The 2018 Quest for Democracy grant application is now closed.



2018 Quest for Democracy Grant Program

The Criminal Justice Initiative* (CJI) requests proposals from grassroots organizations working to transform the current U.S. criminal justice system.

This year, CJI has partnered with the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People and Families Movement (FICPFM) in the Quest for Democracy Grants Program to support non-profit organizations led by formerly incarcerated people working on:

  • Restoration of Rights for incarcerated, formerly incarcerated and detained people

  • Felon Re-enfranchisement/Voting Rights Restoration, and Civic Engagement

  • Law Enforcement Accountability (police, prosecutors, and judges)

  • Bail Reform


FICPFM is a national alliance composed of member organizations led by and devoted to advancing the rights and freedoms of formerly incarcerated, formerly detained, and directly impacted people and families. Together, they confront a system of control that has, itself, grown out of control. With campaigns focusing on housing, fighting employment discrimination, and restoring voting rights, FICPFM is firmly committed to prioritizing De-Entry over Re-Entry, and opposes the concept of a Rehabilitative Industrial Complex that grows along with prisons. All efforts to educate, assist, and empower our communities should be within the context of eliminating human cages as a mainstream livelihood. Seeking the full restoration of formerly incarcerated and former detained people’s civil and human rights, FICPFM has developed a fifteen-point platform that calls for ending:

  • mass incarceration

  • prison profit over community development

  • immigration detention and deportation

  • racial profiling

  • sexual harassment in prisons

  • extortion and forced labor in prisons

  • cruel and unusual punishment

  • the incarceration of children

  • religious discrimination in prisons

  • imprisonment for activism and political beliefs and organizing.

CJI is an innovative grant-making collaborative made up of community organizers, many of whom are formerly incarcerated, activists, donors, and donor-activists. We identify, fund, and nurture grassroots organizations led by those most affected by the U.S. criminal justice system who are working to transform it. CJI’s mission is to end mass criminalization and mass incarceration in the United States by building and strengthening the infrastructure of the grassroots criminal justice movement. CJI believes in the power of bottom-up approaches where the innovations of directly affected communities are nurtured and enabled to thrive. We fund where the movement is developing, shifting, and growing. We fund work that uproots the systems that harm and perpetuate injustice and sows in their places justice, healing, kinship, creativity, and love. CJI believes this movement must be led by those most impacted by the injustices of the current system, working in alliances across race, class, faith, gender, gender identity, sexuality, immigration status, physical and mental ability, and age.


CJI will grant up to $25,000 to approximately 20 organizations led by formerly incarcerated or detained people working in four basic areas:

Restoration of Rights for incarcerated/ detained, formerly incarcerated and formerly detained people, including but not limited to:

* restoring parental, employment, housing, education rights; removing punitive fines

* improving conditions of confinement for currently incarcerated people such as ending solitary confinement, rape, shackling of pregnant women, denial of adequate health care and sanitary supplies, denial of hormone treatment for trans people in prison or detention, forced labor, exploitative or slave wages, inadequate safety measures for the protection of incarcerated people in weather emergencies, or crises, etc.

Felon Re-enfranchisement/Voting Rights Restoration, and Civic Engagement;

* work that promotes full restoration of voting rights for people awaiting trial in confinement, currently incarcerated, released on parole or probation, or released after completing a sentence

* work that promotes civic participation of formerly incarcerated or detained people including eligibility to hold appointed or elected office, serve as jurors,

Law Enforcement Accountability (police, prosecutors, and judges); including but not limited to:

* independent investigations of police misconduct, especially in the use of excessive force and discharged weapons, unlawful stops and searches,

* clear enforceable sanctions for lawbreaking by law enforcement personnel and agencies including suppression, destruction, planting, unlawful seizing of or tampering with evidence;

* clear enforceable sanctions for witness tampering; bribery and kickbacks; unlawful release of sealed records;

* development of independent commissions with subpoena power, to investigate and rectify wrongful prosecutions

* establishment of consent decrees or other enforceable law enforcement policies and procedures

Bail Reform and Systems Supervision Reform including but not limited to:

* organizing to remove pre-trial detention, monitoring or supervision

* organizing of Bail Out campaigns connected to initiatives to end money bail in jails, prisons and detention centers

* organizing to reduce Systems Supervision (electronic monitoring, transdermal patches)

* organizing to increase participatory defense and reduce the number of poverty-related guilty pleas


Applicant organizations must:

  • Have 501c3 legal status, or have fiscal sponsorship by a 501c3 organization.

