Michelle Mbekeani, JD ’14
Senior Legal & Policy Advisor for Justice Reform, Cook County State's Attorney's Office
Michelle is an attorney with a decade of legal and policy experience in the criminal justice reform space. Michelle earned her law degree at the University of Chicago Law School. Michelle has been on the Forbes 30 under 30 list and the Crain’s Chicago 40 under 40 list. She also is a Forbes Contributor in their Money Section. Her articles analyze costs and return on investment in public finance and policy.
Michelle is an MBA student at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business – there she is a Neubauer Civic Scholar, receiving a full tuition scholarship.
As the Senior Legal and Policy Advisor in the 2nd largest prosecutor’s office in the US, Michelle worked alongside the National Innocence Project and crafted legislation that prohibits an interrogation tactic that has led to false confessions – including the Exonerated Five in the Central Park Jogger case. This historic legislation was the first of its kind in U.S. history.
Michelle both co-authored and lobbied for legislation that resulted in Illinois being the first State in U.S. history to have a voter polling station inside a jail. This enabled those incarcerated pretrial to vote in person.
Michelle was recently appointed as the Chief Director of the Conviction Review Unit within the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. The Conviction Review Unit has the largest caseload in the country. This unit is dedicated to diligently reviewing cases where wrongful convictions may have occurred, especially those resulting from systemic corruption and inefficiency.
Michelle’s most recent achievement at the helm of the Conviction Review Unit was the exoneration of Brian Beals, a 22-year-old student and college football player at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale who was wrongfully convicted in a 1988 murder and served 35 years in prison.
Michelle’s extensive experience in the legal field led her and her teammates in the Social New Venture Challenge to build a software program called “Period – End the Sentence.” This is a SaaS platform free for people in prison that provides tech-enabled legal correspondence to digitally identify, and review their cases. With the development of this software – Michelle and her teammates won the Social New Venture Challenge this past year.