Where They’re Headed: Hayle Meyerhoff ’20

The history major and peace, justice, and human rights concentrator is working on criminal justice reform at the Promise of Justice Initiative this year.

Hayle Meyerhoff ’20 is spending a year working with a criminal justice reform organization, The Promise of Justice Initiative, through Avodah Jewish Service Corp

At The Promise of Justice Initiative, or PJI,  Meyerhoff is working as a jury specialist on the Unanimous Jury Project

“PJI brought a case to the U.S. Supreme Court last April that made it unconstitutional to be convicted by a non-unanimous jury,” said Meyerhoff. “Previously in Louisiana, a jury only had to reach a consensus among 10 jurors to convict someone. Now, we’re trying to make that ruling apply retroactively to get relief for those who are currently incarcerated based on non-unanimous verdicts.”

Non-unanimous juries were instituted in the late 1800s for the explicit purpose of upholding white supremacy in Louisiana. 

“In a criminal punishment system that targets Black people as a means of continuing slavery,” says Meyerhoff, “allowing juries to convict people by the consensus of only 10 out of 12 jurors was a means to silence Black jurors and send more black and brown people to prison.”

PJI released a report in November which found that 80% of people still imprisoned because of non-unanimous juries were Black. This is much higher than in Louisiana’s overall prison population where 67.5% of people are Black. 

Meyerhoff’s work on the project includes adding to the database of non-unanimous jury cases, communicating with incarcerated people and their families, and gathering documentation on cases.

“The Unanimous Jury Project is about correcting a historical harm that has lasting effects today,” she says. Her work addressing this harm and its impact is tied to work she did as a history major and peace, justice, and human rights concentrator at Haverford.

Her thesis, titled “America the Beautiful”, was about how white womanhood and beauty politics facilitated the United States’ imperialism in Hawaii, and she researched it in Hawaii thanks to support from the College’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. Courses such as her peace, justice, and human rights capstone class, which was about repair and recovery, and history courses such as “Penn and Slavery Project” at the University of Pennsylvania, also contributed to her preparation for her current position. 

Meyerhoff wants to continue working on criminal justice reform after her year with Avodah. 

“I feel so lucky to get to be a part of addressing one small piece of the harm this system has caused,” she said.  “I’m honored by the opportunity to learn from people who have been working for decades to address the injustice in the criminal legal system.

“Where They’re Headed” is a blog series chronicling the post-collegiate plans of recent Haverford graduates.