Eradicating Limitations to Success Created by the Legal Justice System

For those who have served a prison term, sentences never end.

The California-based National Nonprofit Alliance for Security and Justice (ASJ) coined a term to describe what many of these people face: post-conviction poverty.

After serving a sentence and being released from prison, a previously convicted person faces thousands of restrictions depending on where they live, making reintegration into society difficult. You may not be able to vote, not get a driver’s license, or, more critically, get a job in a number of fields that require a license, such as: B. Insurance, real estate or even a haircut.

“One million people are convicted every year,” said Jay Jordan, vice president of ASJ. And that means: “We bring a million people into poverty every year.”

ASJ has successfully advocated law changes and awareness raising in several states while helping to build communities of crime victims and former convicts in eight states. In the last few months the group has received funding and support from the recently launched Justice and Mobility Fund, which will enable it to deepen its current work and expand into other countries.

The fund is a joint venture between the Ford Foundation, Blue Meridian Partners, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, who have pledged $ 250 million to promote the economic mobility of 77 million Americans – about a third of all adults – who caught in the criminal justice system.

“The initiative is an attempt to bring substantial capital to a social justice company,” said Tanya Coke, director of the gender, racial and ethnic justice program at Ford.

Together, the organizations have so far awarded $ 145 million to six national organizations including ASJ, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), the Vera Institute of Justice, the Clean Slate Initiative, Jobs for the Future, and the Center for Policing Equity, and two government initiatives, the Michigan Justice Fund and the Oklahoma Justice Fund.

The funds made available to these nonprofits (about $ 20 million on average) are said to be transformative – by devoting significant resources to help them grow and prosper – and supportive, as Blue Meridian, a collaboration of several large foundations, advice and Assistance with strategic planning to ensure target audiences create clear, achievable goals.

The dollars pledged so far will be invested in initiatives across the spectrum of the criminal justice system. “At each stage there are places where we see future economic mobility for those involved in the judiciary directly at risk,” says Coke.

The fact of an arrest and conviction “makes it difficult to access jobs, housing and public services,” she says. “A criminal conviction, in particular, can mean life imprisonment and wreak havoc on the economic outlook. We also know that there are fees and fines tied to criminal convictions that often haunt people for decades and make it difficult for them to pay alimony, pay rent, invest in businesses. ”

At each of these points, there are interventions that could break down the barriers to people who have had contact with the judiciary, added Coke, “and that is really the aim of the fund.”

In the absence of a single organization that deals with all of the effects of the criminal justice system on life, Ford, Blue Meridian, and Schusterman Family Philanthropies sought organizations that “address critical touchpoints across the system where judicial reform would be most conducive to addressing issues of the economic mobility, ”said Mindy Tarlow, Managing Director, Portfolio Strategy and Management, Blue Meridian.

“No silver bullet”

They looked for groups that had “synergies between politics and advocacy, narrative change, [and] direct service ”with the aim of building a portfolio of organizations that complement each other and achieve the goals of the fund. “There’s no silver bullet here,” says Tarlow.

One focus of their efforts is removing barriers for the 77 million Americans with criminal records, a goal of both ASJ and a Jordan-led national initiative called Time Done and the Clean Slate Initiative.

Instead, CEO works directly with the hundreds of thousands of people who come home from prison each year to meet their immediate needs and to support and train them to find work. During the pandemic, when many detainees were sent home to avoid contracting the virus in prisons, the New York-based group paid these “returning citizens” up to $ 2,750 in three cash payments – an amount that enough to take the first steps to put your life in order.

“We are also searching through this entire portfolio [of investments] change the narrative – to change the attitudes and behaviors of those involved that matter, ”says Tarlow. “Employers, for example – we want many more employers to hire people who stand up for the judiciary. We try to develop a strategy that will help. “

And Tarlow adds that the members of the Fund expect to show that they are “building stronger organizations that not only have more money but also have a strategic plan to follow” that will allow them to act when needed switch and think outside the box six months ahead of them.

“We’re empowering these amazing leaders to think ahead, have the infrastructure they need to act, and pursue innovations and visions for a time when the attitudes of those who advocate justice are the norm “, she says.

The three-year strategic plan that Blue Meridian developed with ASJ includes measures to strengthen the group from a startup based in the Tides Center, a California foundation that supports social enterprises in their creation, to a self-sustaining nonprofit “with robust in-house” capabilities and increased support from several states ”to maintain and expand its work.

The plan also aims to increase the impact of ASJ by increasing the membership of its three-year-old Time Done initiative from 40,000 to 300,000.

Developing the plan with Blue Meridian and the Bridgespan Group, a Boston-based philanthropic advisory firm, enabled ASJ to think through problems and get support without holding hands. “It was one of the greatest community-led processes I’ve been through in my life,” says Jordan.

This investment in ASJ and Time Done “enables us to build a community for ourselves through us,” and Jordan notes that he is part of that community. Sixteen years ago, he left prison after seven and a half years. Although Jordan has found a successful path back into society, legal barriers continue to limit his options, including adopting a child with his wife or coaching his son’s little league team, he says.

With the support of the Fund, Time Done can support the direct needs of people struggling to get back on their feet to help them reintegrate. “As soon as we do that, we create fully functioning citizens,” says Jordan. “That will not happen.”

Jordan’s experience resonates with funders like Schusterman Family Philanthropies, which is part of the collaboration with the Justice and Mobility Fund and also has its own separate criminal justice initiatives.

David Weil, Co-President of the Foundation, hopes society will recognize that “more police, more detention, more punishment” is part of a unique US system that “in many ways does not protect us, but continues to create”. Damage.”

Given the complexity of reforms and the fact that many of the problems and solutions are very local, nothing is resolved overnight.

“That came about over a long period of time, in many, many small steps, and so we have to find our way back to a more equitable result,” says Weil.

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