Criminal Justice Initiative 2009 Grants List

 

Restoring Rights and Reducing Recidivism

 

A New Way of Life Re entry Project

Los Angeles, CA

Project Support:  $14,100.00

Project: Re-entry Voting Rights Campaign

There are more than 250,000 Californians who are prohibited from voting because of a felony conviction. This number could increase if an initiative called VOTE SAFE: Secure and Fair Elections, receives the allotted number of signatures needed to qualify for this year’s ballot in California. If voters approve the initiative, VOTE SAFE will further disenfranchise Americans who are on probation by making them ineligible to vote. CJI’s 2010 grant to A New Way of Life supports the organization’s work to preserve voting rights for formerly incarcerated people, through its Voting Rights Campaign. Working in collaboration with All of Us or None and other activist organizations, A New Way of Life will convene a two-day statewide conference; host a women-only, three-day retreat and training program; conduct monthly meetings and advocacy events; and organize voter registration campaigns, amongst other things. By reaching out to communities such as South Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento and Oakland, activists expect to build a social and political base of formerly incarcerated people and communities of color who will oppose life-long second-class citizenship through disenfranchisement. This newly engaged base will then push to maintain the rights of all citizens, including the fundamental right to participate in this country’s electoral processes.

Citizens Against Recidivism

Springfield Gardens, NY

General Support:  $9,400.00 

Eighteen years ago three wives of incarcerated men formed Citizens Against Recidivism in order to discuss their shared experience. Since then, Citizens has evolved into a multi-service organization that advocates and provides counseling, referral services to and on behalf of people returning from prison. Citizens’ work revolves around two overarching goals—to secure all the rights of citizenship to those who have been incarcerated and to reduce recidivism rates. To achieve these goals, Citizens encourages personal change and transformation through vocational skill development that enhances parole readiness; develops and forms relationship with community organizations to support reentry of former prisoners; and provides referrals and linkages to services that facilitate independence and positive reintegration into the community. By working in tandem with other community-based organizations and families affected by incarceration, Citizens is confident that its work can also have a significant impact on at-risk youth. Central Harlem and Jamaica, Queens—2 communities with high rates of incarceration—are the primary beneficiaries of Citizens’ work.

Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement (EPOCA)

Worcester, MA

General Support:  $14,100.00

In nearly every state of the Union, a criminal record of information (CORI) makes it impossible for qualified ex-prisoners to obtain employment, education, or housing. This was the case, until recently, when after five years of sustained advocacy, EPOCA celebrated a major victory when the city of Worcester voted to employ fair practices when using CORI. Under the ordinance a CORI check is performed only if a job is of a particular sensitivity, such as going into people’s homes. Further, the criminal history question can only be asked after a conditional offer of employment has been made. Sustained support from CJI will allow EPOCA to build on its achievements by working with the Human Rights Commission to ensure that business in Worcester comply with the Fair CORI Practices ordinance. Further, EPOCA will forge alliances with state and national allies to advocate for the implementation of similar policies throughout the country. To ensure that the work moves forward, EPOCA will provide training and individual mentoring opportunities to its highly committed corps of volunteer members.

 

Organizing Through Arts and Media

 

Freedom Archives

San Francisco, CA

Project Support:  $4,700.00

Project: COINTELPRO 101

CJI funding supports post-production activities for COINTELPRO 101, a 56-minute documentary that links the evolution of post 9/11 U.S. counterintelligence to the human rights struggles of the 1960s and 1970s. The film is the brainchild of Freedom Archives, the San Francisco-based educational media archive that produced the groundbreaking,  Legacy of Torture: The War Against the Black Liberation Movement. By using historical footage and compelling stories told through interviews with civil rights activists, COINTELPRO 101 will educate its audience about the repressive tactics sanctioned by the U.S. government to silence social movements in the United States and its territories.  Specifically, the film analyzes the impact COINTELPRO policies have on communities of color by mapping a correlation between mass incarceration and punitive sentencing of people of color who engaged in political dissent. However, the film is more than an educational tool. The filmmakers want to challenge its viewers to critically think about and engage in discussions about past social justice struggles and the current hardships of communities of color in a post 9/11 America, juxtaposed to the U.S. Constitution’s rights to dissent and free speech.