  • Include formerly incarcerated and directly impacted people in their leadership on the staff and/or board level.

  • Have a maximum annual operating budget of $300,000. (The budget of your fiscal sponsor does not determine an organization's eligibility to apply.)


The application process is open and online through Submittable. CJI does not require an invitation to apply. However, they must first fill out an eligibility quiz at:

All applicants deemed eligible will be sent a link to the full application.

Grantees of previous CJI grants ARE eligible to apply for a Quest for Democracy grant.


An organization wishing to apply to CJI should complete the online application with Submittable, which has a link at the bottom of this page. If there are technical questions about the application process, a Submittable staff person will be able to help you. Applicants are strongly encouraged to use the chrome browser.

If you have question of clarity AFTER reading the entire RFP and FAQs, you may schedule an appointment with Aleah Bacquie Vaughn BEFORE the deadline. Check out the link below.

  • Applications must attach the required documents such as budgets, tax-exempt letter, organization demographics chart, etc. to be considered for funding.


Grant decisions will be made by the Quest for Democracy Circle, comprised of formerly incarcerated leaders from around the country. The Circle will convene in January of 2019. Grants will be announced in February of 2019, with grants awards soon thereafter.


CJI is an incubator for small emerging and established organizations that are engaged in strategic criminal justice movement work with marginalized communities. We support organizations led by those directly impacted by the criminal justice and immigration systems, including people of color, Native Americans, youth, immigrants, gender and sexual minorities, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, low-income communities, and other impacted communities.

CJI's grants provide critical general support grants to organizations across the United States that:

  • are led by directly impacted people, including formerly incarcerated or detained people;

  • have a clear perspective on how their work fits into the larger movement to end mass criminalization and mass incarceration;

  • are accountable to their community and also work in collaboration, coalition, and/or networks with other organizations to build power;

  • have a clear and identifiable movement goal for systemic change that corresponds to the 4 strategic areas of funding mentioned above; and

  • have a clear leadership development model.


  • Groups that operate in difficult political environments, e.g. in the presence of hostile and/or racist campaigns, antagonistic public figures, or repressive laws

  • Groups that develop new formerly incarcerated or detained leaders, especially from people who are marginalized within their own community, e.g. poor, homeless, or young people; elders; queer and trans people; people with disabilities, including mental illness; people within already marginalized communities.

  • Leadership development may also include healing or personal transformation work, especially within communities that have endured generations of violence and trauma, and who may be currently enduring state violence.

  • Organizations that have a membership base.

  • Groups that engage in innovative collaborations, building alliances among organizations with diverse backgrounds and common interests. Strong collaborations may include groups with geographic and demographic diversity (such as race, class, income, immigration status, ability & disability, gender & gender identity, sexual orientation, and age)

Our Definitions

Leadership by formerly incarcerated people: We prioritize support to organizations that have formerly incarcerated, detained, and/or people directly impacted by the criminal legal system in positions of leadership, such as Executive Director, Board members or other prominent staff.

We look for at least 25% of the staff and board to be formerly incarcerated people.

Our definition of Incarceration includes:

  • conviction with a subsequent prison sentence;

  • detention in a jail, juvenile detention center or immigrant detention center

  • detention in any government facility against your will

Our definition of directly impacted includes, in priority order:

  • people who have been incarcerated or detained

  • people who have been repeatedly harassed, profiled, interrogated, stopped and/or searched by police or other law enforcement

  • people whose family members and/or loved ones have been incarcerated, detained, or deported, or repeatedly subject to police harassment.

*CJI will change its name from the Criminal Justice Initiative to the Circle for Justice Innovations in January 2019. Quest for Democracy grants will be issued under the name of CJI or the CJI Fund.

[1] CJI will change its name from the Criminal Justice Initiative to the Circle for Justice Innovations in January 2019. Quest for Democracy grants will be issued under the name of CJI or the CJI Fund.