How Kim Kardashian's Legal Ambitions and Interest in Reform Led to 'The Justice Project' (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
Smallz & Raskind/Oxygen
In 2018, Kim Kardashian West made headlines when she came to the aid of Alice Marie Johnson, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in 1997. At the time, Kardashian West successfully advocated President Donald Trump for Johnson’s commutation and ultimately helped get her released after 21 years in prison.
“We worked on that together and then afterwards, Kim was so committed to the issue and kept seeing -- up close and personal through Alice's case -- how much work needed to be done that she then got involved with the First Step Act and helped us get that passed,” Jessica Jackson, co-founder of #cut50 and one of Kardashian West’s legal mentors, tells ET.
A year later, Kardashian West became the face of criminal justice reform, continuing her partnership with #cut50 to advocate on behalf of several convicted criminals -- including Momolu Stewart, David Sheppard and Alexis Martin -- whom they believed had been unfairly sentenced and to help develop and promote policy that will put an end to systemic problems within the system.
Now, Kardashian West is releasing Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project. Debuting on Oxygen, the two-hour film documents her ongoing efforts to expose injustices and advocate for real change as she meets with policymakers and lobbies public officials, reviews cases, sits down with people behind bars who need her help, and works with her legal team to facilitate their release.
“I think Kim, and this is one of the things that I really appreciate about working with her, is that she’s so smart and right off the bat, she realized a big part of this issue is the fact that people don't see the other side of the justice system,” Jackson says of Kardashian West’s decision to have cameras follow her on this journey. “You have so many shows, like Cops and CSI, where everybody wants to catch the bad guy. But you don't ever hear about what's going on in that person's life that led to this decision to commit a crime.”
“There are millions of people impacted by this broken justice system, and I wanted to put faces to these numbers and statistics,” Kardashian West said when the project was first announced. “There are a lot of people who deserve a second chance, but many do not have the resources to make it happen. I want to help elevate these cases to a national level to effect change.”
Ultimately, the documentary is providing context that left unsaid greatly changes the views and outcomes of these convictions. One such example is Dawn Jackson, who was found guilty of stabbing a man to death. This man, it turns out, repeatedly raped and abused her since she was five years old. These are just some of the gruesome revelations included in a letter that Jackson wrote Kardashian West, seeking clemency.
“We read it in the documentary,” says Jackson, who adds that she’s “really proud of Kim for using her platform” to give a voice to people like Jackson, “who are on the other side.”
And considering just how many letters Kardashian West has received since she first spoke out about the injustices in the criminal system, Jackson says that Kardashian West was really smart about which ones to feature in the documentary. “She really wanted to pick cases that highlighted larger systemic issues.”
In addition to giving context and faces to Jackson, Stewart and Martin’s stories, the documentary is also “an honest depiction of me learning about the system and helping bring tangible results to justice reform,” Kardashian West said. Since taking an interest in criminal justice reform, the media mogul revealed in 2019 that she began a four-year law apprenticeship with Jackson and Cut50 senior counsel Erin Haney, and has plans to take the bar exam in 2022.
“Kim told me that she had always wanted to be a lawyer,” Jackson says. “In fact, she had wanted to when she was younger but, you know, life happened and that wasn't the route she had taken.”
Unlike some of the other celebrities Jackson has worked with, Kardashian West has taken a real interest in understanding how everything works. “She’s very hands on and very interested in the details. She's very interested in actually understanding the mechanics of how you change the laws or how you get a case appealed or get it thrown out or get a commutation made,” Jackson says.
Jackson also confirms that Kardashian West is still on track to meet her 2022 goal. However, with the coronavirus outbreak resulting in temporary closures of schools and other institutions around the country, it’s still unclear if the State Bar of California is going to cancel the first year law exam in June.
“I would imagine there's a chance because of what has been going on, but she is diligently studying,” Jackson says. If it is canceled, Kardashian West will have another opportunity to complete the exam in October. In the meantime, her mentor says Kardashian West has been working on cases and has stayed “super on top” of her work.
“I'm always impressed when I go over it because she really does have a very good command of the subjects. And I can tell she's reading the cases and staying on top of it,” Jackson says, adding, “I think she's gonna make an incredible contribution to the legal field.”