Knowing Sunny


Sunny Schwartz

A nationally recognized expert in criminal justice reform with 30 years of frontline experience as a lawyer, advocate and consultant, Sunny Schwartz has spent her career navigating all levels of the system and pioneering new policy initiatives for prisoner’s programs, as well as alternatives to incarceration. She is the author of  Dreams from the Monster Factory, published in 2010, which gives a comprehensive insider’s perspective on America’s failing prison system and recounts her own real-world implementation of a targeted strategy that both saves taxpayers’ money and dramatically reduces recidivism.   

Sunny directs the design and operation of prisoner programs in six county jails. During her tenure, she has made significant changes to traditional incarceration operations, transitioning from an ineffectual system rooted in idling and “downtime” to one that requires inmates to participate in educational, vocational and therapeutic programs 10 hours a day, five days a week. The specific goals of these programs are to facilitate successful reentry into our communities in a way that addresses the gaps and shortcomings of the old system (and to decrease further victimization on individuals and our community as a whole.)

Sunny designed and established the SF Sheriff’s Resolve To Stop the Violence Project (RSVP). A nationally renowned, award-winning restorative justice program, RSVP unites diverse community organizations and individuals to collaborate on the first–in–the nation correctional program offering services to everyone harmed by violence: victims, offenders, and communities, alike. As part of the program, Schwartz chartered a citywide Survivor Restoration Advisory Committee, comprised of representatives from local government agencies, non-profit organizations and the interfaith community. Committee members demonstrated support by adopting alternative and proactive responses to crime and violence, such as mentorship, victim-offender mediation and the development of sentencing options.

Sunny also founded the first in the nation Sheriff’s department Charter School High School for incarcerated and post release adults. The Five Keys Charter School brings together a responsive curriculum that focuses on offender accountability, restoration, academics, family and employment skills that invests in the offender, victim and community health and welfare.


Unprecedentedly, both RSVP and Five Keys received the prestigious “Oscar’s in Government” Innovations in Government Award, sponsored by the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University and the Ash Institute. 

Sunny’s presentations and programmatic expertise are bold and diverse, and have proven to be highly effective. Her efforts to reform the criminal justice system and minimize crime through RSVP have been featured on national television, with appearances on the Discovery Channel, PBS, Larry King Live and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Her program has been examined for replication in various cities throughout the United States, as well as in New Zealand, Poland and Singapore.