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The Time is Now for Justice Reform In California

By Anuja Mendiratta and Kathryn Snyder, Co-Chairs of the California Criminal Justice Funders Group

Our criminal justice system is broken. It disproportionately impacts and targets communities of color and poor communities, and costs California taxpayers billions a year, money that could otherwise be directed towards more fruitful investments in community development, drug treatment, mental health services, education, and jobs. Our system of mass incarceration does not increase public safety, reduce crime, or bring adequate relief to crime survivors.

For years, reforming California’s criminal justice system seemed beyond grasp. The Supreme Court’s recognition of our overcrowded prisons in 2011, Governor Brown’s subsequent realignment plan in 2012 followed by important sentencing reform measures, and our state’s lingering budget crisis, have all put pressure on the state to fix this broken system.

And the criminal justice advocacy movement is growing. Formerly incarcerated and convicted people and their families are taking leadership in the movement, developing strategic campaigns, and advancing policy advocacy work; a network of transformative prison program providers is creating new ways of engaging with those inside; crime survivors are coming together to promote a different idea of public safety; and groups across many movements are demanding that state, county and local governments divest from prisons, jails and the criminal justice system and reinvest in ways that truly meet community needs and build public safety.

We’ve seen some significant criminal justice reform wins in California over the last few years: Prop 47 (a law that changed certain low-level crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and directs the savings to drug and mental health treatment, programs for at-risk youth, and victims services); Prop 57 (a law that increased parole and good behavior opportunities for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes and allowed judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court); the first major enhancement reform through Senator Holly Mitchell’s RISE Act; the adoption of the Fair Chance Act (Ban the Box on employment applications); moving closer to achieving money bail reform; a bill that allows transgender people to determine their name and gender marker when inside; the formation of the first criminal justice-focused, candidate-facing c4 in California; and other wins.  

It’s also been a busy year for the California Criminal Justice Funders Group (CCJFG). Founded in 2014, we are a network of foundations and individual donors who invest in a wide range of criminal justice reform efforts in California. We come together regularly to share information, learn from one another and from criminal justice advocates and thought-leaders, create collaborative partnerships, and leverage our collective capacity on criminal justice issues to enhance our overall impact in the field.

In 2017, our membership stepped up to lead a diversity of content-rich webinars, site visits, and panel discussions, including a visit to the San Francisco County Women’s Jail; a visit to the Life Learning Academy for youth; and sessions on bail reform, prosecutorial accountability, transformative prison programming, and prison and policing divestment strategies.

2017 also brought us a new fiscal sponsor, and we are excited to partner with the Northern California Grantmakers to increase our membership and impact in 2018. We are already considering sessions in the following areas:

  • Hearing from state legislators about their criminal justice policy change opportunities in Sacramento;
  • The growing role of corporate philanthropic  players like Google, Virgin Unite and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in the criminal justice space;
  • The intersections of immigrant detention and criminal justice;
  • Drug policy reform and how Black and Brown people are engaging in the legal marijuana economy in California;
  • And more!

We invite you to join us. We welcome all funders involved in supporting criminal justice reform in California (as staff from foundations, individual donors, donor-advised funds, etc.) to join the CCJFG. 

The time is now. In 2018, we want to secure bail reform, challenge the school to prison pipeline, reduce the number of people in jails and prisons, and decrease prison spending. Please join us in advancing justice in California.

Anuja Mendiratta is Senior Philanthropic Advisor of the Race, Gender and Human Rights Fund.

Kathryn Snyder is Senior Advisor for Tides & Tides Advocacy.

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