Meet The Former Prosecutor Now Working To Bring People Home From Prison

For The People

The founder and executive director of For The People, a national nonprofit that reviews past sentences and brings people back from prison, Hillary Blout has an interesting background. Blout didn’t start her legal career helping people get out of prison. Rather, she spent six years as a prosecutor for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office when she began her legal career.

In addition to her work with For the People, the Bay Area native also leads the nation’s first prosecutor-initiated resentencing clinic at the University of California, Davis Law School.

Blout recently spoke with ESSENCE about her journey from prosecution to prosecutorial reform, the nonprofit organization she founded and her goals.

“It wasn’t what I had planned,” says Blout, who grew up in Oakland and went to law school to be a public defender. “I really wanted to fight for those same kind of kids I grew up with.”

But Blout’s path was forever changed after she met a Black prosecutor from the Deep South in Mississippi, who she says began speaking to her about the power that prosecutors have and the concept of “being able to create change from within.” That, coupled with the fact that Vice President Kamala Harris, who at that time “was the first Black woman to be an elected prosecutor,” changed Blout’s mind.

Harris “was setting out this path that was unheard of then talking about being smart on crime as opposed to tough on crime, and wanting to recruit people that looked like me, that had backgrounds as I had and grew up in places where I grew up. It just never occurred to me that there would be a place for somebody like me with my experiences to be in that office, so that’s how I ended up being the at the prosecutor’s office after law school,” shared Blout.

“But, the stories of the defendants were very familiar to me. They were the same stories of the kids that I grew up with,” said Blout. “I really wanted to step back, and see what kinds of ways in which I could create change from a policy perspective. That led me on what I thought was going to be a short break doing some reform work in California.”

“The reform work that I was doing in California was actually looking at what happened to people after they were sentenced, and that was something that I really hadn’t done before. I was in court handing out these sentences, and I had this notion that the prison system was going to provide rehabilitation and when somebody was rehabilitated, they would be able to get released,” she shared.

Blout said that it was naive of her, but she had no idea how many people were actually serving sentences well past the time they were rehabilitated. She also said she “had no idea about all of the collateral consequences that people were exposed to when they did get out of prison or they completed their sentence.

“It led me down this path of interrogating what I believed that the system was supposed to do,” said Blout. “The notion of leaving my job as a prosecutor was to promote public safety, but the very system that I was working in was actually making us less safe and making it very hard for people to get back on track, and that wasn’t what the system was supposed to be.”

Then in 2018, Blout “drafted and secured the passage of AB 2942—the first Prosecutor-Initiated Resentencing law in the country—and is now spearheading its implementation.” To date, Blout’s work has resulted in five states passing laws that enable prosecutors to go back and revisit old sentences and provide recommendations to the court for lower sentences. She continues to advocate for more laws in other states to expand on her work.

Over the course of her work, Blout saw an increasing trend that the women population in prisons is growing, yet this rate is not matched by the criminal justice reforms Blout has helped to implement. As a result, For the People launched Together Home, a new initiative aiming to increase awareness “about the unique challenges incarcerated women face, a

As Blout emphasized, “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but every prosecutor in this country will see it as their job to ensure that there’s nobody serving a sentence when they can otherwise be home with their families, paying taxes, contributing positively to their communities, because that is the definition of public safety. And that is the job of the prosecutor.”

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