Vice President of Finance at Evelyn and Walter Haas Fund, San Francisco and worked as Country Director of Central African Republic (CAR) Peace Corps. Blake received a B.A. in Economics from Duke University, and Master’s in Business Administration from University of California, Berkeley.

Judge Nancy Gertner

Judge Nancy Gertner is a former federal judge for the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, retiring from the federal bench in September 2011. Gertner had a 20-year career as a lawyer and was celebrated for her work as a criminal defense attorney and civil rights activist. Gertner taught for more than 10 years as a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School, focusing on American sentencing and comparative sentencing law. She received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College, Columbia University, and her law degree and master’s degree from Yale University.

Glenn Ivey

Glenn Ivey is a partner at Price Benowitz LLP in Washington, DC. His practice focuses on white collar criminal defense, Congressional and grand jury investigations, civil litigation, regulatory matters, and internal corporate investigations. He has previously served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney at the U.S. Attorney’s Office under former Attorney General Eric Holder, an elected State’s Attorney for Prince George’s County, MD, and a chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission. He has taught at both Harvard Law School and the University Of Maryland School Of Law. Ivey graduated from Princeton University and Harvard Law School.

Santha Sonenberg

Santha Sonenberg served as a public defender in the federal and local courts, litigator, consultant, and associate professor at various schools of law—including Harvard Law School, Georgetown University Law Center, and University of Maryland School of Law. As a career practitioner, Sonenberg’s emphasis has been the fair and individualized treatment of the disenfranchised. Sonenberg received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, and her Juris Doctor degree from Georgetown University Law Center.

Susan Tucker

Susan Tucker is the former Director of Justice Reinvestment Initiatives for the New York City Department of Probation. Susan also served as the Founding Director of The After-Prison Initiative at the Open Society Institute and the Director of Policy and Research for Victim Services (now Safe Horizons) in New York City, the nation's most comprehensive victim assistance organization. Tucker received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College and her law degree from the NYU School of Law.

Ebony Underwood

Ebony Underwood is an advocate, social entrepreneur, filmmaker, and Soros Justice Fellow (2016).  She is the Founder & CEO of We Got Us Now, a nonprofit and movement built by, led by and for children of incarcerated parents in an effort to create greater awareness about the issue of parental incarceration and the rippling effects of mass incarceration. She also served as CEO of, Director of Special Projects of Ebony Son/DTP/Def Jam Records, and spearheaded the Google-initiated digital #LoveLetters campaign. Underwood received her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from The City College of New York.