Prison Reform: People vs. Profit?

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40 Years after launching the War on Drugs, 46 years since passing the Voting Rights Act, and 63 years since ratifying the UN Declaration of Human Rights, America is a nation of unparalleled incarceration.  The economic and legal culture has allowed for-profit prisons to turn over $3 Billion in profits last year.  Furthermore, for-profit corporations operate over 50% of detention facilities for children.

For-Profit prisons, prior to the Citizens United ruling (allowing unfettered campaign contributions), have given over $7 million dollars towards elections in the past five cycles.  These corporations are drafting anti-immigrant legislation to drive up the amount of people spending a single day or an entire year in their facilities. One message from CEO to shareholders (inciting whatever individual influence they wield) is that there cannot be any decriminalization of drug or immigration policies.

The organizations, advocates, lawyers, researchers, convicted people, and service providers who generally stand at the front lines represent so many people fighting the power of prison profits.  Non-Profits vs. For-Profits.  In 2008, philanthropic giving to the Criminal Justice sector (of all varieties) totaled just over $200 million.

A burgeoning network is in development to facilitate better cooperation and innovation on the side of People.  Join the network by clicking THIS LINK.  CJFAN is currently in structural development with the Advisory Committee and Network Building Team; networkers (including web 2.0 developers) are encouraged to get involved.

For more information on the growing overt influence of profits upon criminal justice policies, read the Justice Policy Institute report,

Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies

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Posted by on July 11, 2011 in Commentary


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Get Connected In the Criminal Justice Funder & Activist Network

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Dear Friends,
The Criminal Justice Funder & Activist Network (CJFAN) is a new initiative that seeks to promote more funding, communication, and innovation in the CJ sector.  The Network will help advocates, service providers, affected communities and funders work together to secure a more just and humane criminal justice system.

CLICK HERE and fill out the Get Connected Questionnaire and join the Network!

Feel free to forward this survey to others in the field, and those at intersections with other fields, to include them in this opportunity.  The police, courts, prisons, and lifelong mark of a criminal record form a crossroads of human rights, civil rights, racial inequality, health care, education, mental illness, poverty, housing, arts, and culture.   

Thank you for your contributions and your participation,


Bruce Reilly
Interim Coordinator
Criminal Justice Funder & Activist Network
Read the networking report, and learn more about CJFAN:
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Posted by on July 11, 2011 in Collaboration


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How to Collaborate, and On Which Issues?

The May 11th webinar accompanying the release of a new report (Transcending Boundaries: Strengthening Impact) was attended by over 80 people representing over 65 organizations. Many points of the criminal justice field were represented, whether identifying as activists, advocates, or funders, and they peppered the Q & A session with excellent queries.

The questions and comments break down into three primary areas:

  1. How to collaborate, and on which issues?
  2. How to develop the Funder side of the network?
  3. How to conduct comprehensive and innovative outreach/involvement?

This post will take on the first section of questions:

1. “How is the ‘Core’ defined?”

The core for this report came from research done regarding who was undertaking criminal justice issues in America. On the funders side, surveys were sent to 97 entities with work addressing criminal justice with 59 replies. As a far more limited number to work with, this group is indisputably the full core in the field.

On the “Organizations” side, it is far more difficult to narrow down. In 2008, there were 23,172 registered non-profits doing work in the criminal justice field. Of this number, surveys were sent to 98 organizations and 67 completed it. For report purposes, the number had to be similar to the funders, but it is in no way an exclusive group. These organizations were known to the research team (consisting of experienced activists and funders in the field) and were generally very large, or very small- with none reporting an operational budget between $500,000 and $1 million.

Moving forward, the Core will consist of those who are most committed to developing this network. They are also the hubs, as the research shows; those “who know everyone,” just like in a social network. For example, Drug Policy Alliance was not surveyed, yet as both a funder and an advocacy organization they are central to the work in this area and were present on the webinar.  Having cultivated a core of activist organizations, DPA facilitates collaboration through conference calls and gatherings, providing space for each to update the others on their work.  The grantees, in turn, educate DPA about what is going on in the field so they may parlay that into national policy advocacy.

Another example is the multi-dimensional effort that developed when the U.S. Supreme Court chose to hear the issue of Juvenile Life Without Parole in 2009.  Graham v Florida and Sullivan v Florida were cases in need of a legal team and public advocacy.  People from across the criminal justice spectrum came together around an important issue at a critical time.  Funding had to be procured outside of typical grant cycles and the entire process was a success.  Juvenile Life Without Parole is finally “Cruel and Unusual Punishment,” and the fight for fair sentencing continues.  The need to tackle such an issue is merely one indication of where the political compass is pointing in the 21st century.

2. “One challenge to collaboration (Movement Building) is that we all do not necessarily share a long term vision of success. Some people may want abolition of prisons, while others may hope for ‘better’ prisons. Might there be support to encourage these two camps to consider how their work can complement, rather than undercut, each other?”

This is an ongoing dilemma around the nation, not limited to the criminal justice arena. One can see many internal conflicts such as Civil Union vs. Gay Marriage, where elements of a Movement have different end goals. Or those who would regulate marijuana, but no other drugs, opening the possibility of a Drug Reform movement losing major support once that happens. It is important to recognize what is viewed as a step along the way towards a larger victory, and what is seen as an end unto itself. Perhaps identifying that even though the ends are different, there may be a great deal of work to collaborate on which serves all purposes.

