by Prism Staff
Across the country, grassroots organizations are fighting for criminal justice reform: advocating for restoration of voting rights, pushing to end pretrial incarceration, dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, and more. Check out these groups working on the ground in major cities nationwide, and learn how you can get involved.
Chicago Community Bond Fund (Chicago, IL)
For the founders of CCBF, the fight to end money bond and pretrial incarceration is personal. Its founding arose from a police confrontation at a 2014 vigil for DeSean Pittman, a 17-year-old who was killed by police, which resulted in five people being incarcerated in Cook County Jail and unable to pay money bond. It took four months to raise the nearly $30,000 to free everyone arrested at the vigil. In the years since its founding, CCBF has raised $300,000 to free 45 people from Cook County Jail or house arrest with electronic monitoring. Donate here to contribute to the fund.
EXPO (Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing) (Milwaukee, WI)
EXPO began in 2014 when formerly incarcerated men and women began to organize to pursue goals of expanding diversion programs, reducing the use of solitary confinement in prisons and in pursuing “ban the box” campaigns for jobs in government. The group is currently part of a campaign to close the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility and make sure it doesn’t get rebuilt, and that the money that’s saved goes to treatment and preventative measures. You can sign a petition to #CLOSEmsdf and visit the campaign website to learn other ways to get involved.
Voice of the Experienced (New Orleans, LA)
Under the leadership of Norris Henderson, this organization founded by formerly incarcerated people is dedicated to restoring the rights of those who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. Recently, they co-hosted a historic presidential forum where for the first time presidential candidates were invited to answer questions about criminal justice reform from those who have been previously incarcerated—three candidates were present. To get involved, join VOTE’s mailing list or attend one of their monthly meetings in cities around Louisiana.
Youth Justice Coalition (Los Angeles, CA)
The organization’s goal is to support and promote policies that fuel mass incarceration in Los Angeles by dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. They use community intervention in schools to prevent police contact and teach young people about legal defense, safety without relying on law enforcement, and political education. YJC has several campaigns designed to prep kids for college rather than prison. Some campaigns promote events that bring together parents, students, teachers, and youth advocates that help promote jobs for teens. Others offer community alternatives to calling 911 and promote an end to police violence. Get involved by donating to one of their multiple campaigns or attending one of their citywide events.
The Texas Civil Rights Project (Austin, TX)
The Texas Civil Rights Project uses legal advocacy and litigation to push for policy changes across the state. The organization focuses on racial and economic justice, criminal justice reform, and voting rights. TCRP recently led a lawsuit to require Texas to provide birth certificates for children born in detention centers, and are also are fighting against discriminatory mail-in ballot practices in the state. To support their work, lawyers can volunteer pro bono legal services. Also, anyone can donate by giving a direct donation through the website, giving an indirect donation by shopping on Amazon, give a grant recommendation, and more.
Families for Justice as Healing (Roxbury, MA)
With over 200,000 women imprisoned in the United States and more than 1 million subject to supervision, the mission of Families for Justice as Healing is “to end the incarceration of women and girls.” Among other projects, FJAH has supported a bill to provide community-based sentencing alternatives to primary caregivers of children and currently advocates for legislation to provide no-cost phone calls to people in jails and prisons. Led by founder Andrea James, a former criminal justice attorney who was sentenced to time in federal prison in 2009, the organization is both “by and for incarcerated women and girls,” and the families of incarcerated people. Donate here to fund their movement, and follow them on Twitter to find out about upcoming events.
Partnership for Safety and Justice (Portland, OR)
PSJ is dedicated to challenging long prison sentences, which disproportionately affect communities of color. Over the years, they have also worked to combat prison expansion in Oregon, preventing two prisons from being opened in the past decade. This has resulted in over $100 million in funds being redirected into local diversion programs, mental health funding, addiction services, and other alternatives to incarceration. They also advocate for stronger resources for the survivors of crime. PSJ offers trainings on how to become an advocate, provides updates on volunteer opportunities, and accepts donations.
Sound off in the comments: Who’s fighting to transform the criminal justice system in your community? Shine a spotlight on a local organization you support.