The Criminal Justice Initiative 2010 Grants
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 improved reproductive health services, including the elimination of the inhumane practice of shackling, 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, when family reunification fails to take place within a specified time period.
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. 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.
Since 1973, 138 people have been freed from America’s death row. While the number is small in relation to the total number of people incarcerated in the United States, their exoneration clearly highlights the inconsistencies within the U.S. judicial system. And 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. 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.
The Prison Project has been working with California’s incarcerated community for the past 16 years, offering resources and support to prisoners as they navigate the complex and violent environments of prison. The Project is a collaborative effort of individuals, community-based organizations and service providers who are dedicated to providing a unique blend of holistic services that teach prisoners skills that are transferable both in and out of prison. The Project offers university-level classes in writing to develop communication skills and provides instruction in transcommunality, which examines the history and process of multi-cultural collaboration. Renewed funding supports the continuation of these classes, as well as the introduction of an art class, which allows prisoners to explore their creativity. Lessons learned in the transcommunality class are integrated into the Project’s weekly meetings of committees comprised of prisoners, who organize annual cultural events for prisoners and their guests. The Project is an example of how a little goes a long way. Prisoners who participate in the Project continue to participate in the Project’s activities after release from prison. The Project reports low rates of recidivism, with many former prisons obtaining employment and reintegrating in to their communities successfully.
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 five-point restraints of 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 is extended to incarcerated women, including those infected with HIV and Hepatitis C. 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 collectively work to change the power dynamics within the criminal justice system.
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 social justice 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 social justice 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 non-Caucasians in a post 9/11 America, juxtaposed to the U.S. Constitution’s rights to dissent and free speech.
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 the formerly incarcerated, 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’s only three-day retreat and training program, conduct monthly meetings and advocacy events, organize voter registration campaigns, conduct workshops, produce and disseminate pamphlets and posters. 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 push to maintain rights of all citizens, including the fundamental right to participate in this country’s electoral processes.
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. Working in collaboration with the Immigrant Defense Project, FFF will instruct detainees about their rights, particularly when interacting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials while at Rikers. Community work involves FFF’s Speaker’s Bureau Training, which instructs members about the nuances of deportation and detention policies. Members are then charged with educating their communities about initiatives such as “Secure Communities”, which confines immigrants in detention, even for minor offenses. Grants 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. FFF is a fierce advocate for immigrant rights as human rights and their work has implications for its members and their loved ones in light of the growing anti-immigrant movement in the United States.
Eighteen years ago, three wives of then incarcerated men formed Citizens Against Recidivism in order to discuss shared experiences as family members of an incarcerated person. Since then, the organization has evolved into a multi-service organization that provides counseling, referral services and advocacy 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.
This 15-year old membership organization works to transform the lives of women and girls who are incarcerated or involved in the criminal justice system. Working in a state with stringent sentencing policies, the Coalition partners with its members to address issues that are important to them, such as strident sentencing policies for juvenile offenders, harsh parole guidelines for prisoners serving life terms, to opposing 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 visiting teams and The Fire Inside, a quarterly publication written by incarcerated women.
Formed in 1999, Border Action Network provides 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 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. The Network’s volunteer membership who complete a 40-hour training, go on to become regional coordinators who organize local meetings and events center around immigrant rights and responsibilities. Leadership training gives members an additional opportunity to become involved in the Network’s activities. Bi-monthly training sessions provide instruction on topics such as human rights, various legal terms and laws, and leads to the formation of Human Rights committees who monitor immigrant communities and provide safe places for residents who are harassed and threatened by vigilantes and policing authorities. Without a doubt, the Network’s activities are critical to countering the country’s harshest immigrant law that restricts the freedom of people of color in Arizona.
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 impacts of incarceration has on their families and communities. Renewed funding to Beyondmedia supports its Women and Prison Program, which consists of a website that serves as an archive of text, video, audio and art by women who are or have been imprisoned that vividly portrays the ongoing struggles of each woman in the face of state and interpersonal violence; 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.