First Friday Forum - Making Sense of Bail Reform in New York State, a conversation with gabriel sayegh
New York just passed historic pretrial justice reforms. Join PJI and special guest gabriel sayegh from the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice as we discuss what the 2019 legislation means for the state and future criminal justice reform efforts.
Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director
gabriel sayegh is the Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director at the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice. He brings over 20 years of organizing and advocacy experience to dismantle mass incarceration, end the war on drugs, and build communities.
sayegh has served as chief architect and strategist for numerous campaigns. From August 2015 – June 2017, he was the lead architect and chief strategist on the #CLOSErikers campaign which successfully forced New York City to adopt as its official policy, the closure of Rikers Island Jail Complex. sayegh was a key leader in the campaign to roll back the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, devising and managing the strategy that finally led to one of the most significant sentencing reform victories in a generation. He was the architect of the campaign to end New York City’s racially biased marijuana arrest crusade, which cut the number of marijuana arrests in NYC by half, and he served as chief architect, strategist and director of the campaign to pass New York’s medical marijuana legislation. sayegh managed a bipartisan effort to enact life-saving Good Samaritan overdose prevention legislation in New York, and coordinated with community organizations to expand municipal-focused and public health responses to drug use. From 2013 – 2016, he co-led and facilitated the development and launch of the innovative Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program in Albany, New York.
Prior to co-founding Katal, from 2003 – 2015, sayegh worked at the Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization working to end the war on drugs. For over 12 years he served in many positions, including as Managing Director of Policy and Campaigns, where he supervised a staff of 27 and a budget of $4m. To connect DPA’s work to a grassroots base, sayegh launched DPA’s first office focused explicitly on field organizing, established DPA’s grantee partners network, and for many years managed the scholarship program for DPA’s signature International Drug Policy Reform Conference.
From 2012 – 2014, sayegh led a unique collaboration with Charlotte Street Films on the powerful, Sundance award-winning documentary about the war on drugs directed by Eugene Jarecki, THE HOUSE I LIVE IN. In addition to advising the film director and producers on policy and advocacy, sayegh and his team devised strategies to utilize the film as an advocacy tool to leverage local reform efforts and spur public debate about mass incarceration and the war on drugs. The collaboration included developing a toolkit to accompany the film and working with hundreds of community based organizations across the country in using the film as a tool for education and advocacy – in schools, community centers, legislatures, prisons and jails, and more.
sayegh began organizing in 1996, working on prison moratorium and racial equity campaigns in California, and has subsequently worked on addressing domestic violence, ending violence against women and LGTBQ people, promoting fair trade, criminal justice and drug policy reform, and more. In 2003, sayegh served as session staff for Washington State Senator Debbie Regala (D-27), with a policy portfolio focused on criminal justice, welfare, and human services. From 2009 – 2012, he served as a field lecturer in the policy track of the Columbia Graduate School of Social Work.
He has appeared in a wide range of broadcast, online, and print media, including: The New York Times, NY1, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, Fusion, NPR, Washington Post, Newsweek, Vice, NY Daily News, NY Post, Associated Press, Huffington Post, The Village Voice, Gawker, BBC, and more. He is the author of numerous articles and co-author of several reports, including Blueprint for a Public Health and Safety Approach to Drug Policy (the subject of a New York Times editorial) and From Handcuffs to Healthcare: Putting the Affordable Care Act to Work for Criminal Justice and Drug Law Reform. He’s served as a guest speaker at hundreds of conferences, meetings and events across the country, and has given a TEDx talkabout his personal struggles with addiction and the connections between the war on drugs, mass incarceration, and systemic racism.
sayegh serves as a trustee of the New York Foundation, and sits on the board of Atlanta-based movement organization, Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty and Genocide. He holds a Master’s in Public Health from the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College, and a BA from The Evergreen State College. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.