Criminal Justice and Philanthropy’s Response 

Over the last few decades, leaders from across the political spectrum have been working on criminal justice reform.  Many in the Roundtable network have been part of these movements and many of those reforms have benefited individuals and communities across the country; some have not.  

With recent reductions in law-and-order policies and diminishing police resources available in critical markets, philanthropy, nonprofits and policymakers are reconsidering how our country can most effectively address criminal justice issues. By investing in programs and leaders that prioritize community-based, evidence-informed approaches undergirded by sound policies, Philanthropy Roundtable believes charitable donors can improve public safety and provide more pathways to the American dream. 

The Roundtable’s view on criminal justice reform is informed by the following: 

  • Incarceration is a needed response to crime in America, yet more effective policies are needed to address the spectrum of prevention, incarceration, reincarceration and recidivism.  
  • Nonprofits and philanthropy have successfully worked together with government to enact policies including the First Step Act (which reauthorizes the Second Chance Act). We believe more policies like this could accelerate significant strides in further criminal justice reform.  
  • Since people of color and those who are materially poor are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system, we believe all Americans deserve the right to fair treatment and due process in their legal proceedings. 

Given the diversity of viewpoints regarding the most effective approaches to criminal justice, we’re highlighting a diverse group of organizations taking innovative approaches in the criminal justice space: 

  1. Council on Criminal Justice works to advance understanding of the criminal justice policy choices facing the nation and builds consensus for solutions that enhance safety and justice for all. With a wide range of members, the organization redoubled efforts to bridge partisan divides and build common ground for policies rooted in facts, evidence and fundamental principles of justice. The organization works on violence reduction, long prison sentences, racial disparities, veterans in the justice system and more.  
  1. EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute is a nonprofit that provides formerly incarcerated adults with a foundation in the culinary and hospitality industries and a support network for long-term success. In addition to culinary training, students receive free housing, legal services, basic medical care, clothing, job coaching, literary programs and more. Brandon Chrostowski, founder of the organization, created the institute in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2007. Since then its impact has grown to graduate 100 students each year. Chrostowski was named a semi-finalist for the prestigious 2023 James Beard Awards as Outstanding Restaurateur (nationally).  
  1. The Just Trust is on a mission to tackle the incarceration crisis and address public safety side by side. By partnering with organizations across the political and ideological spectrum, The Just Trust helps advance smart solutions to shrink the footprint of the justice system in American lives, and create a system that prevents crime, centers safety and fosters real accountability, rehabilitation and healing. Their core activities include strategic advising, real-time public opinion and messaging research, narrative work and grantmaking. 
  1. Manhattan Institute‘s public safety work advances creative, evidence-based policy ideas for better policing, public safety and criminal justice. From reports, interviews, commentary and policy recommendations, their team impacts myriad issues related to public safety and the criminal justice system.  
  1. Prison Fellowship believes a restorative approach to prisoners, former prisoners and all those affected by crime and incarceration can make communities safer and healthier. Founded on the conviction that all people are created in God’s image and no life is beyond God’s reach, the organization seeks to bring an amazing awakening to new hope and life purpose. Those who once broke the law are transformed and mobilized to serve their neighbors, replacing the cycle of crime with a cycle of renewal. 
  1. The First 72+ mission is to stop the cycle of incarceration by fostering independence and self-sustainability through education, stable and secure housing and employment, health care and community engagement. Through the leadership and wisdom of formerly incarcerated people, the First 72+ transforms the re-entry experience into one that builds on the strengths and abilities of people returning home from prison and ensures they, their families and communities are given the greatest opportunity to grow and thrive. 

The above organizations are taking an impactful approach to addressing criminal justice issues. Given the complexity of the criminal justice system and its impact on communities throughout our country, we recognize no one organization can fully address the nuances we face. But we do believe collective learning and action will lead to more effective and meaningful outcomes for individuals and communities.  

If you are interested in learning more about funding criminal justice and community related initiatives, please contact Senior Director of Programs, Esther Larson. 

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