Chicago Community Bond Fund
CCBF has been working with fellow OP grantees SOUL and The People's Lobby and National Nurses United to push the Cook County Board to defund Cook County Jail and invest in Black communities. Together, we have testified to the board, organized an action outside the jail attended by hundreds of people, and gotten positive press coverage (even from our more conservative newspaper!) that helps shift public understanding of how we create real community safety. Because the county expects revenue shortfalls due to COVID-19, we may be battling to prevent cuts to services rather than winning new investments, but we are committed to ensuring austerity hits the jail rather than beneficial community programs or the public defender's office. In addition to the #DefundCCJ campaign, CCBF spent most of June supporting people arrested in connection with the Black Lives Matter uprisings in Chicago and around the state of Illinois.
A New Way of Life
A New Way of Life Reentry Project has partnered with BET and United Way of Greater Los Angeles to create a COVID-19 Relief Fund for members of our community who are struggling because of the pandemic, with a particular focus on African Americans. The data show that Black people have been impacted by COVID-19 far more adversely than many other communities. They are becoming infected with and dying from COVID-19 at extremely high rates. Millions more have been affected by the loss of jobs and wages. A New Way of Life is using the relief fund to help dozens of impacted folks in Los Angeles County pay their mortgages and utility bills and purchase groceries and other essential items.
Prison Policy Initiative
In the Prison Policy Initiative’s latest 50-state report, Failing Grades: States’ Responses to COVID-19 in Jails & Prisons, we worked with the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice to evaluate the actions each state has taken – or hasn’t taken – to protect incarcerated people and facility staff from COVID-19. We graded states on a few simple “best practices” criteria, including how they have handled testing, provision of PPE, publication of data about the virus in prisons, and depopulating crowded facilities during the pandemic. Unfortunately, with an average grade of what we generously call an “F+,” the resulting scores are abysmally low. We’ve already seen the tragic consequences of the inaction and negligence of states over the first four months of the pandemic, but it’s not too late for states to do better. Our analysis serves as both a wake-up call and a blueprint for how state officials can do more to save lives as the pandemic continues its spread.
Texas Freedom Network (TFN)
Through TFN’s Texas Rising program, we developed a Civics Y’all training series – our most recent digital training focused on Defunding the Police – joining fellow Texans calling for investment in community. Working in collaboration with field staff and student leaders across the state, Texas Rising developed this training in a collaborative model that was entirely student-led and run. Young leaders participated in a powerful panel discussion featuring Austin Justice Coalition founder Chas Moore and Texas Organizing Project’s David Villalobos and Carvell Bowen. Additionally, Texas Rising hosted a series of digital trainings, engaged in deep conversations and direct actions targeting local governments, and compiled resource guides on anti-racism and local groups in Texas supporting criminal justice reform.
Fair and Just Prosecution (FJP)
In June, FJP continued to promote police accountability and racial justice through two new video projects: the first brings the voice of elected prosecutors to this critical moment in history and underscores the role DAs must play in advancing meaningful change; the second documents the lessons learned from FJP’s trip with DAs and members of the Incarcerated Children’s Action Network to Montgomery and Selma. FJP also issued a Blueprint for Police Accountability and Reform with detailed recommendations around how to rethink policing and prosecution to address decades of systemic racism, shrink the footprint of the criminal legal system, and hold accountable members of law enforcement who for too long have escaped oversight. FJP underscored the importance of community-driven policing reform through an amicus brief signed by 76 elected prosecutors and law enforcement leaders and arguing that the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement lacks transparency and excludes key stakeholders, in violation of federal law. Finally, FJP continued its important work on the issue of immigration, filing another amicus brief highlighting how local law enforcement’s entanglement with federal immigration enforcement erodes trust with immigrant communities and leaves us all less safe.
Emerging Adult Justice Project (EAJP)
The Columbia Justice Lab's Emerging Adult Justice Project published an op ed in JJIE explaining how the risk-taking behavior of emerging adults during a global pandemic is consistent with their developmental stage, quite predictable, and must be recognized in order to inform and drive justice reform. The EAJP continues to maintain an online library with up-to-date research and articles, and has focused heavily on the challenges that have become exacerbated for emerging adults because of the health pandemic (e.g., increased anxiety/depression, job losses/economic hardships, unhealthy/risky living situations, etc.). Finally, the Justice Lab, in partnership with Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), hosted a virtual evening event (recorded) featuring a half hour-long screening of the acclaimed documentary series College Behind Bars and a panel discussion with BPI's Executive Director, Max Kenner, as well as alumni Dyjuan Tatro and Giovannie Hernandez.
Dignity and Power Now (DPN)
Dignity and Power Now, along with JusticeLA and partner organizations, won big during LA County’s recent Board of Supervisors meeting. The Board of Supervisors committed to taking the next step in closing Men’s Central Jail, creating an ATI Reserve Fund to begin funding Alternatives to Incarceration, and reducing incarceration while investing in the health and well-being of our communities. On June 30th, Dignity and Power Now held a second webinar on Transformative Leadership and Compassionate Organizations, led by Dr. Lamia El Sadek, Managing Director of DPN and Melanie Havelin, Executive Director of the John M. Lloyd Foundation. Over 75 community leaders registered as our hosts discussed the advantages, methods, and best practices of transformative leadership and ways to shift the culture within organizations to become more compassionate. We also covered ways organizations can avoid falling into the trap of HIGH-ALERT-EMERGENCY-STATUS-24X7. The next webinar will be held on July 29that NOON, focusing on how grassroots/nonprofit leaders and their teams can unplug and remain compassionate during COVID-19. To register, visit: https://bit.ly/DPNOrganizations.
