Criminal (In)Justice

Criminal Justice in America is anything but just. Talking with activists in the field is an opportunity to learn more deeply about the breadth of issues. It helps inform my funding decisions.Cathy Raphael, WDN member

Our Vision

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.
  • About 93,000 juveniles are held in detention in the US. Roughly 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 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.

Nation Inside’s Prison Phone Justice campaign challenged prison phone kickbacks and the U.S. prison telephone industry.

Our Current Focus

The Criminal (In)Justice Circle seeks to identify, strengthen, and invest in a broad network of organizations that are working to fundamentally change the unjust criminal justice system. We bring an intersectional approach with a strong gender and racial justice lens to these issues. In 2014, the Circle’s focus is the war on drugs and its disproportionate impact on women and families.

Our Story

We formed in 2008 with the goal of educating ourselves and others through discussion with experts, activists, and those impacted by the system. Our early work focused on supporting the development of a national research report and network-building project that mapped the criminal justice field, including the funding landscape, resources, and issues facing criminal justice funders and organizations. The report, Transcending Boundaries – Strengthening Impact, was published in 2009 and recommended a series of strategies to help close gaps and maximize the impact of existing criminal justice funders.

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. Read more here about one member’s impressions of this experience.

In 2011, the Circle provided seed funding to a new platform for collaboration among grassroots criminal justice organizations called Nation Inside. This investment helped pave the way for a major victory in 2013 by the Prison Phone Justice campaign, co-led by Nation Inside, the Center for Media Justice, and the Human Rights Defense Center. In August of 2013, the Federal Communications Commission voted to reduce prison phone rates from over $1 a minute to less than 14 cents a minute, reduce fees, force companies to provide data, prevent additional fees to deaf inmates, and eliminate kickbacks. This will keep more money in the hands of millions of working families – mostly women of color.

In March 2012, the circle partnered with the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University to organize the panel event No Right to be a Mother: Women in Prison to mark International Women’s Day, featuring moderator Professor Joan Petersilia, and panelists Susan Burton (A New Way of Life), Robin Levi (Justice Now), and Hamdiya Cooks (Legal Services for Prisoners with Children). View the video of the event here.

Recent educational efforts have focused on understanding and supporting Ban the Box campaigns as an effective strategy to change the individual and structural discrimination faced by formerly incarcerated people in gaining employment.

In 2013, the Criminal (In)Justice Circle developed a funding docket to award a multi-year grant to Nation Inside. They also provide technical assistance, strategy planning, and communications training to increase campaign efficacy. The docket also included a proposal to support All of Us or None (AOUON) to hold a national gathering of formerly incarcerated people in 2015. Founded by formerly incarcerated people, AOUON creates community, promotes leadership, and advocates for this marginalized population.

Our Partners

Women’s Foundation of California - Race, Gender and Human Rights Donor Circle
Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University
Nation Inside
All of Us or None