How to Dismantle Mass Incarceration

Healing our systems and ourselves


How has intergenerational trauma contributed to the mass incarceration of BIPOC people? How can healing be used to dismantle the criminal punishment system?


Many experts have linked the over-incarceration of BIPOC communities directly to the devastating legacies of slavery: intergenerational trauma, cycles of poverty, and systemic racism. These effects on communities of color have been profound; research shows that people incarcerated for violent crime have experienced 4 times the rate of childhood trauma compared to the general population. Join UnCommon Law and ChangeLawyers as we explore whether our society is willing to offer healing to those who are both survivors and perpetrators of violence.



Meet Your Activists


Keith Wattley, Founder and Executive Director of UnCommon Law, received his B.A. in Psychology from Indiana University and his J.D. from Santa Clara University School of Law. He has been advocating for the rights of people in prison and on parole for more than 20 years. Prior to launching UnCommon Law in 2006, Keith was a staff attorney at the Prison Law Office, a nonprofit law firm in Berkeley. At UnCommon Law, he has focused on helping people transform their lives and demonstrate to the parole board that they can safely be released from their life sentences. He has also engaged in impact litigation and individual cases involving unlawful prison and parole conditions, and he has trained hundreds of lawyers, law students and others in advocating for the rights of incarcerated people.

In 2018, Keith was selected as one of the Obama Foundation’s inaugural Fellows, in recognition of his unique legal model and vision. In 2020, he was awarded the James Irvine Foundation's Leadership Award. Keith has been active on several boards of directors, and is co-chair of the Institutional Review Board (human subjects committee) for the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. He was also a member of the Founding Board of Directors for the Prison University Project (San Quentin’s College Program) and a member of the Board of Directors for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. Keith currently teaches a course titled "California Prisons and Discretionary Parole" at UC Berkeley School of Law where he also supervises the Post-Conviction Advocacy Project.

Zach Norris is the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, author of Defund Fear: Safety Without Policing, Prisons, and Punishment, and co-founder of Restore Oakland, a community advocacy and training center that will empower Bay Area community members to transform local economic and justice systems and make a safe and secure future possible for themselves and for their families. Zach is also a co-founder of Justice for Families, a national alliance of family-driven organizations working to end our nation’s youth incarceration epidemic.

Zach helped build California’s first statewide network for families of incarcerated youth which led the effort to close five youth prisons in the state, passed legislation to enable families to stay in contact with their loved ones, and defeated Prop 6—a destructive and ineffective criminal justice ballot measure.

Defund Fear, released in 2020 (formerly titled We Keep Us Safe), has been praised by Forbes, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe, and Kirkus Reviews.

In addition to being a Harvard graduate and NYU-educated attorney, Zach is also a graduate of the Labor Community Strategy Center’s National School for Strategic Organizing in Los Angeles, California and was a 2011 Soros Justice Fellow. He is a former board member at Witness for Peace, Just Cause Oakland and Justice for Families. Zach was a recipient of the American Constitution Society’s David Carliner Public Interest Award in 2015, and is a member of the 2016 class of the Levi Strauss Foundation’s Pioneers of Justice.

Zach is a loving husband and dedicated father of two bright daughters, whom he is raising in his hometown of Oakland, California.