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Willette Benford

Senior Advisor, MK Pritzker

Chicago, IL

Willette Benford is a wife, mother, minister, and fierce advocate for criminal legal system change. As Senior Advisor, Willette supports MK Pritzker in her role as First Lady of Illinois and is an advisor on women’s reentry issues and justice portfolio. Prior to that, she was the first director of reentry for the City of Chicago, where she led the mayor’s Interagency Reentry Council. Her work focused on shaping partnerships, programmatic investments, and citywide policy changes for returning residents, focusing on economic mobility, healthcare, housing access, and more.

Prior to her role in the mayor’s office, Willette led decarceration efforts for Live Free Illinois, a faith-based organization that targets gun violence, mass incarceration, and police violence in Black and Brown communities. During her time with Live Free Illinois, she also worked on national and statewide campaigns to ensure the allocation of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund gun violence prevention efforts. Willette served as the board chair for the Heartland Alliance’s Fully Free Campaign to end permanent punishments and was part of a team that succeeded in the passing of the Just Housing Initiative in Cook County which advocated for fair housing laws for returning residents and people with records.

Willette is a 2020–2021 Community Change Women’s fellow, and a 2021-2022 Soros Justice Fellow. As a Soros Justice Fellow, she created the Cost of Dignity Project, which supported and elevated the leadership of Black women impacted by the criminal legal system. She has served as a reentry subject matter expert on numerous panels and at conferences across the country. She was a member of Illinois Lt. Governor’s Children of Incarcerated Parents task force and is currently on the Governor’s Crime Reduction Task Force, and the Domestic Violence Pretrial Task Force. She has received countless awards and recognition for her work and contributions within the reentry community. She resides on the south side of Chicago.