Amy Smitter, Development Director

Smitter joined Safe & Just Michigan in 2020, bringing her talent for fundraising and organization building with her.

Smitter previously served as the development director for Camp Quality Michigan, which serves children with cancer. Before that, she served as the chief operations officer of Habitat for Humanity of Michigan for five years. She also worked 20 years in leadership roles with Michigan Campus Compact and five years at its national umbrella organization, a nonprofit that seeks to build bridges between college and university learning and other communities, including prisons.

“I have great empathy for people and need to help,” she said. “I’ve seen the power of people to affect change, and I want to be part of that.”

She was a founding board member of the Michigan College Access Network in 2010 and has served as a board member and former chair since then, and is also active in community and educational volunteering in the Lansing area.

Smitter has a bachelor’s degree in political science and Russian and Eastern European studies from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in student personnel administration from Ball State University in Indiana. She lives in Dimondale.

Photo Credit
Khalid Ibrahim
Eat Pomegranate Photography

Photo Credit
Khalid Ibrahim
Eat Pomegranate Photography

Anne Mahar, PhD, Research Specialist

Anne Mahar joined Safe & Just Michigan as our research specialist in 2019. She is SJM’s dedicated researcher, and in that role gathers and analyzes the organization’s criminal justice data. Before joining our team, she had been an assistant professor of criminal justice at Arcadia University in Pennsylvania.

She made the change from academia to policy because Anne believes that policy is the quicker way to bring about criminal justice reform.

“I feel I should be using my skills in research and statistics to make a change for the prison population,” she said. “That has been my goal all along.”

Anne facilitated several semesters of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program as a professor. The program brings college students into prisons to learn side-by-side with incarcerated people and hold discussions with them. Those classes were particularly meaningful for Anne, as they led many students to get to set aside biases and change their minds in favor of criminal justice reform.

Born and raised in Plymouth, Mich., she holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in criminal justice and criminology from Eastern Michigan University. As an undergraduate intern, she worked in Washtenaw County’s Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative office, where she developed a passion for criminal justice reform. She earned a Ph.D. in criminology and criminal justice from Old Dominion University in Virginia.

Anne lives in Hartland.

Barbara Wieland, Communications Specialist

Wieland joined Safe & Just Michigan in 2018. She is responsible for the organization’s daily communication activities and developing strategies to effectively communicate with stakeholders, partner groups and the wider community.

“Communities are safest when all who live in them have an equal share of justice,” Wieland said. “Justice can’t fully exist when people’s transformations go unrecognized and their opportunities for redemption are denied.”

Before joining Safe & Just Michigan, Wieland spent more than 20 years in communications, including 14 years as a print journalist and more than six years as a writer for the Michigan legislature. She is also a limited license professional counselor who worked with survivors of sexual assault at the Listening Ear in Lansing, where she was a board member for five years.

Wieland holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree from Central Michigan University. She lives in her hometown of Lansing.

Photo Credit
Khalid Ibrahim
Eat Pomegranate Photography

Photo Credit
Khalid Ibrahim
Eat Pomegranate Photography

Dena Anderson, Membership Services Specialist

Anderson joined Safe & Just Michigan in 2003 and assists with the research used to educate lawmakers, stakeholders, and the media about issues related to public safety and justice. She also is responsible for the organization’s member services and maintains contact with incarcerated people in Michigan.

“Men and women across Michigan have powerful and sometimes heartbreaking stories about their experience with the criminal system,” says Anderson.  “Their stories deserve to be told.”

Prior to serving as research assistant, Anderson worked as an English teacher, and as executive secretary to the president of the Lansing Urban League.  She has also volunteered inside Michigan’s prison system in programs that help incarcerated people rethink their lives and their futures.

She was a founding volunteer for the Lansing Council Against Domestic Assault and has worked on the staffs of a variety of Michigan lawmakers.

A graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati (Mount St. Joseph University), Anderson lives in Lansing.

Elsie Kettunen, Financial and Data Specialist

Kettunen joined Safe & Just Michigan in 2011 and assists the organization with research and financial management.

“I wholeheartedly support the mission and work of Safe & Just Michigan. I am proud to play a role on their team,” says Kettunen.

Prior to serving as financial and data specialist, Kettunen worked as a data and research analyst for the Michigan Department of Education, Michigan State University, and Texas A&M University. She first worked with Safe & Just Michigan as a volunteer.

A graduate of Michigan State University, with a graduate degree from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls, Kettunen resides in Lansing.

Photo Credit
Khalid Ibrahim
Eat Pomegranate Photography

Photo Credit
Khalid Ibrahim
Eat Pomegranate Photography

John S. Cooper, Executive Director

John S. Cooper is the executive director of Safe & Just Michigan, and is responsible for the organization’s strategic vision and direction. He joined Safe & Just Michigan in 2017 as policy director after serving as a criminal justice policy advisor to State Representative David LaGrand (D – 75th, Grand Rapids).

“We are working to strengthen communities through smart criminal justice reforms,” says Cooper. “Lansing’s political landscape is always changing, but we have a compelling message, and the work couldn’t be more worth the effort.”

Cooper’s research and advocacy is focused on Michigan’s adult criminal legal system, with an emphasis on strategies to reduce Michigan’s prison population, remove barriers to successful reentry, and increase the use of effective alternatives to incarceration.

