This April we celebrate Second Chances Month — a time to recognize and honor individuals and organizations that are working hard every day to make real second chances — and sometimes first chances–possible for those impacted by the justice system.
“It’s nearly impossible for people with histories of incarceration or with criminal records to get their lives back, not only because of long-held stigmas, but also because of limited access to the very things folks need to succeed, like jobs, housing, and community support,” said Ana Zamora, Criminal Justice Director at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. “That’s why we’re supporting groups out there working to break down barriers, get laws changed, and provide new opportunities for people on their journey to rebuild.”
As part of CZI’s Criminal Justice Reform program, launched in 2017, we’re announcing our support for several organizations doing important work on the front lines of issue areas like access to education, reentry, restorative justice, record expungement, and more:
- Operation Restoration: Based in New Orleans, Operation Restoration is an organization directed by formerly incarcerated leader Syrita Steib-Martin. Their mission is to give women the tools to successfully reenter society through the advancement of education, employment training, and opportunity identification. Funding from CZI specifically supports Operation Restoration’s work to organize Unlock Higher Ed to restore Pell eligibility to people in prison, and to advance other policies to increase educational access for students with criminal convictions.
- Community Success Initiative (CSI): CSI’s vision is to help create communities where people discover their potential, set worthy goals for their lives, and take action in a positive way, with a focus on assisting men and women who find themselves entangled in the criminal justice system. CZI is supporting CSI’s leadership on the North Carolina Second Chance Alliance, a statewide alliance of people with criminal records, their family members, service providers, congregations, community leaders and concerned citizens that have come together to address the causes of criminal records and the barriers they create to successful reentry.
- Common Justice: CZI is proud to partner with Common Justice, an organization that develops and advances solutions to violence that transform the lives of those harmed and foster racial equity without relying on incarceration. Common Justice operates the first alternative-to-incarceration and victim-service program in the United States that focuses on violent felonies in the adult courts. It’s a model that seeks accountability without the use of prison, and true healing for all parties involved.
- Community Legal Services of Philadelphia: Has provided free civil legal assistance to more than one million low-income Philadelphians. CZI is partnering with CLS to help ensure successful implementation of Pennsylvania’s recently passed clean slate legislation.
- A New Way of Life Reentry Project provides housing, case management, pro bono legal services, advocacy, and leadership development for women rebuilding their lives after prison. The organization also works to change state and local laws, policies and regulations through advocacy and community organizing.
- Californians for Safety & Justice: A nonprofit working with Californians from all walks of life to replace prison waste with common sense solutions that create safe neighborhoods and save public dollars. CZI specifically supports CSJ’s #TimeDone Campaign, which organizes people living with past convictions and raises awareness of the extreme barriers they and their families continue to face long after they’ve paid their debt. The campaign, in partnership with local organizations across the state, aims to eliminate these harmful legal obstacles and build power to ensure public policies advance the safety and well-being of communities.
- We’d also like to recognize our existing partners at the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), which helps people returning home from incarceration access the resources and support needed to stabilize their lives, develop a work history, and build skills and conﬁdence. To date, REDF’s partners have earned over $603 million in revenue and employed over 31,000 people (and counting). And our partners at The Last Mile, which prepares incarcerated individuals for successful reentry through business and technology training.
Today, one in two Americans have an immediate family member that is currently or formerly incarcerated. Many more are survivors of crime. The reach and impact of our criminal justice system is massive– and too often, it neither holds people accountable nor helps them build a constructive path back to a new life after prison. Mounting evidence also shows that for the most part, the current system fails to make our communities safer. As stated by Daniele Sered, Executive Director of Common Justice, in her new book Until We Reckon, “If incarceration worked to secure safety, we would be the safest nation in all of human history.”
“At CZI, we’re interested in rethinking how the justice system can do a better job of supporting the people it touches — both crime survivors and people who have committed crimes — in making our neighborhoods safer and changing the trajectory of their lives for the better,” added Zamora. “It’s about understanding that yes, people do make mistakes, but that we also have an incredible ability to learn, to grow as people, to forgive ourselves and others, and to make a comeback — often against all odds.”