Jason Hernandez, Granted Clemency by Former President Obama, Named LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s First Media Fellow


Contact: John Garcia, Director of Communications, 212-739-7513, 917-673-9095 or jgarcia@latinojustice.org

Jason Hernandez, one of the first individuals to receive clemency under President Barack Obama, was named as LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s inaugural Media Fellow under a new grant recommended by The Open Philanthropy Project. The fellowship program is intended to allow a member of the Latinx community to document and eventually publish an account of his or her direct involvement with the criminal justice and correction system.

Jason has been instrumental in raising the profile of Latinx prisoners and assisting their families in the clemency process. During his fellowship, Jason intends to co-author a book focusing on his personal story as well as criminal justice issues. The book will primarily be directed at a Latinx audience, and is intended to engage more Latinx leaders and communities on issues related to criminal justice reform. “Jason’s voice is most critically needed in any discussion around criminal justice reform,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “He brings insight, knowledge, experience, intelligence and passion to the topic. LatinoJustice is thrilled that he will fill this important role in the fight against a broken criminal justice system.”

Jason was once staring at a life sentence without parole for dealing drugs. But reading books helped him turn his life around, a reform so profound that he was granted clemency by President Obama and released in 2015.

He credits Michelle Alexander’s seminal treatise on the history of the criminalization of people of color, "The New Jim Crow" — as critical to his transformation and understanding of the real impact of increased criminalization. Jason, who lives in Texas, runs a nonprofit called Crack Open The Door, which advocates for sentencing reforms.

“Michelle’s book changed me forever as it gave me context of what has been happening to the community of color around criminalization,” he said. “Understanding the history of criminalization in this country allows me to speak clearly to and convince young people not to get involved in drugs and gangs. I think its best if this message comes from someone who has experienced but has survived the life behind bars.”

Jason pursued his high school diploma after his prison sentence. As part of his fellowship, Jason will be co-authoring a memoir of his life with New York Times bestselling author Asha Bandele.

Jason joins LatinoJustice at a time when the organization has increased its efforts in helping to combat the increased criminalization of Black and Latinos, especially its youth. Last year, the organization received funding from several foundations to create a Criminal Justice Collaborative center that will organize Latinx communities and leaders fighting to reduce prison populations and reform the criminal justice system.

Juan Cartagena was invited by Michelle Alexander to write the introduction to the Spanish translation OF her book, which has now been published as El Color de la Justicia.

The Collaborative is also producing a narrative film project to give voice to those impacted by the broken criminal justice system.

“Jason and people like him know the harm this system fosters on our communities,” said Jeronimo Saldańa, Co-Director of the Collaborative. “His voice and the voice of people like him in our community needs to be elevated and listened to by those who are interested in fixing this system.”

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