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Our approach is informed by our background in youth advocacy and our belief that justice requires that context be considered at sentencing. Through leading a coalition of families of youth sentenced as adults, YSRP co-founders Lauren Fine and Joanna Visser Adjoian heard their anguish at not having been able to present mitigating information in court at sentencing and their fear of loved ones being released from prison unprepared for the challenges that come with reentering the community. Through litigating sentencing issues, they learned more about how powerful mitigation evidence can be. On a car trip across Pennsylvania for a prison visit, they discussed their mutual passion for this work and devised the idea for YSRP.

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Kat Bakrania, MSW

Reentry Coordinator

pronouns: she/her

Kat Bakrania is a Reentry Coordinator with the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP). Kat comes to YSRP with a background in organizing. She previously worked as a community organizer in Pittsburgh and then Philadelphia, primarily fighting for clean air and water in environmental justice communities; she also has experience as an Asian American Political Organizer. Kat earned her Master of Social Work degree with a certificate in Human Services Management from the University of Pittsburgh and her Bachelor’s in Political Science from the University of Rochester, where she currently serves on the Steering Committee for Community Engagement. After years of working at the macro-level of social work, Kat is thrilled to be able to build relationships and work directly with client-partners at YSRP.

Contact: kbakrania@ysrp.org; 267-225-6825

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Isabel Ballester

Program Coordinator

pronouns: she/her

Isabel (ees-ah-belle) Ballester is the Program Coordinator at the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP). Her experience working as a paralegal in both the Conviction Integrity and Special Investigations Units at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office (DAO) prompted her desire to work at the intersection of policy, advocacy, and social justice. She identifies as an abolitionist-in-progress and is especially committed to the process of transformation and reimagination. Isabel is a proud Philadelphia native and holds a degree in Gender & Sexuality Studies from Davidson College.

Contact:  iballester@ysrp.org; 267-225-7570

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Katie Barnett

Director of Development & Communications

pronouns: she/her

Katie Barnett is Director of Development & Communications with the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP). In this role, she informs the development and communications strategies that sustain and support the mission of Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project and its growing team. Previously, Katie was the Development Director at Spiral Q in West Philadelphia, and she has consulted for leading organizations working at the intersection of immigrant rights, criminal justice reform and worker’s rights. Prior to relocating to Philadelphia, Katie worked at the Open Society Foundations, where she supported national grantmaking related to criminal justice reform, and the role of arts and culture in advancing social change. Katie graduated from Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA and received her Master of Social Work degree from Hunter College in New York City.

Contact:  kbarnett@ysrp.org; 267-703-8048

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Bianca van Heydoorn

Interim Executive Director

pronouns: she/her

Bianca van Heydoorn is the Interim Executive Director at the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP). In this role, she provides strategic leadership and guidance to YSRP’s four departments: Case Advocacy, Development & Communications, Finance & Operations, and Policy. Prior to joining YSRP, Bianca was a Senior Director at Philadelphia’s Office of Reentry Partnerships. Earlier in her career, she worked directly with adolescents; developed programs to intervene in commercial sexual exploitation, prepare teens for employment, help incarcerated students and returned citizens engage in post-secondary education; and influenced policy related to conditions of confinement. Bianca has an undergraduate degree in Correctional Sociology from the City University of New York and a graduate degree in Criminal Justice from John Jay College.

Contact: bvanheydoorn@ysrp.org

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Margot Isman

Policy Director

pronouns: she/her

Margot Isman is the Policy Director with the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP). In this role, she supports and implements the campaigns for  YSRP’s policy priorities. Prior to her work with the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project, Margot was a Deputy Director at the Crime and Justice Institute, where she led policy engagements on youth justice issues in states around the country, in the process working with legislators and stakeholders across the political spectrum. Margot has previously consulted with non-profit organizations around the world on their data collection and management systems as Managing Director at Vera Solutions, and served as a Legislative Aide in the Massachusetts State House. She received a Masters of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School at Tufts University and a BA from Stanford University.

