Alumni Interview with Laura Webb

This interview was conducted over email with Laura Webb, director of the NC Center’s Fair Chance Criminal Justice Project, by Maria Alba, a first-year undergraduate student working for the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute.

Laura joined the NC Justice Center as a staff attorney in 2018. During her time at the Justice Center, she has worked with directly impacted people and their families, partner organizations, and concerned residents to dismantle the modern carceral system. Laura has represented hundreds of North Carolinians seeking relief from their criminal record and has advocated on the state and local levels to change laws and policies to ensure that every North Carolinian, even those with justice involvement, has a fair chance to thrive. Before joining the Justice Center, Laura was a staff attorney with the Clean Slate Project at Southern Coalition for Social Justice, where she represented clients seeking criminal record expunctions and other relief mechanisms. Laura is a graduate of North Carolina Central School of Law and Duke University. 


How does your work at the NC Justice Center intersect with the advancement of human rights? 

I am the director of the Fair Chance Criminal Justice Project at the North Carolina Justice Center. At the Justice Center, we work across several issue areas with the goal of ending poverty in North Carolina.

Unfortunately, people living in poverty, especially those with criminal records, are vulnerable to human and civil rights violations. In our society, the combination of laws, policies, and stigma impose significant barriers for people with criminal records to get and keep meaningful employment, affordable housing, quality food, healthcare, parental rights, and higher education. 

My work at the NC Justice Center is to ensure that people, no matter their background, have their basic rights recognized. 

My team looks at the way the criminal justice system perpetuates poverty and strips people of their rights and partners with justice-involved people, decision makers, and engaged community members to make policy and practice changes that reduce the harms.


What led to your interest in human rights and the modern carceral system?

My interest in human rights and abolishing the modern carceral system stemmed from witnessing family members’ experience with the criminal justice system and the consequences of having a criminal record. I witnessed the challenges my father had getting and keeping employment and housing. Ultimately, this led to our family being separated and later estranged because he had to move out of state to obtain needed opportunities. I joined this work because it is personal to me. 


What are some important laws/policies that you believe need to be implemented to bring relief to disadvantaged communities?

The state should abolish laws that criminalize or further penalize poverty. For several years, I have been a member of the NC Fines and Fees Coalition. This group challenges laws that create a two-tier system where justice-involved people with means have better outcomes than people without an ability to pay their criminal court costs.

For example, in North Carolina, we suspend a person’s driver’s license if they cannot pay their traffic tickets. The suspension stays in place until the person can pay it. The average length of suspension is about 9 years. In NC, where more than 95% of people drive to work, not having a length can be a complete barrier to employment. It can also undermine a person’s ability to care for themselves and their families. The state should also address laws that allow for probation extension, probation violations, or incarceration for unpaid court costs.


What current projects are you working on?

Through my work at the NC Justice Center, I am working on a campaign to promote justice-involved workers as a solution to North Carolina’s pervasive workforce shortage. The campaign seeks to grow the movement for second chances and its recommended workforce development-related policy changes. The campaign engages in targeted advocacy that would end driver’s license suspensions for unpaid traffic tickets and missed court dates, expand access to criminal record expunction by automating the process and broadening eligibility, regulate the use of mugshots to prevent exploitation, and promote fair chance hiring, among other key issues. 


What can people outside of the legal community do to get involved and help the cause?

There are several ways someone outside of the legal community can get involved with the cause. Some actions that someone can take includes the following:

  • Tell your story if you are directly impacted by an issues
  • Use your voice by sign petitions, writing letter, or sending emails to decision makers
  • Share information about the campaigns with your networks, and
  • Attend events, such as Second Chance Lobby Day.

How did your time at Duke prepare you for a career in human rights?

During my time at Duke, I learned about mass incarceration. I was a Public Policy student at the Sanford School. One of my graduation requirements was to complete a summer internship. I completed my internship with the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania. As an intern, my role was to answer the phone and read the letters. Every day, I heard from people with records who were not able to get work, housing, or other essential opportunities. I learned the term “mass incarceration,” and about the wide-spread impacts of a criminal record. Although I had a parent with a criminal record and had witnessed the consequences of that, I was not aware of the systemic nature of the issue. After that summer, I decided to go to law school and work within the criminal justice reform movement.