The GiveWell Blog

Incoming Program Officer for criminal justice reform: Chloe Cockburn

We’re excited to announce that Chloe Cockburn has accepted our offer to join the Open Philanthropy Project team as a Program Officer, leading our work on criminal justice reform. She expects to start in August and to work from New York, where she is currently based. She will lead our work on developing our grantmaking strategy for criminal justice reform, selecting grantees, and sharing our reasoning and lessons learned.

Chloe comes to us from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), where she currently serves as the Advocacy and Policy Counsel for the ACLU’s Campaign to End Mass Incarceration, heading up the ACLU’s national office support to state-level ACLU affiliates.

The search to fill this role has been our top priority within U.S. policy over the last few months. We conducted an extensive search for applicants and interviewed many strong candidates.

We feel that hiring Chloe is one of the most important decisions we’ve yet made for the Open Philanthropy Project. In the future, we plan to write more about how we conducted the search and why we ultimately decided to make Chloe an offer.

We’re very excited to have Chloe on board to lead our investment in substantially reducing incarceration while maintaining or improving public safety.


  • Cherise Fanno Burdeen on June 17, 2015 at 7:50 am said:

    What a catch! PJI is excited to continue working to support Chloe’s efforts wherever she goes.

  • Akshaya Patra on June 20, 2015 at 5:16 am said:

    Good move… Have a great journey with Chloe Cockburn

  • Colin Rust on June 22, 2015 at 10:49 am said:

    I’m excited about your push into US criminal justice reform — an important issue that seems politically ripe for change — and Cockburn sounds like an excellent hire.

    I do wonder though if this is the right framing of the objective:

    substantially reducing incarceration while maintaining or improving public safety.

    Does it really make sense to require up front that any changes you would advocate for not have even a modest (net) negative effect on public safety? (Also, do you mean no negative effect based on your best estimate or will you require a reasonable degree of confidence that there won’t be a negative effect on public safety? This may seem like a subtle distinction, but in practice where the burden is placed can make a big difference to the analysis.)

    Take for example pre-trial detention. The system in the District of Columbia is often cited as an example for emulation. In the District, as I understand it, pre-trial detention is purely based on an assessment of risk and not as a result of an inability to pay (which is the practical result of the bail system elsewhere). As a result, far fewer people (who, by they way, haven’t even been found guilty) are detained and the taxpayer expense is reduced. Sounds great, right? But even though the people expected to be dangerous are held, might not a few people who would otherwise be held commit crimes? Maybe you can argue that the knock-on negative effects of detention (e.g. job loss) ultimately lead to more crime. Maybe. But even if the best guess is there is a slight net negative effect on crime, should Open Philanthropy really rule this kind of program out as something to advocate for?

    The big picture is that in the US, a far greater proportion of people are incarcerated than in other major country in the world. I would think that over time, bit by bit, we could dramatically decrease that and improve conditions of many of those who are incarcerated, dramatically reducing human suffering and saving the taxpayer very significant expense. Maybe that is possible while making the public safer at the same time. I expect there are some changes that would be win-win-win in increasing public safety at the same time as saving money and reducing incarceration. But it seems to me at least plausible that any combination of measures that made a big dent in incarceration would entail some modest increase in the crime rate (compared to what it would be otherwise).

  • Colin Rust on July 21, 2015 at 1:01 pm said:

    Any thoughts on the issue of the requirement that any changes improve (or at least be neutral to) public safety?

    Public safety is obviously an important goal, but I wonder if it should be held sacrosanct, especially when as in the United States we’re starting from such an extremely high level of incarceration.

    It’s I think in part a post-9/11 phenomenon, but in our society I see an unhealthy tendency for even small or hypothetical risks to safety to automatically trump other concerns. This sort of short-circuiting of deliberation needs I think to be pushed back on. Again, public safety is very important; it’s just that it’s a goal that should be weighed along with others in a deliberative fashion.

  • Holden on July 25, 2015 at 9:38 am said:

    Colin, thanks for the question and apologies for the delay in responding – the comment notification went to my spam folder 🙁

    The bottom line is that we’re primarily interested in favorable cost-benefit tradeoffs and wouldn’t want to hold any particular side of the equation “sacrosanct” in the sense that we can’t tolerate any degradation in it. However, I think that the mission as we have stated it is the best short approximation to what we want, because:

    • We think that some reforms could improve public safety while reducing incarceration, so even if not every reform has the effect implied by our statement, the aggregate of the reforms we’re hoping will happen over the next decade or so could.
    • We think public safety is very important, and any substantial/noticeable degradation could be highly problematic from the perspective of (a) political stability of reforms and (b) experiences of disadvantaged communities (which I believe disproportionately bear the costs of crime, as well as incarceration).

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