2019 Winners

Elizabeth Calvin, Human Rights Watch

Elizabeth Calvin

Elizabeth Calvin is the senior advocate in the Children’s Rights Division and an attorney with experience in youth justice, foster care, and education rights at Human Rights Watch. She focuses on children, youth, and emerging adults in conflict with the law. Her work includes research and writing on human rights violations against children, policy and legal advocacy, and building partnerships with community and national groups. She relies on the leadership of people directly impacted by human rights violations to determine the direction of her work.

Since 2012, her leadership of coalition-based efforts in California has resulted in 11 significant laws being passed, many with first-in-the-nation strategies to reduce incarceration and promote the potential of young people. As a result of these changes in law, California youth are less likely to be prosecuted as adults; 14- and 15-year-olds who commit crimes now can never be tried in adult court and must be provided the rehabilitative services available in the youth system; children under 16 facing police interrogation are protected; young adults have increased access to educational opportunities in prison; the use of life in prison without parole sentences for people under age 18 has effectively ended; and young people under age 26 have special opportunities and protections if sentenced to prison. These laws have changed the lives of thousands of young people, families, and communities in California and beyond.

She is the author of Human Rights Watch reports on youth sentenced to life without parole, foster care and homelessness, and the effects of prosecuting children under 16 as adults. She works in partnership with youth activists, faith groups, family members of youth who are incarcerated, survivors of crime, people in prison, and advocates.

Nicole Pittman, Impact Justice

Nicole Pittman

Nicole Pittman is Vice President and Director of the Center on Youth Registration Reform at Impact Justice. She is the nation’s foremost expert on the abusive practice of placing children on sex offender registries. Her 2013 Human Rights Watch report, “Raised on the Registry: The Irreparable Harm of Placing Children on Sex Offender Registries in the US,” draws upon over 500 interviews documenting the social and emotional toll of subjecting children to this practice, and is the first comprehensive examination of this issue. She’s testified to over 30 state legislatures and Congress, and has successfully changed policies in a dozen states and on the federal level.

Nicole has seen how our most vulnerable children get caught in the crosshairs of legislation intended to combat crimes against children, and how this practice perpetuates the cycle of abuse. Since embarking on this work 14 years ago, Nicole has connected with the larger movement to end sexual violence, specifically as it relates to child sexual abuse and child on child sexual harm. She now focuses on challenging our punitive impulse; prioritizing healing, repair and accountability; and redirecting our resources to prevent sexual harm before it happens.

Previously, Nicole worked as a juvenile justice policy analyst attorney at the Defender Association of Philadelphia. She was also an attorney at the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, the New Orleans Public Defender Office, and the New Orleans Pro Bono Project. She received a J.D. from Tulane Law School and a B.A. from Duke University.

Jennifer Rodriguez, Youth Law Center

Jennifer Rodriguez

Jennifer Rodriguez, J.D., is Executive Director of the Youth Law Center (YLC), a public interest law firm that has worked for 4 decades to transform foster care and juvenile justice systems across the nation so every child and youth can thrive. YLC’s advocacy aims to ensure children and youth are not only protected from harm and dangerous conditions in systems, but also receive the support, opportunities and love they need.

Jennifer’s leadership at YLC has a special focus on advocacy that ensures youth in both child welfare and juvenile justice receive the parenting necessary to heal and thrive and live in conditions that meet their developmental and emotional needs. YLC is currently implementing the Quality Parenting Initiative (QPI), a systems change strategy to strengthen foster care by focusing policy, practice and culture around excellent parenting for children, in over 75 jurisdictions in 10 states, including Philadelphia.

As a former foster youth who spent too much of her childhood in both foster care and juvenile justice institutions, she has spent most of her life advocating for systems to be responsive to the needs of youth. Jennifer’s advocacy has resulted in significant national policy, practice and culture changes around the fundamental needs of youth and formally including system-involved youth as part of all policy processes. Jennifer received her J.D. from University of California, Davis and is the proud mother of two beautiful children who teach her daily about the power of love, high expectations and opportunities.