Prison Reform Hero or Sexual Exploiter and Fraud?

Was Catherine Hoke getting funding from Silicon Valley because she is a prison reform hero or for posing as one?

Here is Catherine Hoke’s Ted Talk where she seems to be a prison reform hero.

Yet there are scandals rocking Defy that raise the possibility Hoke is pursuing other interests. First, there are questions about whether she is exaggerating the nonprofit company’s success. Second, there are serious allegations about her sexual behavior.

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The Daily Beast reports, “Silicon Valley’s Favorite Prison Reformer Accused of Sexual Assault and Harassment.

The nonprofit company founded by Catherine Hoke says it is dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated people start their own businesses and stay out of prison. “Transform the hustle,” the company’s tagline encourages.

Defy has received grants from Google and the conservative Koch brothers. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote a foreword to Hoke’s new memoir. Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called Hoke’s work “incredibly inspiring” on his podcast. Hoke’s project even has White House interest: She had a call with Jared Kushner’s office in January to discuss a visit about prison reform.

But while Defy woos Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., scandal has rocked the company’s leadership. Last month, Defy fired its president after he blew the whistle on allegations of sexual harassment by Hoke and fraudulent statistics exaggerating the program’s successes.

Hoke describes Defy as a second chance—not just for people with criminal histories, but for herself. A former employee at a private equity firm, Hoke left Wall Street to launch a business skills-training program for Texas prisoners in 2004. In 2009, she was banned from Texas prisons after she was discovered to have had sexual relations with four program graduates.

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About the author

Joe Scudder

Joe Scudder

Joe Scudder is the "nom de plume" (or "nom de guerre") of a fifty-ish-year-old writer and stroke survivor. He lives in St Louis with his wife and still-at-home children. He has been a freelance writer and occasional political activist since the early nineties. He describes his politics as Tolkienesque.

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