Texas Organizing Project (TOP)
Across Texas, roughly half of newly-diagnosed COVID-19 cases happen inside of jails. The governor has put into place mechanisms that prohibit county officials from releasing people on PR bonds which would be one step, among many, that would help immediately decarcerate county jails. Continuing the work we started in 2017, in coordination with the Black Mama’s Day Bailout, TOP has been bailing people out as an immediate intervention against the spread of COVID-19. Across the state, we’ve bailed out 105 people, and offered immediate relief shelter and food in some cases, but it’s become clear to us that bailing people out isn't enough. We are faced with the challenge of meeting recently released people's needs to survive. Now we're organizing folks that have been impacted by the justice system to fight back. In Houston, members are calling on city leaders to immediately defund the police, and should not wait for a new task force in order to address police violence and enact meaningful reforms. In San Antonio, our members are mobilizing to strip away the bargaining power of police unions that obstruct police accountability. And in Dallas, members are flanking the city’s police budget to divert those funds to community-driven solutions that foster real health, peacekeeping and safety.
Court Watch NOLA
Court Watch NOLA has been busy with the New Orleans People's District Attorney Coalition which will release its district attorney's platform in July in time for qualifying where all candidates will be required to register if they intend to run for Orleans Parish District Attorney. Additionally, Court Watch NOLA has been active in drafting two pieces of legislation. One piece of legislation, created by the Eye on Surveillance coalition of which Court Watch NOLA is a part, relates to the banning of facial recognition and other surveillance technology. This legislation would also end the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office's ability to record attorney-client confidential communications. Another piece of legislation, drafted by members of a police coalition created to reform police behavior during COVID-19, would require summons in lieu of arrests in most misdemeanor cases.
Partnership for Safety & Justice
Partnership for Safety & Justice has joined Black movement leaders, Unite Oregon, Portland African American Leadership Forum, and thousands of Oregonians in demanding divestment from Oregon’s militarized police and investment in more effective community safety solutions. Last month, these coalition efforts led City of Portland to redirect $15 million from its police force to a number of city programs including leadership development for Black youth and the Portland Street Response. Oregon lawmakers also passed a package of police reforms during a special session, which further limit the use of chokeholds and teargas and make it easier to discipline police misconduct. Just last week, Partnership for Safety & Justice and our allies also helped qualify a measure for the November ballot that will decriminalize simple possession of all drugs in Oregon while increasing access and funding for addiction treatment. Known as the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, the law would be the first of its kind in the nation and a game-changing template for finally ending the failed and tragically damaging “War on Drugs” of the past 50 years.
The Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI)
The Promise of Justice Initiative is leading a community outreach effort in East Baton Rouge Parish centered on the cost of policing. With protests in the streets calling for divestment from law enforcement and an upcoming ballot question on a tax dedicated to East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, the community is at crossroads in a historic moment. The Promise of Justice Initiative is reaching out to thousands of East Baton Rouge residents and engaging a wide array of community partners in an effort to reimagine public safety in one of Louisiana's most over-policed parishes.
Alliance for Safety and Justice
Both COVID-19 and the uprisings for racial justice have brought forth long overdue conversations about criminal justice budgets and misaligned spending priorities. To help advance strategies to reallocate from mass incarceration to communities, Alliance for Safety and Justice is expanding our “shared safety” work. Shared Safety began in California in 2015 to provide a framework for systems officials and advocates to shift from criminal justice to public health as the public safety starting point, make wellbeing the key safety goal/metric, center solutions around survivors' needs, do no harm in responding to crime, and make safety a joint responsibility of community, public health and safety systems together. We’re developing more tools and trainings, with an emphasis on understanding federal and state funding streams to shift the use of those streams toward public health and community service providers, and launching a National Coalition for Shared Safety made up of leading service providers in violence prevention, victims services, reentry, and mental health crisis assistance to advocate for new investments and scaling up the solutions communities need to be safe. If you’re interested in this area of our work, please reach out! And you can learn more about the Shared Safety framework by following this link.
We’re holding space with gratitude to honor a major shift within our team. On July 15, sujatha baliga will transition out of her role as the Director of the Restorative Justice Project (RJP). After a sabbatical, she’ll spend her time writing, speaking, and building the body of knowledge needed to address intimate partner and sexual violence through restorative processes. sujatha started laying the foundation for our diversion work back in 2006 when she joined Fania Davis at Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth. With a Soros Fellowship a few years later, sujatha launched a community-based restorative justice diversion program (RJD) in Alameda county, the first in the country to address felony cases pre-charge. Commitments from other communities, systems partners, and funders took off after sujatha connected with Alex Busansky, now President of Impact Justice, allowing her to grow a team to support the work nationally. A few years ago, sujatha stepped back to let Ashlee George, our Associate Director, take the reins. Under Ashlee’s leadership, we’ve seen a new level of national interest in our model, a suite of trainings, major funding for all our community-based organization partners, an ever growing list of interested communities and DAs, and our RJD Toolkit, offering beautiful, practical guidance to people the world over. All of this growth and expansion has happened without compromising the core of restorative justice: community, values, healing, and accountability through interconnectedness. Words cannot express how much we’ll miss sujatha’s radiant presence, and we’re grateful she will continue to be involved with the Restorative Justice Project as a consultant and advisor. We’ve also begun a national search to hire a co-director who will focus on advancing and scaling the model (stay tuned!). The world is calling even louder than ever for community-based, non-punitive responses to harm that address the rampant racial and ethnic disparities in our criminal legal system, and with sujatha’s foundation and Ashlee’s vision, we’re primed to meet the moment.