The U.S. Criminal Justice system is having a devastating effect on women, children, families, and communities. Many prisons are located hundreds of miles from the prisoner’s home, making it almost impossible for children to visit their parents or other family members. People of color are disproportionately incarcerated. The U.S. criminal justice system is our form of apartheid.
The statistics speak for themselves:
- With 25% of the world’s prisoners and 5% of the world’s population the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
- Women represent the fastest growing segment of the prison population with 85% of incarcerated women serving time for non-violent crimes.
- Around 93,000 juveniles are held in detention in the US. About 15% are girls. Girls are more likely than boys to be held for status or technical violations (e.g. parole violation).
The Criminal (In)Justice Circle believes that this status quo is unacceptable for our country. We formed in 2008 with the goal of educating ourselves and others through discussion with experts, activists, and those impacted by the system. We want to strategically address the unjust incarceration and warehousing of people of color. Additionally, we aim to expose, report, and prevent human rights abuses inside prisons, and we support the civil rights of formerly incarcerated women, men, and children.
In 2009, the Circle decided to support a national research and network-building project of criminal justice funders and organizations – created with support from the Ford Foundation, and others – that is mapping the criminal justice field. WDN members granted $15,000 in support of a research report that looked at the funding landscape, resources and issues facing criminal justice funders and organizations. The report, “Transcending Boundaries – Strengthening Impact,” recommended a series of strategies to help close gaps and maximize the impact that existing criminal justice funders could have. The report can be accessed from the Criminal Justice Funder & Activist Network (CJFAN) website. The Circle is continuing to explore ways to strengthen and extend this networking strategy. In January 2012, the circle raised $7,650 in support of CJFAN’s second phase.
In May 2010 we traveled to the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, CA – the largest prison for women in the world – for a day of meetings with incarcerated mothers in partnership with the Race, Gender and Human Rights Fund of the Women’s Foundation of California. Among our findings we discovered that the prison library was underfunded and lacking key law books. WDN members and the Women’s Foundation subsequently donated $1,500 for these books. We sought publicity for our intervention with an opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle and a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
In March 2012, the circle leadership worked with the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University to put together a panel event “No Right to be a Mother: Women in Prison” to mark International Women’s Day. Moderated by Professor Joan Petersilia, with panelists Susan Burton (A New Way of Life), Robin Levi (Justice Now), and Hamdiya Cooks (Legal Services for Prisoners with Children), the discussion was attended by nearly 40 people. WDN co-hosted this event, which was supported by $1,500 donated by circle members. View the video of the event here.
Changing the criminal justice system is beyond the reach of any individual donor or organization. It will take a large network, transcending traditional organizational and issue boundaries, to produce real and lasting transformation.
As such, in addition to our education work, the Criminal (In)Justice Circle seeks to identify, strengthen and invest in a broad network of organizations that are working to change criminal justice at a systemic level.
The Women Donors Network Criminal (In)Justice Circle brings both a gender and racial justice lens to these issues.