Sonja Tonnesen-Casalegno

Policy and Legal Director


Sonja is the Policy & Legal Director at CURYJ, where she spearheads state and local policy initiatives to end youth incarceration, drives impact litigation, and is building innovative legal advocacy programs for our young leaders. She is a civil rights attorney who comes to CURYJ with extensive experience in criminal legal system reform and nonprofit leadership, most recently as Deputy Director and a founding staff member of Root & Rebound, a national reentry legal advocacy center serving formerly incarcerated people and families impacted by mass incarceration. Sonja led statewide coalitions that successfully passed ‘Fair Chance Licensing’ and ‘Ban the Box in Higher Education’ in California, opening up opportunities to higher ed and licensed careers for the 8 million Californians with conviction histories. For her work, Sonja has been honored as a Harvard Law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow and a California ChangeLawyers Impact Awardee. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of Because Black is Still Beautiful, a nonprofit working to dismantle negative perceptions, practices, and policies harming system-impacted Black women.

Sonja received her J.D. from UC-Berkeley, School of Law, where she advocated for survivors of violence, criminal legal system reform, and youth justice. As a law student, she was co-president of the Student Association at Berkeley Law; Director of Advocates for Youth Justice, overseeing student-led clinics serving system-impacted youth in Alameda County; and held leadership positions with the queer caucus and women’s association. She was an editor of the California Law Review and the Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice, in which her article “‘Hit It and Quit It’: Responses to Black Girls’ Victimization in School” was published in 2013, drawing connections between the school-to-prison-pipeline and race, gender, and implicit bias. 

Prior to law school, Sonja received her B.A., summa cum laude, in Urban Studies and African Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, and worked for an urban nutrition nonprofit in Philadelphia.

Sonja’s proudest achievement is her family: her partnership with her husband Mike, their baby Loia, and their ever-growing pack of dogs. On the weekend, you’ll find them rolling up to local fairs selling plants out of their big green truck.

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