CJI is requesting proposals from grassroots organizations working to transform the current U.S. criminal justice system. 

This year CJI will fund groups that are engaged in strategic movement building efforts that build linkages with other sectors of the broader criminal justice movement.


The Criminal Justice Initiative (CJI), began in 2000, born out of a growing concern with prison expansion, mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on marginalized communities, especially in black and brown communities. The CJI Circle is an innovative grant-making panel comprised of donors, donor-activists and community organizers, some of whom have experienced incarceration. We share authority and a passion for supporting meaningful, transformative and systemic change of the criminal justice system. Understanding the limited funding for progressive criminal justice organizing, this Circle was launched as a means of creating a new source of support for this critical work. CJI’s mission is to end mass criminalization and mass incarceration in the U.S.  We seek to support work that will end the criminal justice system as we know it. 

Each year we raise the grant-making funds and convene the Circle for political education, and to determine our grant-making focus. The Circle then agrees on the RFP focus and the RFP distribution. We reconvene to evaluate proposals and make grant decisions. Given this process, there is currently no recurring annual deadline or guarantee of multi-year funding for CJI applicants. 

This year the application process is online and does not require an invitation to apply. 

CJI’s 2017 Funding Priorities

Criminal justice activists have long been involved in building a grassroots base of support to transform the criminal justice system. In recent years, high profile cases combined with budget shortfalls have led the media, the public, and elected officials to focus greater attention on alternatives to mass incarceration which activists have been proposing for years. CJI wants to build on this momentum.

This year CJI will fund groups that are engaged in strategic movement building efforts that build linkages--through alliances, collaborations, networks, partnerships, etc. -with other sectors of the broader criminal justice movement.

CJI defines movement building as: An ongoing collaboration, both within and across communities, intended to eradicate core systems of injustice. For this grant application, collaborations may include those among grassroots or community organizations and/or between grassroots/community organizations, and people or groups working with transparency and integrity inside the institutions they seek to transform. 

Successful strategies should promote new visions and viable solutions for long term change, while offering new approaches to challenging the status quo and pressing for change. They should also develop community leadership through increased political awareness, skills building, and/or healing practices.  

General Funding Criteria

CJI will only fund the following:

  • Organizations with a demonstrated commitment to including the leadership of people who have been incarcerated (defined as confinement in prison or jail; a juvenile, immigrant, or military detention facility, or a mental institution), and others who have been directly impacted by the system, as well as children and/or their families;
  • Organizations committed to achieving community change through organizing, including changes in policies, institutions, or other systems of control. 
  • Organizations with budgets of $550,000 or less. If you are under the umbrella of a larger organization, please define your relationship with that organization. 
  •  While we fund new and previous grantees, CJI will ONLY consider previous grantees that have provided a CJI Progress Report with information about their most-recent CJI-funded work.
  • Organizations that provide culturally appropriate healing/inner transformational programs that are connected to the criminal justice movement. We believe that healing is important to develop leadership among those most impacted by the criminal justice system, and to disrupt the cycle of incarceration.

New Funding Criteria

  • Organizations that have received 5 or more CJI grants are now REQUIRED to complete a short Long-term Grantee Evaluation Form. This must accompany the organization’s application and proposal.
  • Organizations MUST meet the application deadline with all their required attachments. In order to accommodate an increased number of proposals due to an open application process, CJI will hold applicants strictly to the application deadline. 
  • CJI has an online application process through Submittable, which is linked on our website, http://www.criminaljusticeinitiative.org/applyforgrants/

Process and Timeline

An organization wishing to apply to CJI should complete the online application with Submittable. If there are technical questions about the application process, a Submittable staff person will be able to help you. 

 If you have questions about your organization’s eligibility, or the meaning of a question on the application, you are encouraged to reach out to Aleah Bacquie Vaughn at aleahb@solidago.org BEFORE the deadline.

All applications are read and reviewed by a Pre-screen Team, comprised of one staff person, one donor and one activist. Those that fit the criteria are then passed on to the members of the Circle to read.

  • Applications must attach the required documents such as budgets, tax-exempt letter, organization demographics chart, etc. to be considered. 
  • Applications from former grantees who received grants in 2016 MUST include a completed Progress Report to be considered. 
  • Organizations that have received a total of 5 or more CJI grants MUST submit a Long-term Grantee Evaluation Form to be considered. 

The deadline for this application is  FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2016. Grant decisions will be made by the CJI Circle, which convenes in mid March of 2017. Grant announcements will be made in late March of 2017, with grants awards soon thereafter. 

CJI Funding Preferences: 

  • Groups that operate in difficult political environments, e.g. in the presence of hostile campaigns, antagonistic public figures, or repressive laws
  • Groups that develop new leaders, especially from people who are marginalized within their own community, e.g.-- poor people, homeless people, young people, elders, queer and trans people, formerly incarcerated people, people with mental illness, people with disabilities, people in rural areas and/or on reservations, rancheras etc.-- 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 many be currently enduring state violence.
  • Work that addresses discrimination or abuse against people who have been incarcerated or detained; including discrimination in housing, employment, voting and parental rights; 
  • Work being done in the South, Indian country and rural areas; 
  • Organizations with an identifiable path to leadership for their constituents;
  •  Organizations with an identifiable decision-making process for constituents/members/ or communities;
  • 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), as well as varying experience with incarceration, or detention, etc.