Contact:  misman@ysrp.org; 413-320-5932

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Don Ike Jones

Reentry Coordinator

pronouns: he/him

Don “Ike” Jones is a Reentry Coordinator with the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP). In this role, he coordinates efforts to garner the necessary resources to support former Juvenile Lifers and youth client-partners returning to the community from prison, jail, or placement. Ike is a former Juvenile Lifer himself, and brings to his role more than 20 years of experience assisting men with similar backgrounds to obtain resources to support their reentry, such as stable housing and employment. Ike comes to YSRP most recently from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, where he worked as a Crime Intervention Specialist. For more than 17 years, Ike has served as a member of the Temple University Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program’s Think Tank and as the co-founder of several organizations during his incarceration at SCI-Graterford, including Real Street Talk, Community Forgiveness & Restoration Initiative, and the United Community Action Network (UCAN), among others. He also served as the president of the Graterford branch of the NAACP, where he managed the day-to-day operations of the organization and hosted events with State and local elected officials.

Contact:  djones@ysrp.org; 267-476-4756

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John Lopez, Esq.

Staff Attorney

pronouns: he/him

John Lopez is a Staff Attorney with the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP). In this role, he supports our Case Advocacy team by partnering with youth charged as adults in their individual cases, supporting the Youth Advocacy Project at the University of Pennsylvania, and providing case consultation and technical assistance to other attorneys. Prior to joining YSRP John worked at the Defender Association of Philadelphia and taught at Drexel University School of Law. At the Defender, John worked as a trial attorney in several units, served on the Recruitment and Development Committee, and as a mentor attorney. At Drexel, John taught classes on legal writing and restorative justice. Most recently, John worked with The National Association of Public Defenders (NAPD) and the YES! organization. At NAPD, John trained on topics related to public defender wellness. With YES!, John helped to organize and facilitate annual gatherings for legal professionals who want to heal and deepen their connections on personal, interpersonal, and systemic levels. John graduated from East Stroudsburg University with degrees in Political Science and Philosophy. He is an alum of the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law.

Contact: jlopez@ysrp.org

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John Pace

Senior Reentry Coordinator

pronouns: he/him

John Pace is the Senior Reentry Coordinator with the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP). In this role, he coordinates efforts to garner the necessary resources to support former Juvenile Lifers and youth client-partners returning to the community from prison, jail, or placement. As a former Juvenile Lifer himself–John spent 31 years in prison, beginning at age 17–he was actively involved in numerous initiatives while incarcerated to help support his personal transition back to the community and that of other Juvenile Lifers. John is a certified paralegal and a former member of the Para-Professional Law Clinic (PPLC) at Graterford prison. He was on the management team of the Prison Literacy Project (PLP); served as the Chairman of the Juvenile Lifers Committee in the Lifers organization at Graterford, and as a Think Tank member of The Temple Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program at Graterford, where he participated in the training over 600 instructors throughout the world in the Inside-Out pedagogy. In 2014, he became a certified instructor in the Inside-Out Pedagogy, which teaches the art of facilitating dialogue. While incarcerated, John earned his Associates Degree and Bachelor’s Degree from Villanova University, with minors in sociology and criminal justice.  John Pace was named the first-ever recipient of the Raymond Pace Alexander Reentry Star of the Year Award in June 2018 in recognition of his tremendous accomplishments since returning home from prison.

Contact:  jpace@ysrp.org; 267-703-8053

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Sophia Peake

Development & Operations Coordinator

pronouns: she/her

Sophia Peake is the Development & Operations Coordinator with the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP). In this role, she focuses on increasing YSRP’s revenue, providing crucial support to the operations of the organization, and assists in telling YSRP’s story. Prior to joining the team, she was a fundraiser for Pathways to Housing PA, where she honed her skills in donor acquisition strategies. Sophia has a background in the nonprofit sector, working for numerous grassroots campaigns and organizations in the Philadelphia region. She is a passionate advocate for equity in the social justice, education, and public policy sectors. Sophia is a Philadelphia native and a Temple University alum. Additionally, she currently serves as an Impact100 Founders Fellow, and is a member of the Philadelphia Black Giving Circle, where she aids in the grantmaking process.

Contact:  speake@ysrp.org; 267-702-5856

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Emily Robb, Esq., MSW

Director of Advocacy

pronouns: she/her

Emily Robb, Esq., joined the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP) after a 13-year career at the public defender office in Philadelphia, where she held a number of different positions, including as an Assistant Defender in the major trial unit, Juvenile Special Defense Unit, Penn Law Criminal Defense Clinic Instructor, and as Chief of the South Zone.  Prior to graduating law school from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where she interned with the Innocence Project, Emily was a social worker in New York City. Emily earned her Master of Science in Social Work (MSW) from Columbia University School of Social Work, and her Bachelor of Arts (BA) from Cornell University.

