(Screenshot via YouTube)
Bill Cobb, the amiable advocate for criminal justice reform in Philadelphia, is taking his talents to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Redeemed founder, freshly appointed Defender Association board member and JustLeadershipUSA alum will be helping lead the New York-based civil rights organization’s Campaign for Smart Justice as deputy director of organizing and partnerships. Cobb will be spending the majority of time in New York campaigning for prison reform in 10 undisclosed states.
It’s a big career move for Cobb, a passionate political mobilizer in the local reentry community who spent nearly seven years of his life incarcerated. Cobb wields his personal experience with the criminal justice system like a sword. Like many in Philadelphia and across the country, he’s all too familiar with the difficulties of finding employment with a criminal record.
Those who know him have likely heard him slip his mantra into a conversation: “People closest to the problem are closest to the solution, but they’re also the people furthest from the resources needed to implement those solutions.”
Considering one of the prerequisites for Cobb’s new position was experience being incarcerated, Cobb’s new compatriots at the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice must share similar beliefs.
“The people who are impacted must be in leadership positions in order to ensure that desired outcomes will actually make a difference in their lives,” said Cobb. “Anything proposed, I’ll be thinking about how it impact me: How will it impact my family? How will it impact my community? My city? I’ll know because I’m still impacted. I’ll forever be a person living with a criminal history in the United States of America.”
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Cobb said he’s not taking lightly the fact that he’s a formerly incarcerated person in a leadership role with one of the nation’s premiere civil liberties institutions. He’s “leading the way for formerly incarcerated individuals to be coveted” in the fight for justice and in the marketplace.
But his new job also means he’ll have to leave Redeemed, the political advocacy nonprofit he founded to fight injustices in the reentry community, behind.
The organization is currently in the midst of a campaign to eliminate cash bail. Cobb said those efforts will be picked up by allies such as Center for Returning Citizens founder Jondhi Harrell — who, like Cobb, is a local reentry advocate with experience being incarcerated. He’s also a JustLeadershipUSA fellow.
The criminal justice system “perpetually punishes people who have been in conflict with it,” said Cobb. “We are always going to be engaged in that fight.”
Cobb’s new job will ensure he’s able to engage in that fight at a broader level, but he’s not leaving Philadelphia behind. His board positions at the Defender Association and Community Legal Services mean his voice will remain.