Safe & Just Michigan is excited to welcome Policy Analyst Josh Hoe to our team. Many of you may already know Josh from his work as an advocate for criminal justice reform and as the host of his podcast “Decarceration Nation.” He will be continuing that podcast while putting his expertise to use with us — a move we couldn’t be happier about.
Josh brings with him a career’s worth of experience in research, rhetoric and strategy — skills that will come in handy as he works to help craft criminal justice reform policies, develop plans to advance them through the legislature and find allies that will see them passed into law. He also has personal experience with the justice system, which drives him to make a difference for others who are currently incarcerated, have been released from prison or who have criminal records.
“I like seeing results,” Josh said. “It’s all about seeing people get out of prison, or getting the chance to work after prison, getting housing or finding community. It’s all about seeing people become re-integrated as our neighbors. That’s what motivates me.”
Seeing results has always been a driving force for Josh, who spent early childhood in New York City but moved to Tennessee when he was nine. The family moved again to Oklahoma when his father followed a job opportunity, and that’s where Josh graduated from high school.
In college, Josh studied political science with an eye toward getting involved in international relations. But he found something else he excelled at: debate. His team at the University of Central Oklahoma won the 1990 Cross Examination Debate Association Championship. After graduation, he was offered a spot as an assistant debate coach at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.
Josh followed coaching opportunities to a number of colleges over the years — Arizona State, the University of North Texas and his alma mater University of Central Oklahoma, where he obtained a master’s in international relations — until the big offer came in: a spot as the lead debate coach at the University of Michigan.
Working in the field of debate translates well into policy work because it taught him to thoroughly prepare and anticipate objections, Josh said. To be successful at a debate, he would put up to 80 hours a week on research and argument preparation. Much of that work included understanding potential objections to an argument and figuring out how to answer it before an objection could even be voiced.
“If you do your job right, you disarm them before they even start,” Josh said. “You construct your argument so that it already answers theirs.”
For someone who liked to be prepared several steps in advance, being thrown into the justice system came as a jarring experience. Josh is up-front about what happened; in fact, he is one of few people nationally who speaks openly about having been convicted on a sex offense. In his case, he was convicted on a charge that didn’t involve touching or harming anyone else, and he readily accepts responsibility for his actions.
Simply being put into a holding cell for several hours was a shocking event, Josh said. Up to that point, he’d had no run-ins with the law. He was ultimately incarcerated for three years and is on the state’s sex offender registry. Josh is one of few people in the country who is willing to speak publicly about how registry requirements make it difficult for people to find a place to live, a job and to re-enter society. He even cuts short visits to his parents, lest he be required to register in their state.
Seeing the criminal justice system up close made Josh want to become involved as an advocate for change — not for himself, but for everyone caught up in the system. “I met a lot of people in prison who I cared about, and a lot of them are still in there,” he said.
And some of what he saw alarmed him.
“I saw people with a public defender where they were just one of 30 cases that public defender had to handle that week. That’s nothing against the public defender, but how can anyone handle that many cases?” Josh sad. “You start to see so many problems that you just want to do something.”
After he was released, Josh discovered firsthand how difficult it could be for a formerly incarcerated person to find work. He opted to work for himself instead. He became a freelance writer and eventually a consultant. Most recently, he was hired by #Cut50, an organization then led by activist Van Jones, to support the effort to pass the federal First Step Act, which was signed into law in December 2018. Since then, it has been responsible for the release of more than 700 people from federal prison, most of whom are black men who had been incarcerated on crack convictions. Playing a role in that is something Josh is especially proud of.
Since last year, Josh has also been affecting change through producing a podcast, “Decarceration Nation.” On his weekly show, he interviews people from around the country who are working to change the criminal justice system and how people view justice-involved people.
“It started with a friend interviewing me, and then when he got busy, I started to interview other people,” Josh said. “People just started to agree to talk to me.” He recently interviewed Danielle Sered, the founder of Common Justice and author of “Until We Reckon: Violence, Mass Incarceration, and a Road to Repair.”
At Safe & Just Michigan, Josh looks forward to “changing the criminal justice system in the best possible way.”
“There used to be the idea that you pay your debt when you serve your time, but now it seems like you never pay your debt,” he said. “I want that to change, and I want to be a part of that change.”