The questioner here seems to appreciate that is not the aim of the CJFAN to set forth a decree about “Abolition and Reform,” but rather develop the means for members to explore the alliance, reduce criticisms, and facilitate unity of these camps. This sounds like an excellent idea for several members to develop, as we move forward.

3. “Another way to amplify our voice and make the Movement stronger is through Unity of Purpose. We need to identify priority issues, and funders need to inform activists about the limitations of their political influence.”

As the last question pointed out, the need to develop our commonality is far more important than our differing approaches to the Civil and Human Rights struggle. A properly functioning CJFAN will not serve to lay down what the Unity of Purpose is, but rather will exist to accommodate those differences, and allow the interconnections to happen. Those within it working on “Movement Building” or “Messaging” would be those who see it as paramount to further develop this element. One can see by “The New Jim Crow,” that Michelle Alexander’s text is already becoming a starting point for many people’s understanding that race cannot be extracted from the analysis.

Funders being more communicative of their own capacities, be it money or influence, speaks to the possibilities of broadening relationships beyond grant proposals.

4. “How are the Priority Areas defined? Are any people in the Network interested in substance abuse, or mental health issues, as they connect to prisons?

The research contained in Transcending Boundaries indicates there are several broad categories that show considerable interest. These included:

  • Racial and ethnic disparities;
  • Alternatives to Incarceration;
  • Justice Reinvestment (redirecting incarceration funds to prevention);
  • Reentry, particular focus on employment.

A key notation here is that although there was broad support for these leading focus areas, this does not prevent a small group from collaborating in an area that may ultimately be the strongest, most visible, most successful campaign. Furthermore, as everyone in the field can recognize, the strongest interests represent a variety of categories within them. Each with various strategies and tasks. Ultimately the Priority Areas will surface through the efforts of Network members’ collaborations.

5. “Say more about how we deal with the power dynamics of money and work, recognizing the challenges in that area. What does it mean for funders to work differently with advocates? Can you give some concrete examples?”

6. “How would this operate?”

The Network Building Team is essential here. With many technological possibilities, it is a matter of finding the base funding for a coordinator, and convening the right team to develop the path of least resistance. There are examples out there, or pieces of a whole, such as,, and … but this is a discussion yet to be held.

In the near term, an Organizing Survey will go out to the original report participants, those who were on the Webinar, the organizations listed by report participants, and others it is forwarded out to. This is meant to be inclusive, to engage those who are interested in all points of the spectrum. The coordinator will activate leadership within each of the groups, be they Network Building tasks or Issue-Based Workgroups.

7. “How will we know the Network is successful? What outcomes are sought?

The Network will be ultimately successful when it is an afterthought, like the television frequencies, cell phone towers, or a well-paved road. The short-term goals are to develop functional working partnerships amongst those who are already doing shared work, albeit without the broadest and deepest collaborations.

Doubling the philanthropic giving to criminal justice, from 1% to 2% would be considered one element of success. Marking a large scale policy victory, as a result of coordination among smaller organizations, would be a considerable success. Launching cohesive media campaigns that emphasize the racial/ethnic impact, in an era of constraining budgets driving prison reform, would be a lasting success.

A national reduction in the prison population, something which has perhaps never happened in the history of America, is certainly an outcome being sought.

What are your answers / comments / responses?  Add them below…

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Posted by on May 19, 2011 in Collaboration


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Will Oprah Make “The New Jim Crow” Her Book of the Month?

“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Color-Blindness” is the most important book affecting Black America sinceAlex Haley wrote “Roots.”  The American Prison Industrial Complex, which would make the Ku Klux Klan blush, is not just an issue for the People of Color being targeted as caged commodities, it is impacting all of us- police and prisons are steadily destroying our families and neighborhoods while bankrupting the taxpayers.  America needs to acknowledge this.


Call on Oprah to invite Law Professor Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” on to her show in its monumental waning episodes- and make this one of her Books of the Month.  She has the power of “cross-over appeal,” as does this already successful new book written about in The New York Times and practically every space dealing with literature or social justice.  America needs to know that there are more Black men in prison than there were slaves in 1850, and get a proper overview of the gulags across the nation, the twisted industry it serves, and that only a mass Movement can stop this.


Around the country, people are forming study groups about “The New Jim Crow.”  Find out more

There is a growing acknowledgment that the time to stop the inhumanities of our American Prison Systems is now.  For an excellent insight as to the horrid conditions, and the prisoners’ will to resist, read another new book: “An American Radical: Political Prisoner In My Own Country,” by Susan Rosenberg.  Read more on her incredible book in my prior post.
As a member of the national Steering Committee of the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement. I can tell you that (1) Tens of thousands of prisoners and their family members are watching Oprah every day; and (2) Michelle Alexander is one of the few academics who gets the story straight.

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Posted by on May 4, 2011 in Take Action


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Coming Soon…

A report by the Criminal Justice Funders & Activists Network will highlight the research of how well we are connected in the efforts to reform and repeal the criminalization policies of our nation.

Data was compiled from dozens of organizations and funders, identifying our strengths and weaknesses, and conceptualizing a future network that is more interactive, efficient, and powerful.

The report will be released next week, with follow-up over the months ahead!


Posted by on April 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

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