Robert Rooks is one of the nation’s premier criminal justice reformers with more than two decades of experience as a grassroots organizer, strategist, and movement leader. He is an expert in building and scaling social justice organizations and has been instrumental in winning groundbreaking criminal justice reforms across the country.
Robert’s work is rooted in his experience growing up in Dallas, Texas and seeing his community decimated by the crack cocaine epidemic. Devastated by the pervasive violence and incarceration, distraught by the absence of support, and driven by the desire to give her children greater opportunity and access to education, sports and services, Robert’s mother moved him and his siblings to a suburban community. This gave Robert a unique lens into two worlds. Motivated to heal these wounds and create change for the next generation, Robert dedicated his life to advocating for and changing policies on behalf of crime survivors, people in the justice system, and formerly incarcerated people.
Under Robert’s leadership, REFORM is promoting smart reforms that reduce unnecessary supervision and create pathways to work and wellbeing. REFORM has won major legislative reforms to transform probation and parole systems in states as diverse as California, Georgia, and Mississippi and lifted up the experiences of people on supervision to educate the public and build support for broader change.
Prior to joining REFORM, Robert co-founded and served as the CEO of Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ), the largest state-by-state public safety reform organization in the nation. In this capacity, he grew the organization’s footprint from one state to eight states with the nation’s highest incarceration rates and led the organization’s advocacy programs to change criminal justice laws throughout the country. This includes winning legislation to reduce incarceration such as the Neighborhood Safety Act in Illinois, a bill that expanded support for crime victims and improved rehabilitation opportunities for people in prison. He also served as the Organizing Director for the Yes on Proposition 47 campaign in California, a statewide ballot initiative approved by voters in 2014 that reduced incarceration and reallocated hundreds of millions of dollars from prisons to community-based programs; and the Yes on Proposition 57 campaign in California, a successful ballot initiative to increase parole eligibility for people in prison and reduce the transfer of juveniles to adult court. He also served on the Executive Committee and led the fundraising efforts for Florida’s groundbreaking Amendment 4, a successful ballot initiative that restored voting rights for more than one million Floridians with past convictions.
Throughout his career, Robert has built a pipeline of leaders who—either as crime survivors or people living with old records—intimately know the failings of the criminal justice system to provide safety for communities. He has mentored system-impacted individuals and co-founded ASJ’s flagship program, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, the largest network of crime survivors in the country with more than 70,000 members. In addition to building leaders, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice has successfully advocated for the expansion of “trauma recovery centers,” passing administrative reforms to grow the model from just one center to 35 centers across the nation.
Prior to his leadership at ASJ, Robert served as the first Criminal Justice Director for the NAACP, where he launched the “Misplaced Priorities – Educate Not Incarcerate” campaign, partnering conservatives and liberals to reduce state prison populations. Robert also served as an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, St. Joseph’s College, and Central Connecticut State University. In 2019, he was recognized for his pioneering work with a Champion of Justice Award by the Bipartisan Justice Center. Robert and his wife have three powerful and inspiring teenage sons.