Borealis Philanthropy Launches New Fund to Transform Pretrial Justice and End Money Bail

July 17, 2019

Today, Borealis Philanthropy announced the launch of the Spark Justice Fund, a new donor collaborative awarding $1,745,000 to eight organizations to end money bail, advance pretrial justice reform, and build power in communities most impacted by incarceration.

The long-term vision of the Fund is to strengthen the capacity of state-based and local grassroots organizations and those who are impacted by the criminal justice system to lead the movement for its transformation. By ending money bail and unjust pretrial detention policies, the work of grantees will ultimately significantly reduce jail populations, decriminalize poverty, and reduce disparities for low-income communities of color, including for women of color and other marginalized populations.

The Fund’s grantees are based in jurisdictions across the country where there is a growing movement for pretrial justice reform—in Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas.

“The increasing momentum for bail reform right now is an opportunity for us to win long-lasting, groundbreaking change,” said Helena Huang, Project Director for the Art for Justice Fund at the Ford Foundation, housed at Rockfeller Philanthropy Advisors. “The organizations we are supporting understand the needs of their communities, are experts on their local context, and have key insights on the criminal justice system based on their own experiences. They are positioned to seize this moment and win a new vision of pretrial justice.”

Pretrial detention policies are one key driver fueling mass incarceration. Almost half a million people are in jail on any given day awaiting trial, and most are incarcerated simply because they cannot afford bail. Strategic efforts to end money bail can dramatically reduce the number of people locked up before and after conviction and advance a more humane model of justice.

Grantees of the fund connect bail reform efforts to a broader and holistic vision of reform.

Watch this clip from the BET series Finding Justice which features SJF grantee Action St. Louis for their work to close a jail commonly known as the Workhouse with unconstitutional and inhumane conditions.

In addition to demands for jail closure and bail reform policies, grantees are campaigning to hold District Attorneys accountable, advocating for reinvestment in community services, and engaging in participatory defense, a model of community-based support as people go through the court system. Embedded in all of these organizing and advocacy efforts is a commitment to a power-building strategy that engages with impacted communities to define problems, solutions, and actions.

“Our organizing strategy is rooted in the value that young people should be supported and empowered to fight for themselves and their communities,” said Josh Glenn, Co-Director of Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project (YASP), a grantee organization based in Philadelphia. “They know the struggles and challenges they face best, and by investing in their creative power and future, we invest in a transformed vision of the future for all of us.”

Read more about the inaugural grantees of the Spark Justice Fund:

Action St. Louis: Our strategy is rooted in deep political education and long-term engagement that expands access to democracy to strengthen the Black electorate in our region and state. We demystify the political process and combat voter apathy by highlighting the connectedness between movement building, voting and racial justice.

Families for Justice as Healing: We will continue to take a dual approach of building solidarity with families to fight for better outcomes while we use that experience and expertise to organize for policy and practice changes that transfer power and resources back to communities.

Free Hearts: We are an organization led by economically disadvantaged women. We believe that in order to have a just society, we must achieve true economic empowerment. For that reason, we believe it is not only crucial to end the money bail system, but to define and take ownership of alternatives to bail that are truly community-based and economically empowering.

Ohio Organizing Collaborative: We are organizing around the issues critical to black families – from criminal justice reform, to a strong safety net, to voting rights. The OOC is bridging the urban-rural divide, and doing it by investing in leadership and campaigns that acknowledge race, not hide from it.

Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN): PLAN is building a diverse and deep base to demand and achieve fundamental reforms around criminal justice and structural racism, economic and gender inequality, immigration reform and climate justice solutions. The time has never been more opportune to build a new aspirational narrative and to shift the worldview of what’s possible.

Southerners on New Ground (SONG): SONG’s overall goal is to build and connect rooted, brave, humble, Southern, feminist, Black, Brown, immigrant, poor and working-class LGBTQ leaders to wage grassroots organizing campaigns around life and death issues. We fight to win non-reformist policy reforms and to shift culture in order to dismantle the prison industrial complex.

Texas Organizing Project Education Fund: We know that in order to create lasting change, we need to get a million people in the streets. Texas needs an institution accountable to, centered and led by Black and Brown, directly impacted people to sustain criminal justice reforms and thus have overall lasting impact on mass incarceration.

Youth Art & Self-empowerment Project: All of YASP’s work centers on the strategy of building the power of young people directly impacted by mass incarceration to challenge and dismantle the systems that have surveilled, criminalized and incarcerated them.

The Spark Justice Fund is a donor collaborative housed at Borealis Philanthropy. Current donors to SJF are the Art for Justice Fund, Ford Foundation, Galaxy Gives, Heising-Simons Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, NoVo Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and Anonymous Donors.

The Fund’s 2019 Advisory Committee includes Amanda Alexander from Detroit Justice Center, Gina Clayton-Johnson from the Essie Justice Group, and Daryl Atkinson from Forward Justice. Founding advisors were Rashad Robinson of Color of Change, Alec Karakatsanis of Civil Rights Corps, and Cherise Fanno Burdeen of Pretrial Justice Institute.

Read our op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy about why philanthropy should invest in the leadership of people who have been impacted by bail and incarceration.