CJI has been a powerful partner in BreakOUT!’s work in New Orleans, LA and understands that ending mass incarceration in this country won’t come simply through a couple of policy wins or getting a couple of the right people in office, but rather will take a movement — built from the ground up, with resilient leadership from communities directly impacted by injustices.
— Wesley Ware, Co-Director of BreakOUT!, CJI Grantee
Milan Nicole Sherry, Youth Organizer with BreakOUT!, a CJI Grantee, and members

Milan Nicole Sherry, Youth Organizer with BreakOUT!, a CJI Grantee, and members

CJI is an innovative grant making collaborative made up of community organizers, activists, donors, and donor-activists.

Together we identify, fund, and nurture grassroots organizations led by those most impacted working to transform the criminal justice system in the United States.

CJI’s work falls into four categories:

  • grantmaking

  • political education

  • advocating for the work of our grantees and lifting up their work in funding spaces

  • and influencing the field of philanthropy toward holistic solutions that support deep systemic change

Who We Fund

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

CJI funds organizations that:

  • are focused on community organizing, often with member-led structures. CJI funds both groups focused exclusively on criminal justice as well as multi-issue organizations with targeted criminal justice work intended to build the movement.

  • have a clear vision for how their work will bring about systemic change and strengthen the larger movement to transform the criminal justice system

  • include the leadership of formerly incarcerated people, those directly impacted by state violence, or the criminal justice system in general

  • are part of intersectional networks, alliances or coalitions that are building power for transformational change

What it looks like

We meet as a circle twice a year. In the spring, we engage in dynamic political education with organizers and activists around specific criminal justice issues. These meetings are often open to interested people who are not members of the circle. This political education helps us determine our funding focus for the coming grant cycle. 

In the fall, we put out a Request for Proposals and receive grant applications from organizations from all over the country. In the winter, we meet to discuss the applications and make grant decisions together. Throughout the year, we program political education calls and events, participate in movement funding conversations, and circle members participate in committees to better support the growth and impact of our work.

We use fundraising as an opportunity to organize donors and other funders to learn about and support the work of our grantees.

CJI at work at February 2015 Grant Making Meeting

CJI at work at February 2015 Grant Making Meeting

The Key Elements of CJI's Collaborative Grant Making

  • Shared decision-making empowers activists to take on large-scale agendas that would not move forward without resources

  • Donors bring diverse skills in the context of shared activist leadership

  • Long-term relationships help sustain resources and organizing efforts

  • Deliberate airing of class, race, gender-related and sexual identity issues, in a manner consistent with participatory justice principles, builds strong relationships and a durable organization

  • Independence of the circle allows for nimble funding decisions in changing political landscapes

The Impact of CJI's Funding Model

The Justice Committee, CJI grantee

The Justice Committee, CJI grantee

CJI’s Innovative Funding Model helps broaden the philanthropic options available for criminal justice organizing by promoting a funding model that builds community among people with vast differences of experience, identity, and experience of the criminal justice system around the shared goal of transforming the system toward healing and justice. This model enacts the kind of deep community work necessary to grow social justice movements by transforming the way we engage with each other.

CJI's Model

  • Supports the leadership of those directly impacted by incarceration and criminalization in directing movement resources, while engaging the deep support of those not directly impacted

  • Provides an alternative, progressive model for giving that institutionalizes cross-class accountability and power-sharing that appeals to the next generation of donors

  • Incubates seedling organizations that build community power and awareness from the bottom up

  • Creates opportunity for working and learning in a group with differences of class, race, culture, age, gender, sexual orientation, experience with incarceration for the benefit of all

  • Results in creative and transformative funding decisions that shift resources to critical and under resourced areas of the movement