During his tenure at Safe & Just Michigan, Cooper has led several legislative campaigns to reform Michigan’s criminal legal system, including the successful campaign to enact “objective parole,” 2018 PA 339.

Before he joined Rep. LaGrand’s office, Cooper spent seven years as a litigator in the Washington, D.C. office of Latham & Watkins LLP.  He also served as a law clerk to Hon. Boyce F. Martin, Jr., of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.

Cooper obtained his juris doctorate from the University of Virginia School of Law after graduating with honors from Calvin College. He lives in his hometown of Grand Rapids.

Josh Hoe, Policy Analyst 

Josh joined the staff of Safe & Just Michigan in 2019 as our policy analyst, bringing with him 20 years of experience in debate, rhetoric and strategic planning. In 2018 his strategic policy and communications work supported the passage the federal First Step Act.

“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.”

He also hosts the podcast “Decarceration Nation” that explores a wide range of criminal justice issues with national and state-based experts. Josh’s drive to reform the criminal justice system stems from his own experience with it.

Josh also has 20 years of experience as a coach of debate teams, where he developed skills in research, building arguments and rhetoric and developing strategy. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Central Oklahoma.

Josh lives in Ypsilanti.

Photo Credit
Khalid Ibrahim
Eat Pomegranate Photography

Photo Credit
Khalid Ibrahim
Eat Pomegranate Photography

Kate McCracken, Deputy Director 

McCracken joined Safe & Just Michigan in 2017. She leads and manages all daily operations, and heads key programs and projects. Previously she served as SJM’s associate director of communications and community engagement.

“Justice and safety each come from a place of healing and accountability,” says McCracken. “Redemption and transformation are also possible. They are, each, goals worth pursuing – and vigorously.”

A Michigan native McCracken returned home after residing for a decade on the West Coast, primarily in San Francisco. Prior to serving as the associate director of communications and community engagement, McCracken worked as deputy director in the Office of Violence Prevention Services for former San Francisco Mayor, the late Edwin M. Lee. In that role, she implemented the Mayor’s violence prevention initiative, working daily with crime survivors and others affected by the criminal justice system.

She previously served as the director of policy and development at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization working to reduce the nation’s reliance on incarceration.

A graduate of Humboldt State University with a graduate degree from Portland State University, McCracken is a resident of her hometown of Mount Pleasant.

Rick Speck, Community Engagement Specialist

Speck joined Safe & Just Michigan in 2020 and serves as our community engagement specialist.

“I believe in the work that Safe & Just Michigan is doing — and the way we are doing it — by bringing system-impacted people to the table to be partners in it,” Speck said.

Before joining Safe & Just Michigan, Speck worked as an organizer for ACLU of Michigan’s Smart Justice program, a part of ACLU’s national effort to reduce prison populations by 50 percent. Before that, he was the founder and executive director of LUCK Inc., an organization helping people released from prison re-establish themselves and thrive in their communities.

Speck attended Wayne County Community College and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Michigan-Dearborn. He lives in Warren.

Photo Credit
n/a

Photo Credit
Khalid Ibrahim
Eat Pomegranate Photography

Troy Rienstra, Outreach Director

Rienstra joined Safe & Just Michigan in 2017 and works to advance the organization’s outreach program by elevating the voices of people directly harmed by the effects of crime and punishment. He is responsible for outreach activities to crime survivors, formerly incarcerated individuals, and their family members, and the faith community.

“When people come together to help, they can change the world,” says Rienstra. “Lives are being changed across the state, and that’s exciting work to be a part of.”

Prior to serving as outreach director, Rienstra founded the Network for Real Change, and worked as program coordinator at the Church of the Servant – Prisoners in Christ. Rienstra completed 22 years of a life sentence in Michigan, and during that time he obtained training in critical thinking, communication, substance abuse awareness, and conflict resolution.

Rienstra lives in Center Line.

Veronica French, Office Manager

Veronica French joined the Safe & Just Michigan team as our office manager in 2019. She is responsible for making sure things run smoothly inside our office and providing support to the events we sponsor around the state.

“I look forward to being at an organization that is working to find ways to better the community and better people’s lives,” Veronica said. “I want to help people see better options to the way things are now.”

A Howell native, Veronica worked at the MSU Museum, where she had worked on collections, exhibits and administration. She soon discovered her preference was working with people — not museum objects. Her work on the museum’s “Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak” exhibit, reflecting on the crisis of sexual violence centered on the MSU campus in recent years and curated by the survivors and their allies, was particularly meaningful.

That experience made her want to work more deeply on social justice issues and led her to Safe & Just Michigan. She wants to see her home state become a place where survivors of crime and justice-involved people alike live in safer, stronger communities.

A graduate of Michigan State University, Veronica lives in Lansing.

Photo Credit
Khalid Ibrahim
Eat Pomegranate Photography

Our Volunteers

Our work is advanced through a partnership of professional staff, volunteers and other community supporters. Volunteers and interns play a fundamental role in our policy work and outreach efforts.

Interested in volunteering or interning with Safe & Just Michigan? Contact us at info@safeandjustmi.org to learn more.

Employment Opportunities

We do not have any available positions at this time.

Last updated: Thursday, February 20, 2020