When we encounter troubling circumstances, we are faced with two options – fall victim to them or rise above them. In the case of Jarrett Harper, the latter was made possible by the former. Harper is a passionate advocate for criminal justice reform working for positive change in the foster care system, ending life sentences for children, and creating better rehabilitative resources for citizens returning to society.
Jarrett was released from prison on June 18, 2019 after serving 20 years in Lancaster prison outside of Los Angeles. At 16, Jarrett and an adult codefendant took a man’s life, were found guilty of murder, and received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole +10 years. At 17, Jarrett faced a murder trial without the support of anyone but his court assigned public defender.
Caught in the foster care system since infancy, Jarrett’s choices never felt like his own so much as they felt like functions of survival. From the age of 6-13 Jarrett was sexually abused by his neighbor whom he had grown to trust. In an effort to protect himself and his younger brother, Jarrett took the life of his abuser.
Jarrett’s ability to influence others to make positive change is that it stems from painful circumstances. Despite having no chance of release from prison, Jarrett found forgiveness within himself and made it his mission to transform his life by helping other men in prison change theirs. But that changed in 2012 when the United States Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama the mandatory sentence of death by incarceration for children are unconstitutional.
On August 17, 2018, after 20 years in prison, with the support of advocates including Bryan Stevenson, John legend, Ty Stiklorius, Elizabeth Calvin (of Human Rights Watch, Loyola Law School), Scott Budnick, and countless others, Jarrett’s life sentence was commuted by Governor Jerry Brown, and later released by Governor Gavin Newsom. Jarrett story illustrates the fundamental faults in the criminal justice system as well as the foster care system while highlighting the urgent need for change.
Current Philanthropic Involvement
- Human rights watch and USC Gould School of Law Post conviction justice project: certificate in advanced leadership skills, September 2020
- The catalyst foundation: Certificate for creating a healing society
- Human Rights Watch: Officer in the Children Rights Division
- Anti-recidivism coalition ARC: Member, mentor & volunteer
- Vista Del Mar Child and family services: Volunteer and mentor
- Campaign for the fair sentencing of youth: ICAN member
- Ashworth College: Paralegal studies program