Dear friend,

Welcome to the second quarterly newsletter of Borealis Philanthropy’s Criminal Justice Initiatives (CJI). In this newsletter, you’ll hear about the visionary, strategic, grassroots organizations led by People of Color that are intervening at the front door of the criminal legal system around policing and pretrial justice, and how two Borealis Funds—Communities Transforming Policing Fund (CTPF) and Spark Justice Fund—are supporting these efforts.

Amidst the explosion of COVID-19 and the recent uprisings against police violence, this quarter has been an exhausting but transformative time for CTPF and SJF grantees, including those who have long advocated for defunding the police.

CTPF grantees in AustinChicagoDCMilwaukee, several cities in North CarolinaNew York CityPhoenixPortland, and Providence have grown or launched campaigns to defund their local police departments and invest in supports that keep communities safe, such as quality, affordable housing, universal health care, community-based mental health services, employment, and youth programming. Their vision for justice is being discussed by political leaders as well as around kitchen tables across the country.

Spark Justice grantees have also intensified their work to bail out people from jail, including protestors who are fighting for racial justice. They are leading nationwide calls for the immediate release of individuals, given the urgent threats posed by COVID-19, an end to money bail, closure of jails, and reinvestment into communities.

During this turbulent time, CJI is working to respond quickly to the multiple needs groups are facing on the ground.

Read up about our latest work below, including new grants announced, grantee victories, and perspectives on what it will take to respond, heal, fund, and win in this moment.

Katayoon Majd & Jeree Thomas, CJI Team

CJI includes the following funds: Communities Transforming Policing Fund (CTPF) invests in local communities to increase police accountability and transparency, while shifting power and resources from the police and the carceral state to communities to create public safety; and Spark Justice Fund (SJF) supports constituent-led grassroots efforts to end money bail, transform pretrial justice, and build power in the communities most impacted by incarceration.

The Communities Transforming Policing Fund Awards Nearly $1 Million to Organizations to Address Police Misconduct and Violence

In June, the Communities Transforming Policing Fund awarded $990,000 to 12 grantees in localities across the country that are building power in communities most impacted by policing. Learn more about the grantees and their work by visiting their websites:

CTPF New Grantee Spotlight: Chicago Torture Justice Center

The Communities Transforming Policing Fund’s newest grantee is the Chicago Torture Justice Center (CTJC), which was created by the 2015 Reparations Ordinance in acknowledgement of the need for repair and healing following decades of police torture under Chicago Police Commissioner Jon Burge. CTJC is the first and only center of its kind in the country. It “seeks to address the traumas of police violence and institutionalized racism through access to healing and wellness services, trauma-informed resources, and community connection.”

Spark Justice New Grantee Spotlight: Frontline Dads

In June, the Spark Justice Fund welcomed new grantee Frontline Dads in Philadelphia to its second-year cohort. Frontline Dads will establish and support a coalition of leaders and organizations directly impacted by the criminal legal system to advocate for alternatives to pretrial detention and electronic monitoring, an end of the use of probation detainers, and the broadening of offenses for which there can be no cash bail. A key focus will be ensuring funds are reinvested from reduced incarceration into community-led supports and services.

Rapid Response Amid the Pandemics of COVID-19 and Police Violence

The Communities Transforming Policing Fund and Spark Justice Fund have collectively awarded $265,000 in rapid response grants since March to help grantees address the intersecting pandemics at this moment. The following grantees received support for a variety of rapid response needs, including organizing against police brutality, bailing out people from jails (including protesters), providing mutual aid, and building their organization’s ability to adapt to social distancing requirements during the pandemic.

Grantee Victories in St. Louis, Phoenix, and San Marcos!

  • After  years of advocacy by the Close the Workhouse Campaign co-led by Spark Justice grantee Action STL, ArchCity Defenders, and Bail Project St. Louis, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen unanimously gave first-round approval to a bill that requires the jail, notorious for its inhumane conditions, to close by December 31. The bill needs one more vote and signature by the Mayor, but “the level of support is a major victory for activists who have been pushing to shutter the building for years.”  A separate bill would reinvest $8 million in the current budget toward community services and supports.
  • In July, the Phoenix Union School District announced it would not renew its contract with the police department.  A coalition of groups including Youth Poder, which is a part of CTPF grantee Poder in Action, joined the successful call for police-free schools.
  • As a result of a year-long advocacy campaign by Spark Justice grantee Mano Amiga, the City of San Marcos (continued)
became the first city in Texas to implement a binding cite and release policy that will require citations instead of arrests for low-level offenses.  Subsequently, the group helped a “cite and divert” program in Hays County, and recently launched Hays County’s first bail fund.

Strengthening Grantee Capacity

From April through June 2020, CJI hosted six capacity building webinars on a range of topics including needs assessments, risk assessments, COVID-19 and Surveillance, protesting during a pandemic, and navigating a new federal law enforcement database. CJI also co-hosted, with other Borealis funds, a Healing Justice Intro Webinar and Institute for grantees, led and facilitated by Cara Page and Erica Woodland.  Grantees also received continued technical assistance and support, particularly around their invest/divest campaigns from Andrea Ritchie, CTPF consultant and co-author of the national #DefundPolice toolkit and budget expert Jared Knowles of Civilytics Consulting. Grantees participated in learning communities supported by the Community Resource Hub, one which focuses on invest/divest, and another on COVID-19 & criminalization.