Contact:  erobb@ysrp.org; 267-703-8050

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Annie Ruhnke

Senior Mitigation Specialist

pronouns: she/her

Annie Ruhnke is a Senior Mitigation Specialist at the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP) with specialized training in trauma and mental health issues.  After obtaining her Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice at George Washington University, Ms. Ruhnke joined the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Delaware, where she conducted life history investigations across the country.  Ms. Ruhnke has worked on post-conviction death penalty cases at both the state and federal level and has presented at national trainings on topics surrounding mitigation investigations in capital cases.  In addition to developing social histories, Ms. Ruhnke is especially interested in restorative justice and redemption.

Contact:  aruhnke@ysrp.org; 267-703-8051

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Traci Hjelt Sullivan

Director of Finance and Operations

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Traci Hjelt Sullivan is the Director of Finance and Operations with the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP). She has several decades of non-profit management experience including serving as Co-Director of the Ben Lomond Quaker Center in California and the Interim Executive Director of Pendle Hill in Wallingford, PA. She is particularly pleased to work with YSRP because of its commitment to anti-racist values and actions.

Contact:  thsullivan@ysrp.org; (267) 332-7102

Advisors, Fellows & Interns

Eleanor Myers, Esq.

Senior Advisor

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Eleanor Myers, Esq., is a YSRP Senior Adviser, regularly supporting YSRP’s Reentry Team, and working to advance policy to improve conditions for those on life-time parole. Eleanor previously was a tenured faculty member at Temple Law School where she taught, published and consulted in the areas of Professional Responsibility and business law. She also served as Interim Dean of Students and taught internationally in Rome, Beijing, Tokyo, and Manila. At Temple, she received a Lindback award for distinguished teaching, the Stauffer award for outstanding service to the university and a national award for developing problem-solving curriculum. She was appointed by two university Presidents as NCAA Faculty Athletic Representative and she also served as vice chair of the University Disciplinary Board.

Prior to teaching, Eleanor practiced law at Fine Kaplan and Black, Served as Associate General Counsel at Temple University and was an associate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center on Professionalism. Eleanor has been active outside the University, having served as Vice-Chair of the Division 1 NCAA Committee on Infractions and has been appointed to several NCAA working groups. She has also served on the board of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange and as a member and chair of several NASDAQ/OMX hearing panels and committees. She has been a board member of the Women’s Medical Fund, Women’s Law Project, Women’s Way, and the Philadelphia chapter of the ACLU. She has won awards and recognition for community service. Eleanor graduated from University of Pennsylvania and its law school, magna cum laude. She is an elected member of the Order of the Coif, American Law Institute and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. Eleanor is an avid sports fan, especially of Temple basketball, and loves to sing.

Contact:  emyers@ysrp.org; leave a voicemail for Eleanor at 267-703-8046

Intergenerational Healing Circle Facilitators

Kempis (Ghani) Songster

IGHC Facilitator, Men & Boys

Kempis Songster, also known as Ghani, is the Program Manager of Restorative Justice Diversion with the Youth Art & Self- empowerment Project. He spent the first seven years of his life carefree in the beautiful islands nation of Trinidad & Tobago; his next 8 years as an honor student in the concrete jungles of Brooklyn, NY; four months as a runaway selling cocaine from drug houses in Philadelphia; followed by 30+ years in prison on a sentence to life without parole/death by incarceration that began at the age of 15. He occupied his time behind prison walls trying to regain his humanity and moral rectitude and learning how to advocate for the humanity of others. He is a founding member of Right to Redemption, and a founding member of the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI). He is a co-founder of The Redemption Project. He is also co-founder and director of Ubuntu Philadelphia. His case is the focus of the Transom and Frontline two-part documentary Living With Murder by Samantha Broun and Jay Allison. In 2019, Living With Murder was among eight Frontline features to be honored with the rare Gold Baton from the Alfred Dupont Columbia Awards. Before joining the staff of YASP, Kempis worked for three years as Healing Justice Organizer with the Amistad Law Project. He was also the co-creator and host of Amistad’s monthly podcast show Move It Forward. In the three years since his release, Kempis has been active in the fight for a more livable world.