Beyondmedia Education

Chicago, IL

Project Support:  $9,400.00

Project: The Women and Prison Project

Beyondmedia Education is a Midwest-based organization that partners with the former and currently incarcerated to organize for justice. Through the use of media arts, women, girls, and LGBTQ youth explore the interconnectedness of poverty, race, and the “criminal injustice system”, while documenting the devastating human impact incarceration has on their families and communities. Renewed funding to Beyondmedia supports its Women and Prison Program, whose Project director, a formerly incarcerated woman, coordinates a dynamic website, www.womenandprison.com. The website serves as an archive of text, video, audio and art by women who are or have been imprisoned as well as an interactive network for currently and formerly incarcerated women to engage in dialogue about policy, legislative and other relevant issues. Funding also supports the Dreamcatcher Workshop which works with girls aged 12-18 to encourage them to make healthier choices, learn life skills and avoid incarceration; and the Voices In Time: Lives In Limbo interactive multimedia installation which provides a public forum for dialogue on the politics and effects of criminalization. Recently, the project director of the Women and Prison program received the Avon Hello Tomorrow award for her advocacy on behalf of currently and formerly incarcerated women, an award which will enable her to expand the computer literacy component of the Women and Prison Program.

 

Human Rights and Immigrant Policy

 

Border Action Network

Tucson, AZ

General Support:  $18,800.00 

This year, the work of Border Action Network (BAN) has become dramatically more relevant due to the passage of a “racial-profiling” law in Arizona which gives law enforcement broad power to arrest and detain anyone “suspected” of being in the country illegally. If you are stopped by police while you are walking down the street and you can not prove that you are a citizen, you can be arrested and detained.  Many state and national groups have condemned the new law, and BAN will continue to be an active presence in Arizona organizing to oppose the law. Since 1999, BAN has provided organizing, leadership development, policy advocacy, and litigation services to low-income immigrant families and border communities in rural and urban areas along the Arizona/Mexico border. Renewed support from CJI funds the Network’s community organizing and leadership development activities to members—all of whom are at risk or have been subjected to deportation and detention. Volunteers then become regional coordinators who organize local meetings and events centered on immigrant rights and responsibilities. Bi-monthly training sessions provide instruction on human rights topics. Volunteers also monitor immigrant communities and provide safe places for residents who are harassed and threatened by vigilantes and policing authorities.

Families for Freedom

New York, NY

General Support:  $9,400.00 

Families for Freedom (FFF) is a seven-year old membership organization working to build power within low-income, immigrant communities of color from the Caribbean, Latin America, and South Asia. The crux of the organization’s work is to counsel and support immigrants and their families trapped in the criminal justice and deportation systems. FFF conducts its work on two fronts—Rikers Island, the point of entry for New York City’s criminal justice system—and within communities. FFF will use grant funds to conduct “Know Your Rights” presentations to non-citizen detainees at Rikers who may be at risk of deportation. Community work will include FFF’s Speaker’s Bureau Training, which instructs members about the nuances of deportation and detention policies. Participants are then charged with educating their communities about initiatives such as “Secure Communities,” which confines immigrants in detention, even for minor offenses. Grant funds will also support FFF’s International Deportee Justice Committee, which will make presentations to officials at three consulates, urging them to adopt FFF recommendations that call for the protection of their nationals’ rights in criminal and deportation proceedings.

 

Education and Advocacy to End the Death Penalty

 

Witness to Innocence

Philadelphia, PA

General Support:  $9,400.00

Since 1973, 138 people have been freed from America’s death row. Their exoneration clearly highlights the failures of the U.S. judicial system, and begs the question “how many more?” Since its inception in 2005, Witness to Innocence (WTI) has worked tirelessly with death row survivors and their families to educate the public and political leaders about these inequities. This is crucial since research shows that the conviction of innocent people is the most effective argument against the death penalty. Renewed support allows WTI to continue its work on behalf of the wrongfully accused via a speakers’ bureau—comprised of former death row survivors who tell their stories to communities throughout the country. WTI will also implement a nationwide media campaign, continue its mission to educate and empower death row survivors and their loved ones to be advocates for social change, and intensify its work with state anti-death penalty organizations, all with one major goal in mind—the abolition of the death penalty in the United States.

