The Ford Foundation and other philanthropic organizations made a $250 million commitment to helping nonprofits advance criminal justice reform and reentry services, according to the Washington Post.
The Ford Foundation, Blue Meridian Partners, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies formed a partnership that created the Justice and Mobility Fund campaign.
“Our focus is on the drivers of inequality, and there’s no greater contributor to racial inequality than our criminal justice system,” said Darren Walker, Ford Foundation president, to the Post.
Seventy-seven million Americans, or one in three adults, have some type of criminal record, with Black people and members of other communities of color overrepresented in that figure, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, reported the article.
La Tanicia Rogers, 45, was released from federal prison because of the COVID-19 pandemic, after serving 10 years for fraud. Upon her release, Rogers faced a new set of challenges.
“When I got home, my husband was living from paycheck to paycheck and there were all these things I needed,” said Rogers. “I needed everything. I had nothing. I needed clothes, food, hygiene products, glasses. I had made all kinds of doctors appointments. I had doctors appointments for months.”
Rogers turned to Total Community Action, a non-profit organization based in New Orleans, that provides reentry services for returning citizens. Her case manager suggested that she might get help from a new program called the COVID-19 Returning Citizen Stimulus Initiative, which is funded by the Justice and Mobility Fund.
She received nearly $3,000 after applying for the funding. The stimulus initiative has supported reentry programs in 28 cities and has helped close to 10,000 people, according to the article.
“At that point, when people are just coming home, is when the opportunity is actually the greatest to transform lives, yet there’s the least amount of opportunity,” said Mindy Tarlow,
managing director for portfolio strategy and management at Blue Meridian. “Most people who are going through the system have been there before, so reentry is about being able to break that cycle through things like a living-wage job.”
The Justice and Mobility Fund will also support advocacy organizations that work to change criminal justice policy, provide jobs and training and career assistance.
“We have been successful in reducing the spigot of people going into prisons,” said Walker. “But we have millions of people in the system that we need to help now. It’s kind of like with climate change: For years, all the focus was on prevention. Now people are talking about mitigation.”
The Clean Slate Initiative, a national coalition advocating for expunging eligible criminal records, is another recipient of funds. Funds also went to the Vera Institute, which then successfully advocated for Pell grants for incarcerated people to attend college. The institute’s work lifted a 30-year-old ban by Congress on Pell grants, said the article.
Changing policies that hinder opportunities for returning citizens, and changing the attitudes of potential employers have become some of the main goals of the funding initiative.
“It made clear that services that folks need to transition successfully weren’t there, and that was exacerbated because such large numbers were coming out,” said Jim Shelton, chief investment and impact officer at Blue Meridian. “But the evidence is really clear that if you can get people into jobs, especially jobs that pay enough money, then they are less likely to commit crime in general. And so what we are really asking for employers and policymakers to consider is, what does it really mean to give someone a second chance?”