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Jessica Sandoval


Jessica Sandoval, MPA has dedicated almost three decades to community organizing and advocating for social justice causes – and has effectively led campaigns to change policies affecting youth and adults concerning incarceration, gang-involved youth, and harmful practices within the criminal legal systems. Through positions in leadership, boots-on-the-ground organizing and legislative advocacy, Mrs. Sandoval has developed and administered a variety of strategies and tools at both the state and national level.  She currently serves as the National Director for the Unlock the Box Campaign, a national campaign to end solitary confinement in U.S. jails and prisons.

Mrs. Sandoval began her career in the early 90’s in her home state of Colorado, where she served as the Program Director for the Gang Rescue and Support Project – a peer-run, intervention program that works with youth who are at-risk of gang involvement or are presently active in gangs, by providing services, including tattoo removal, job training, and healing circles; and serving as an advocate for youth and families. In recognition of her service, Mrs. Sandoval was appointed by former Colorado Governor Roy R. Romer and re-appointed by Governor William Owens to serve as a member of the Colorado Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Council – a position she held for ten years.

In 2003, Mrs. Sandoval moved to Washington, D.C. where she spent five years as a youth justice advocate and policy expert.  From 2003 to 2008, she advocated on Capitol Hill for legislation affecting system-involved youth, including bill reauthorizations, budget measures, and appropriations provisions; drafted city profiles related to disconnected youth; promoted cross system collaborations; and provided technical assistance to mayors, council members, city managers and their staff.  Because of her success and expertise in youth justice advocacy, in 2006, she joined the newly created Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ), where she first served as the first Director of Communications and Outreach. She was later appointed Vice President and Deputy Director. Under her leadership and strategic planning, CFYJ became the premiere national campaign focused on ending the prosecution of youth as adults.  As a result, 40 states and jurisdictions changed their laws and policies, making  it more difficult to send children to adult court, which has reduced youth prosecution by at least 80% in the United States since the campaign’s inception. Her leadership and strategic planning at CFYJ led to the organization claiming victory in 2020.

After serving at the Campaign for Youth Justice for a decade, Mrs. Sandoval turned her efforts to eradicating the use of solitary confinement in the United States, for all ages. First, she joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2017, where she developed and launched a national campaign to end solitary confinement. In 2021, after steady growth and success in the national movement, she worked with several campaign partners to introduce “Unlock the Box” as an independent national campaign aimed at ending solitary confinement by 2028.

In addition to her advocacy work, Mrs. Sandoval has appeared in a variety of media outlets, including NPR, Rolling Stone, PBS, Business Insider and Esquire. She has served on the boards of directors of several national youth justice organizations, and she is a founding member of the Lagniappe Education Foundation, and the National Alianza for Youth Justice, formed in 2014.

In 2016, she was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Metropolitan State University of Denver, which distinguishes her as one of the university’s top ten most impactful alumni.

Mrs. Sandoval lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with her husband and 6-year-old son.

Jessica Sandoval headshot (1)