Funders Are Backing a Push to Clear Criminal Records. For Many Involved, It’s Personal
Mar 25, 2021
The Justice and Mobility Fund is a philanthropic collaboration that aims to boost economic mobility and improve the life trajectories of people impacted by the criminal justice system.
The Justice and Mobility Fund seeks to scale the impact, reach, and influence of solutions to problems caused by interaction with the criminal justice system, both nationwide and in targeted regions. Reducing convictions and incarceration and mitigating their negative downstream effects is critical to giving people – especially people of color, who are disproportionately impacted – greater access to jobs, and educational opportunities, and housing that will help break the cycle of poverty and injustice.
Mass incarceration is one of the most critical civil rights issues of our time. 77 million Americans have criminal records and millions more interact with the justice system each year. Once engaged with the system, the damage to an individual’s economic mobility can be devastating and ripple through their family for generations. Incarceration limits people’s ability to get an education, maintain stable housing, connect to employment opportunities and public benefits, and more. Despite reform efforts, insufficient attention is paid to developing and scaling interventions that provide economic opportunity for people affected by the system.
COVID-19 poses higher risks to the health and economic stability of incarcerated people. In response, jurisdictions across the US are releasing select populations. However, at this time, the communities to which they return are often unable to support their re-entry with needed services, presenting an urgent issue.
Americans have criminal records and millions more interact with the justice system each year
The Justice and Mobility Fund brings significant new resources and capacity-building to the field in order to extend the reach, impact, and influence of the most promising strategies and organizations. We make right-sized investments in solutions poised to scale nationally, as well as strategic local investments across the criminal justice system, with a focus on economic mobility.
In response to the additional risks stemming from the COVID-19 crisis, the Fund has made an initial set of investments in programs helping citizens released from the justice system access financial resources and critical support. These programs enhance public safety as well as the well-being of individuals, families, and communities.
initial dollars committed to scaling nationwide and community-specific interventions, including COVID-19 crisis relief
The Justice and Mobility Fund is a collaboration launched by The Ford Foundation and Blue Meridian Partners with support from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. Leveraging Blue Meridian’s rigorous investment approach and the Ford Foundation’s expertise in social justice grantmaking, the Justice and Mobility Fund presents the opportunity to make investments that can change the lives of generations. We welcome additional funders to join the partnership as we continue to innovate.
The Ford Foundation centers on belief in the inherent dignity of all people. Around the world, too many people are excluded from the political, economic, and social institutions that shape their lives. Across eight decades, The Ford Foundation’s mission has sought to reduce poverty and injustice, strengthen democratic values, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement.Visit Website
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies is a global organization that seeks to improve lives, strengthen communities and reduce inequality. Their philanthropic vision is grounded in a commitment to pursue justice, repair the world and treat all people with dignity and civility. They invest in efforts to improve public education in the United States, strengthen the Jewish people and Israel, and address the needs of marginalized individuals and communities.Visit Website
Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ) works to replace over-incarceration with new safety solutions rooted in prevention, rehabilitation, and support for crime victims and people living with past convictions. ASJ organizes key constituencies, builds campaigns and coalitions, and cultivates state leaders and other influential decision-makers as champions of reform. These efforts have helped reduce incarceration and increase access to services and supports for communities disproportionately engaged with the justice system. ASJ is focusing on the nation’s ten largest states to drive effective reforms that reduce incarceration and boost investments in alternatives focused on shared safety for all.
Already facing financial insecurity and other challenges associated with reentry, individuals returning home from incarceration during the COVID-19 crisis are especially vulnerable. Several states and localities have accelerated releases due to health concerns, yet many communities do not have the resources to support their returning citizens – a disproportionate share of whom are Black and Latino/a. The Center for Employment Opportunities’ (CEO) Returning Citizen Stimulus leverages CEO’s pay card system and a robust network of local reentry service providers. CEO organized a network of 32 local organizations to deliver a three-month stipend to 10,000 + people in 26 cities, while also connecting them to essential reentry supports.
One in three Americans has a criminal record, which acts as a lifelong barrier to economic mobility. The costs of having a criminal record – including restrictions on employment, housing, education, and occupational licensing – fall disproportionately on low-income and Black and Latino/a communities, perpetuating poverty and racial inequity. Currently, tens of millions of Americans are eligible for record clearance, yet the process for doing so is typically costly and extremely cumbersome for the individual, resulting in most eligible people not benefitting from record clearance. Working with state partners, the Clean Slate Initiative advances policies to automate record clearance for all eligible criminal records and expand the range of records that can be cleared, with the goal of increasing economic and social opportunity for millions of Americans.
Major social issues of our time – such as criminal justice reform – are heavily influenced by coverage in mass media, including film. Good Films’ Represent Justice campaign is working to shift culture and public opinion of incarcerated individuals and increase awareness and engagement around racial bias and criminal justice reform. Capitalizing on the film Just Mercy, the Represent Justice campaign seeks to reach people across the political spectrum and in a variety of settings, including schools, churches, and prisons, to create public demand for a fair legal system, dignity for system-impacted communities, and an end to extreme sentencing and mass incarceration.
Individuals with criminal records face significant barriers to employment—an issue which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and recession. JFF is a national nonprofit organization that drives change in the American workforce and education systems so that people of all backgrounds can achieve economic advancement. In order to expand opportunities for those impacted by the criminal justice system and ensure an equitable economic recovery for all Americans, JFF is engaging with employers to identify the critical levers that can unlock demand for hiring people with criminal records and strengthen inclusive hiring practices for people with convictions.
Justice system involvement carries devastating lifelong consequences, impeding social and economic mobility for individuals and whole communities. Today, the United States is the most incarcerated country in the world, and its criminal legal and immigration systems disproportionately target low-income, Black, and Latino/a Americans. Operating for nearly 60 years, the Vera Institute of Justice works to create antiracist justice systems and develop ideas, research, and analysis to fight mass incarceration and end racial disparities. Vera partners with directly impacted people and government officials at all levels to build systems that ensure fairness, promote safety, and strengthen communities.
As a research and action organization, Center for Policing Equity (CPE) produces analyses to identify and reduce the causes of racial disparities in public safety. CPE works to reduce racial bias in policing that disproportionately affects Black and Brown Americans and limits their economic mobility. Using data-driven approaches to social justice, CPE uses science to create levers for social, economic, cultural and policy change. By right-sizing and right-purposing policing, CPE seeks to build public safety systems that are just, equitable, and non-racist. Additionally, CPE empowers vulnerable communities to engage with and shape their public safety systems, thereby promoting economic mobility and helping to maintain trust between communities and public safety systems. The Justice and Mobility Fund’s investment in CPE will support them as they develop their strategic plan to guide their work going forward.
The Michigan Justice Fund is a collaborative of local and national funders that seeks to stem the flow of individuals into the youth and criminal justice systems, support the investment of public dollars to community-driven alternatives to incarceration, and ensure those who are returning home after incarceration receive the support they need to flourish. The Michigan Justice Fund is implementing a strategic plan focused on supporting the economic mobility and overall success of Michiganders with criminal records, reducing reliance on confinement and adjudication, and building a movement for communities to shape justice policies and funding.
The Oklahoma Justice Fund aims to significantly shift the criminal justice landscape in Oklahoma – one of the most incarcerated states in the nation – by scaling the reform infrastructure in the state and creating the platform necessary to unlock transformative change. The Fund is implementing a strategic plan focused on increasing economic opportunity for justice-impacted Oklahomans through innovations in policy, programs, and practices and transforming justice systems through community power-building and narrative change.
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