 

Incarcerated Women and their Children

 

Woman on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH)

Bronx, NY

General Support:  $18,800.00

WORTH is a seven-year old organization of former and currently incarcerated women working together to transform their lives through peer support, leadership development, and community organizing. WORTH’s mission is simple—it empowers its members to speak out against draconian laws that hold women hostage and stifle their ability to contribute to their families and communities. The women of WORTH were instrumental in the passage of New York’s Anti-Shackling Law, which prohibits the use of restraints on incarcerated women pre- and post- labor, as well as the Department of Health Oversight Law, which guarantees the supervision of medical units by the Department of Health, thereby ensuring provision of care to incarcerated women, including those infected with HIV and Hepatitis C.  Having experienced the devastation to their families caused by termination of parental rights, WORTH women convinced New York policy makers to allow for wider discretion of social workers and judges in giving incarcerated parents more flexibility in reunifying with their children. Renewed support to WORTH means that its members can monitor prisons to ensure compliance with these laws; continue to offer its 12-week ReConnect program, which provides introductory advocacy, policy and leadership skills to its members; and maintain partnerships with like-minded organizations as they work to change the power dynamics of the criminal justice system.

California Coalition for Women Prisoners

San Francisco, CA

General Support:  $18,800.00

CCWP is a 15 year old grassroots social justice organization, with members inside and outside prison, that challenges the institutional violence imposed on women, transgender people, and communities of color by the prison industrial complex (PIC). The coalition believes that the struggle for racial and gender justice is central to dismantling the PIC and the coalition places priority on the leadership of the people, families, and communities most impacted in building this movement. CCWP is working to challenge the punitive parole policies imposed on women prisoners and their families, and has advocated for the release of hundreds of women, particularly battered and abused women doing long sentences. The organization challenges the imposition of unjust sentencing and reactionary parole practices from a local, state and national perspective. Its members address the issues that matter most to women, including severe sentencing policies for juveniles, prison expansion, and the school to prison pipeline. Renewed support will allow the Coalition to continue their work on these initiatives while moving forward with its campaign to develop the leadership of its members and their supporters through prison visiting teams and the distribution of The Fire Inside, an extremely popular quarterly publication written by incarcerated women.

Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM)

Chicago, IL

Project Support:  $9,400.00

Project: Visible Voices

 This past year, CLAIM has made a significant contribution to the nation-wide effort to ban shacking of pregnant women in prison while they are giving birth. In a dramatic victory for incarcerated mothers, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals held that shackling pregnant women to their hospital beds while in labor was a violation of the 8th Amendment. CLAIM joined 34 other groups nationwide in submitting an amicus brief in support of the plaintiff. In addition, CLAIM has assisted four local incarcerated mothers who were shackled during labor in filing legal claims and is organizing a campaign to halt the practice in Cook County jail. CLAIM’s project, Visible Voices, empowers formerly incarcerated, low-income mothers of color to advocate for statewide, systemic changes in the treatment of pregnant women and mothers in Illinois’ criminal justice system. Ongoing support will promote the delivery of improved reproductive health services, including the elimination of the inhumane practice of shackling of women during and after labor, which violates Illinois state law and the U.S. Constitution. Visible Voices will also promote family values by championing community-based sentencing for non-violent offenses, which allows mothers to maintain contact with their children instead of the harsher option that strips them of their parental rights after receiving extremely severe drug-related sentences.

 

Resources and Organizing on the Inside

 

Barrios Unidos, The Prison Project

Santa Cruz, CA

Project Support:  $18,800.00

Project: Prison Project

The Prison Project has worked with California’s incarcerated community for the past 16 years, offering resources and support to incarcerated people as they navigate the violent prison environments. Among other programs, the Project offers university-level classes in writing and provides instruction in transcommunality, which examines the history and process of multi-cultural collaboration. Lessons learned in the transcommunality class are integrated into the work of the Project’s ongoing committees, which meet weekly to organize for policy change within the prison and to produce relevant cultural events that increase awareness and appreciation of different cultures. Participation in this program is credited with contributing to a reduction in violence between Mexican and African Americans in the prison. Renewed funding supports the continuation classes, as well as the introduction of an art class. The Project reports low rates of recidivism, with many participants obtaining employment related to training received in the classes, and successfully reintegrating into their communities. Many participants continue to be involved in the Project’s activities after their release from prison.