Esther Franco-Payne, Executive Director

Esther Franco-Payne

Esther Franco-Payne joined the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities (PSPC) as its inaugural Executive Director in December of 2022. Esther’s personal commitment has been to serve as a voice for underserved communities of color and to be a champion for equity. Growing up in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, Esther has been front and center to the issues that permeate communities impacted by crime, poverty, and disinvestment. As a social worker by training, she is a long-time advocate who has engaged the public in the development of effective adult criminal justice and youth justice policies.

Esther is the immediate past executive director of Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA), where she led the organization’s strategy, management, and fundraising, doubling its budget, increasing staff capacity and expanding its service offerings. Through her work with CGLA, Esther has amplified CGLA’s impact throughout Chicago, Cook County and the State of Illinois. She has also held senior leadership roles with the Public Welfare Foundation and the Illinois Justice Project, where she was co-founder and Deputy Director. Esther served for ten years as a member of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission; was appointed co-chair of the Families Committee in support of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice’s Advancing Transformation Task Force; and participated on the Cook County Equity Fund Taskforce. She was a lead advocate in the fight for equity as part of the Cannabis Act and has participated in several efforts to advance public safety and remove barriers to employment, education and housing for those impacted by the criminal legal system.

Previously, Franco-Payne worked for Chicago Metropolis 2020 and Metropolis Strategies where she was a staff member with the Justice and Violence Group, the predecessor to the Illinois Justice Project. She also worked with the Illinois Center for Violence Prevention and the Circuit Court of Cook County Family Violence Coordinating Councils.

Franco-Payne has a master’s degree from the University of Chicago – School of Social Service Administration. She is a Fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago, an alum of the Harvard Business School’s Executive Education Program and has participated in several cohort training programs focused on nonprofit management.

Esther resides in Chicago with her husband, Mark Payne and their three children.