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The People Who Give Spitfire Our Spark: Jen Carnig

Spitfire’s special sauce is its people. They are tremendously talented and committed. We know they would never brag about themselves, so we are going to do it for them. This occasional series gives you a chance to get to know the people of Spitfire better. Enjoy.

Standing Up for Communities, Spitfire takes on criminal justice reform

Jennifer Carnig has never been one to back down. She didn’t hesitate to go undercover to expose the truth about crisis pregnancy centers when she was five months pregnant—a bold move that contributed to New Yorkers being protected from these misleading centers’ harmful tactics to this day.

Now a mother of two, Jen is taking on an even bigger challenge: helping our nation’s leading civil rights organizations transform the nation’s criminal justice system. At a time when civil rights are under duress—when people of color are being routinely killed by law enforcement officers who typically walk away without penalty—it’s some of the most demanding work there is.

But Jen is up to the task. In fact, she welcomes it. 

“I’m deeply grateful to work with organizations such as the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Ford Foundation’s Internet Freedom project,” says Jen, a senior vice president at Spitfire. “Civil rights work has felt urgent to me my entire career, but if it’s possible for it to feel even more important, it certainly does now.”

Jen is putting her many years of advocacy for criminal justice reform and racial equity to work on an immense and crucial ACLU project: creating 50 state blueprints to gut mass incarceration—both a state-specific diagnosis of the problem and a menu of policy initiatives that advocates and elected officials can implement at the local level.

It’s a project unlike anything the ACLU has undertaken in its 100-year history, and the ambitious goal is to reduce mass incarceration by one-half. 

Spitfire is working with the ACLU and its partner the Urban Institute both on the big-picture vision and the smallest details of such an intricate endeavor. Among the challenges is turning a heavily data-based project into a compelling narrative, state by state, that illustrates the human consequences of mass incarceration to demonstrate the vital need for reform.

“These are deeply challenging documents, both in terms of complexity and the thorny issues they’re addressing,” she says. “How do you create empathy for people who are imprisoned—not just those who have committed non-violent and drug offenses but those who have committed acts of violence?”

As Jen explains, taking on the enormous problem of mass incarceration requires advocates to re-think how the system addresses all types of crime, not just crimes that people might find easier to forgive, such as non-violent drug offenses.

That’s why the state blueprints Spitfire is helping to create not only address facts and policy initiatives, but do so in a narrative style that’s powerful enough to persuade advocates, decision-makers and members of the community that ending mass incarceration would benefit everyone, not just people who are imprisoned. 

Combining emotionally-engaging storytelling with the nitty-gritty facts is a strong suit for Spitfire. Jen and her colleagues used a similar approach on a recent project for Communities United for Police Reform. They created strategic messaging about the coalition’s work with retired tennis star James Blake, who was assaulted by a New York City police officer in front of his Manhattan hotel. Blake was on his way to a promotional appearance for the U.S. Open at the time the officer tackled, brutalized and handcuffed him in a case the officer wrote off as mistaken identity.

Spitfire helped Communities United for Police Reform secure an enormous amount of news coverage about the athlete’s experience to strengthen the call for reform.

“It’s the kind of story that makes people re-think challenging issues,” Jen says of the effort that elevated the issue of police brutality against people of color. “Blake was brutally attacked out of nowhere for doing nothing but standing on the street, and although it shouldn’t take someone famous to make people care about police misconduct, it does elevate the issue to a wider audience and make them wonder how something like that could happen.”

Jen’s other significant project in recent months has been launching Spitfire’s formal presence in New York City, where she has lived and worked for many years. She’s excited about the opportunity to lead the effort there, not only because of what it means for Spitfire’s clients, but also for the local community, which she feels more committed to protecting and promoting than ever.

“I want to ensure that all my neighbors and their children can grow and thrive and feel safe and secure in their own communities,” says Jen. “That is a driving force for me, along with wanting my own children to grow up knowing their parents did the best they could to give them a world where they can flourish, too.”

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 2, 2017 at 11:18 am and is filed under Spitfire culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.