Seldin-Kuester Summer Fellows

The Seldin-Kuester Summer Fellowship program, made possible with the generous support of Board member Harper Seldin and his husband John Kuester, offers up to two full-time 10-week paid summer fellowship positions with YSRP for law and/or social work graduate students. Seldin-Kuester Fellows work on independent and collaborative projects supporting YSRP’s case advocacy model, which may include: conducting mitigation investigations and preparing reports for young people charged as adults; research to support policy advocacy efforts; and participation in YSRP team meetings and learning opportunities. Applications become available in late-November for the following summer’s positions, and will be posted on this site. YSRP is tremendously grateful to Harper and John for their commitment to expanding opportunities for emerging justice reform leaders.

Sam Luebbers

2022 Seldin-Kuester Summer Fellow 

Sam Luebbers is a rising second-year law student at Drexel School of Law. Sam comes to Philadelphia from Alaska, where he worked as a recovery coach in a residential facility for young people with substance abuse issues and co-occurring mental disorders. He plans to focus his legal studies on juvenile justice, youth rehabilitation and alternatives to prison, and would love to one day create his own holistic youth recovery center modeled after his experiences at the place which inspired him to become a lawyer. Prior to living in Alaska, Sam served as an Economic Development volunteer for the Peace Corps, working with youth engagement and disability advocacy groups in Ukraine.

Hannah Wang

2022 Seldin-Kuester Summer Fellow 

Hannah Wang is obtaining a Master of Social Work degree at the Columbia University School of Social Work. They hail from the Pacific Northwest and recently graduated from Princeton University with a degree in public policy. In addition to interning for the Princeton University LGBT Center and several human rights organizations, Hannah has experience advocating for prison abolition and organizing mutual aid efforts. In their free time, they enjoy writing, crocheting, hiking, and learning how to build toward a liberatory future.

Aria Plants

2021 Seldin-Kuester Summer Fellow 

Aria Plants is a rising second-year law student at Penn State Dickinson Law. Aria plans to focus her legal studies on social justice, public interest, the intersection of psychology and law, advocacy, and human rights practice areas in an effort to effect true systems change. Prior to law school, Aria completed an MA in Forensic and Legal Psychology at Marymount University in Arlington, VA. She discovered her passion for the legal field through a mitigation internship at the Fairfax County Public Defender Office, where she collaborated with mitigation specialists, public defenders, and clients themselves to unearth their backgrounds through interviews, record requests, and other avenues. Aria holds a BA in Counseling Psychology from Delaware Valley University.

Madelyn Guerra

2020 Seldin-Kuester Summer Fellow 

Madelyn Guerra has worked on mitigation support for youth client-partners through the Youth Advocacy Project (YAP), a pro bono partnership through the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She is currently obtaining her Master’s in Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania. While earning her Bachelor’s in Science at New York University, Madelyn worked with young girls who were systems-involved through the ROSES program.

Kate Uyeda

2020 Seldin-Kuester Summer Fellow 

As a law student at Vanderbilt Law School, Kate Uyeda plans to focus her studies on criminal justice, environmental justice, election law, and other social justice practice areas. Before law school, Kate worked as an Account Executive at the social change communications firm Fenton, in Washington, D.C. Her work focused primarily on messaging and media relations for racial justice, human rights, environmental, and children’s advocacy organizations. Kate is from the San Francisco Bay Area and received degrees in Political Science and Environmental Studies from the University of California, Berkeley.

Grace Kim and Levi Bradford

2019 Seldin-Kuester Summer Fellows 

Grace Kim (pictured left) and Levi Bradford were the inaugural Seldin-Kuester Summer Fellows in 2019. Grace was then a rising third-year law student at Villanova Law School, and Levi relocated to Philadelphia for the summer from University of Florida College of Law, where he was a rising second-year law student. Grace and Levi share interest in pursuing legal work in support of children who experience contact with the justice system. During their fellowships, they supported youth client-partners on their case advocacy, and captured valuable information from former Juvenile Lifers on their experiences with parole supervision fees.

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