A Journey to Equitable Justice

Posted on May 23, 2018 | Hanh Le, Weissberg Foundation

Where are we?

This month, the Weissberg Foundation launched our new Equitable Justice program area and fund. Through Equitable Justice, we will support organizations and efforts building the leadership and advocacy capacity of system-impacted women, girls, trans, and gender non-conforming individuals of color to advance equity and change the narrative about who they are, what our criminal justice system is, and what it can be.

How did we get here?

This isn’t our first foray into criminal justice funding. Over the last 30 years, we’ve funded a variety of organizations working in, alongside, against, or as alternatives to the criminal justice system. With each grant, we’ve learned more about the issues the grantee seeks to address, about the root causes leading to those issues, about who’s funding what, and about people, including who serves, who is served, who has power, who doesn’t, and who should.

Through all this, we’ve strengthened our understanding of race, gender, our country’s criminal justice system, and the deep, inequitable impacts it has on individuals, their families, and our communities. Yet the more time we’ve spent with those who have themselves been in, have had loved ones involved with, or live in communities disproportionately affected by the system, perhaps the most important thing we’ve learned is that there are limits to our knowledge and that those who have been most directly impacted by the system are the most appropriate to lead its reform.

Where do we want to go?

We envision an American justice system that is equitable, fair, and rightsized; values women, girls, trans, and gender non-conforming individuals; and ceases to inflict pain, perpetuate racism, and uphold patriarchy.

As a small foundation, we pay particular attention to points of leverage where our dollars, our voice, our ability to collaborate and convene, and our commitment to strengthening the social sector can have the greatest impact. We have long believed that investments in women can have outsized impacts on their lives, their families, and their communities; and over the years, we’ve learned about the power of advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement to make the systems level changes necessary to advance equity.

According to The Sentencing Project, since 1980, the number of women in U.S. prisons has increased more than 700%, outpacing the increase of men in prison by more than 50%. Of the women behind bars, a disproportionate number are individuals of color. It is clear to us that the current U.S. criminal justice system does not accommodate the unique needs and circumstances of women, girls, trans, and gender non-conforming individuals, and it disproportionately harms people of color. For the system to be truly just and equitable, the voices of these individuals need to be at the center of efforts to change it.

How will we get there?

The 2018-2020 Equitable Justice Fund is the inaugural grantmaking round of this new program area. The fund will support small, community-based organizations that are building the leadership and advocacy capacity of system-impacted women, girls, trans, and gender non-conforming individuals of color to advance equity and change the narrative about who they are, what our criminal justice system is, and what it can be. For now, funding will be focused in states where the foundation has a trustee presence, so Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, and Washington, DC.

Through Equitable Justice, we hope to build:

  • STRENGTH: Grant partners are better resourced to build the power of system-impacted women, girls, trans, and gender non-conforming individuals and advance a truthful narrative about our criminal justice system.
  • VISIBILITY: Grant partners, their work, and their messages are more visible and compelling to talent, funders, policymakers, the media, and other potential collaborators.
  • PARTNERSHIP: We and other funders more effectively collaborate to support narratives and work most likely to create transformative change in the justice system.
  • SYSTEMS CHANGE: Policymakers are more compelled to advance fair and equitable criminal justice laws and practices.
  • POWER: System-impacted women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals of color have agency to improve their lives and the lives of others, advance policies and practices on issues they deem most critical to them, their families, their communities, and the justice system, and are more valued and respected.

Join us on this journey? Eligible and interested organizations to submit letters of intent by July 13, 2018, so please spread the word about the request for proposals, which can be found here. And reach out to us if you’ve got ideas for how we might collaborate to advance Equitable Justice.

Hanh Le is the former executive director of the Weissberg Foundation, where she oversaw strategy development, stakeholder engagement, grantmaking, and operations. Prior to joining the foundation, she was the chief program officer at Exponent Philanthropy, where she led educational programming, content development, and internal learning efforts. Hanh co-chairs the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers’ Racial Equity Working Group and the Metro-DC chapter of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, and she serves on the boards of Asian American LEAD and North Capital Main Street.

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