The Illinois Justice Project has a small professional staff dedicated to its mission of developing and implementing policy initiatives and programs to reform the criminal justice system by addressing youth trauma and reducing youth and adult violence, crime and incarceration.
Paula Wolff, Director
Paula Wolff is Director of the Illinois Justice Project, a civic organization developing and implementing policy initiatives and programs to reform the criminal justice system by addressing youth trauma and reducing youth and adult violence, crime and incarceration.
From 2000 until the creation of the Illinois Justice Project in 2014, she was Senior Executive at Chicago Metropolis 2020 and Metropolis Strategies where she led the Justice and Violence Group, the predecessor to the Illinois Justice Project.
From 1992 to 2000, Wolff served as President of Governors State University. During her tenure at GSU, the budget doubled and enrollment grew by 22 percent to more than 9,000 students on the campus in Chicago’s south suburbs.
From 1977 to 1991, Wolff served as Director of Policy and Planning for Governor James R. Thompson. She directed development and implementation of policy for all areas of state government, serving with her staff as liaison to 57 state agencies. She also worked for Governor Richard B. Ogilvie from 1969 to 1971.
In 1990-91, she directed Governor Jim Edgar's Transition Team, as she had participated in Governor James R. Thompson's in 1976-77. In 2014-15, she co-chaired Governor Bruce Rauner’s Public Safety Transition Policy Committee.
Wolff has been a college professor and visiting lecturer at several universities. She lectured at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy from 1991 to 1992 and again between 2000-2012, and she taught a public policy graduate seminar regularly while President at GSU.
Wolff has a bachelor’s degree from Smith College and a master’s and doctorate in political science from the University of Chicago.
Wolff serves on numerous boards including the Johnson Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Ariel Investments Board, the Metropolitan Planning Council, the University of Chicago Medical Center Board and the University of Chicago Board of Trustees. Wolff is the former chair of the City Colleges of Chicago Board and also the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority Board.
She is married to Wayne W. Whalen, a lawyer, and has five children.
eRA lAUDERMILK, deputy dIRECTOR
Era Laudermilk, Deputy Director at the Illinois Justice Project, engages the public in the development of juvenile justice and criminal justice policies and works with key stakeholders to raise awareness about violence prevention and juvenile and adult criminal justice systems reforms. She also staffs the Illinois Juvenile Justice Leadership Council, a statewide body of leaders in the juvenile justice system.
Era previously served as the Chief of Staff for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) where she oversaw the general management of the agency, including policy, programs, operations, personnel and legislative matters. Prior to joining IDJJ, Era served as Associate General Counsel to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and provided guidance to state agencies on various legal, legislative, policy and operations issues; she also managed the clemency process on behalf of Governor Quinn.
From 2009 to 2011, Era was an Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Her career working in the justice arena began in 2006, when she joined Hooks Law Offices, Chicago.
Era earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and a law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law at Urbana-Champaign.
SHARONE MITCHELL, PROGRAM DIRECTOR
Sharone Mitchell joined the Illinois Justice Project in July of 2016. Previously, Mitchell was a trial attorney with the Cook County Public Defender’s Office from 2009 to 2016.
His responsibilities at the Public Defender’s Office included handling complex felony litigation at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse located at 26th and California in Chicago. In his career as a trial attorney, Mitchell has tried over 100 criminal cases, ranging from serious Class X felonies to simple misdemeanors, including bench and jury trials.
Before transitioning to the Criminal Division of the Cook County Public Defender’s Office, Mitchell was assigned to the Civil Division where he handled over 80 parent/child unification cases involving the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office.
Currently, Mitchell sits on the Associates Board of the Chicago Debate Commission, the organization that facilitates high school policy debate in the Chicagoland area and serves on the Board of Directors of the Suiters Academy, a group that partners at-risk youth with leaders in the design community.
Mitchell has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He also earned a law degree from DePaul University College of Law. A lifelong resident of Chicago, he attended Morgan Park High School and grew up in the West Pullman neighborhood.
KORYNNA LOPEZ, PROJECT ASSISTANT
Korynna Lopez, Project Assistant, works on a variety of juvenile and criminal justice projects, research assignments and events.
After interning with the Illinois Justice Project as a college student, Lopez joined the staff full-time following graduation.
Lopez was an Illinois Justice Project intern throughout the 2015-2016 school year. She joined the staff full-time in October 2016 after receiving her bachelor’s degree with a double major in communications and media as well as sociology from DePaul University.
She currently serves as Co-President of the Youth Advisory Board to the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, which is the federally mandated State Advisory Group to the Governor, the General Assembly and the Illinois Department of Human Services. Lopez and other advisory board members provide a youth perspective and voice to the Commission’s effort to improve juvenile justice.
From 2013 to 2015, Lopez participated in the Mikva Challenge program as a Youth Leader Intern assisting the Cook County Juvenile Justice Council. She contributed to reports recommending ways to help youth transition successfully from the juvenile justice system and assisted in the creation of a web-app to help people expunge their records.