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 low-income and communities of color, and women are bearing the majority of these traumatic costs.  The U.S. criminal justice system is our form of apartheid. Almost one in four women and two of five Black women have an incarcerated relative. Families often live hundreds of miles away from the prison location, making it almost impossible for visitation and prohibitively expensive for families to stay in contact with incarcerated loved ones.

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.
  • The number of women in prison has been increasing at nearly 1.5 times the rate of men, and 85% of incarcerated women are serving time for non-violent crimes.
  • African American males are sentenced to prison terms that are an average of 20-50 times longer than white males convicted of the same drug crimes.
  • Over 2.3 million men in America are in prison — about half for drug crimes. Seventy percent of all men imprisoned are Black or Latino. Thirty years ago, before the “War on Drugs” was implemented, there were only 300,000 people in the American prison system.

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, as well as support the civil rights and leadership of formerly incarcerated people.

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. The Circle’s focus is on the disproportionately negative impact of the criminal justice system on women and families, particularly in communities of color. We bring an intersectional approach with a strong gender and racial justice lens to these issues. To follow updates on the Circle’s work, visit our blog.

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.

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.

Other activities included partnering 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 in 2012. View the video of the event here.

Beginning in 2013, the Criminal (In)Justice Circle awarded a multi-year grant to Nation Inside to increase their capacity to scale and support grassroots campaigns led by formerly incarcerated people and their families. After learning about Ban the Box campaigns that address the individual and structural discrimination faced by formerly incarcerated people in gaining employment, the Circle provided multi-year support to All of Us or None (AOUON) to organize a national gathering of formerly incarcerated people in 2015. Last year, the Circle added the National Advocates for Pregnant Women to their funding docket, which was inspired by the Circle’s educational programs that focused on the gendered impact of the War on Drugs.

Our Partners

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