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Press Release

Restore Justice Announces New Executive Director

After 10 years leading Restore Justice, Founder and Executive Director Jobi Cates has stepped down. The Board of Directors has unanimously appointed Wendell Robinson as the next Executive Director.

After 10 years building and leading Restore Justice, Founder and Executive Director Jobi Cates has stepped down. Jobi is living with long-haul COVID, and has been on medical leave since late March 2023. She made the difficult decision to step down when it became clear that her health would not allow her to return to Restore Justice in her previous capacity. Jobi is now honored to serve as Executive Director Emerita, maintaining her unwavering support for our team and mission.

Jobi founded Restore Justice alongside a group of loved ones and advocates who believed they could end life without parole sentences for children and young adults in Illinois. She led Restore Justice to monumental victories, creating the first parole opportunities in Illinois since the state abolished parole in 1978, and abolishing life without parole sentences for children and most people under 21. During her tenure as Executive Director, Restore Justice expanded its impact by championing successful legislation to narrow the impact of Illinois’ felony-murder rule and implementing targeted strategies to mitigate harm to incarcerated people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jobi’s largest point of pride in Restore Justice over the last several years was the extent to which key staff roles are now held by people who themselves served extreme prison sentences. “While I started Restore Justice to change laws and policies, people coming home from prison taught me that it was equally important to change the way they could engage in the work,” Jobi says. “There is no better example of that than Wendell Robinson, who pushed us to start a true apprenticeship program, ensuring others could have the same opportunity he did. He has accepted the tough challenges, embraced the diverse experiences, and learned from the hard knocks necessary to become an exceptional leader in the field.”

The Board of Directors has unanimously appointed Wendell Robinson as the next Executive Director of Restore Justice. Wendell initially joined Restore Justice as Jobi’s apprentice; he went on to create and lead the Future Leaders Apprenticeship Program (FLAP) to provide other returning citizens the support to turn their skills and passions for social good into leadership opportunities. For the last six months, Wendell has been leading Restore Justice as Interim Co-Executive Director alongside Policy Director Rev. Lindsey Hammond. 

Wendell served more than 25 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections for a conviction at the age of 17; he originally received a life without parole sentence but is home today because of court decisions. “My journey with Restore Justice started before I came home from prison,” Wendell says. “The organization has provided me the opportunity to work alongside my passion and grow in ways that were unimaginable. It’s beyond an honor to lead this work that can be transformative to so many others.”

Restore Justice believes that the people who have been directly impacted by the criminal legal system should be in leadership positions guiding the work to reform that system. This transition is the fulfillment of Jobi’s bold vision and enduring legacy.

Restore Justice extends our heartfelt support and gratitude to Jobi as she focuses on her health and recovery, and celebrates Wendell in his new capacity. We are enthusiastic about the future of our work under Wendell’s leadership as we continue to grow, continue our fight to bring people home from prison, and continue to support system-impacted people.