Soros Justice Fellowships

The Soros Justice Fellowships fund outstanding individuals to undertake projects that advance reform, spur debate, and catalyze change on a range of issues facing the U.S. criminal justice system. The fellowships are part of a larger effort within the Open Society Foundations to reduce the destructive impact of current criminal justice policies on the lives of individuals, families, and communities in the United States by challenging the overreliance on incarceration and extreme punishment, and ensuring a fair and accountable system of justice.

Fellows receive funding ($58,700–$110,250) primarily through the following two categories:

Advocacy Fellowships

The Soros Justice Advocacy Fellowships fund lawyers, advocates, grassroots organizers, researchers, and others with unique perspectives to undertake full-time criminal justice reform projects at the local, state, and national levels. Projects may range from litigation to public education to coalition building to grassroots mobilization to policy-driven research. Advocacy Fellowships are 18 months in duration, may be undertaken with the support of a host organization, and can begin in the spring or fall of 2017.

Media Fellowships

The Soros Justice Media Fellowships support writers, print and broadcast journalists, bloggers, filmmakers, and other individuals with distinctive voices proposing to complete media projects that engage and inform, spur debate and conversation, and catalyze change on important U.S. criminal justice issues. The Media Fellowships aim to mitigate the time, space, and market constraints that often discourage individuals from pursuing vital but marginalized, controversial, or unpopular topics in comprehensive and creative ways. Media Fellowships are 12 months in duration, and fellows are expected to make their projects their full-time work during the term of the fellowship. Projects can begin in either the spring or fall of 2017.

In addition, for 2017 the Soros Justice Fellowships and the Open Society Foundations’ Youth Exchange are jointly piloting a new fellowship category specifically for young activists between the ages of 18 and 25:

Youth Activist Fellowships

The Soros Justice Youth Activist Fellowships will support outstanding individuals aged 18 to 25 to take on projects of their own design that address some aspect of the U.S. criminal justice system. Projects can range from public education and training, to grassroots organizing and policy advocacy, to social media campaigns and other forms of creative communications. Youth Activist Fellowships can be either 12 or 18 months in duration and must be undertaken in partnership with a host organization. Projects can be full-time or part-time, and can begin anytime between May and November 2017. Youth Activist Fellowships come with an award of $60,000 for full-time, 18-month projects (award pro-rated for part-time or 12-month projects), as well as access to a range of training and professional development opportunities.

Eligibility Criteria

All projects must, at a minimum, relate to one or more of the following U.S. criminal justice reform goals: reducing mass incarceration, challenging extreme punishment, and promoting fairness and accountability in our systems of justice. Please carefully review the complete guidelines for more details on the specific requirements for each category of fellowships. 

We strongly encourage applications for projects that demonstrate a clear understanding of the intersection of criminal justice issues with the particular needs of low-income communities, communities of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, women and children, and those otherwise disproportionately affected by harsh criminal justice policies; as well as applications for projects that cut across various criminal justice fields and related sectors, such as education, health and mental health, housing, and employment.

Also, we in particular welcome applications from individuals directly affected by, or with significant direct personal experience with, the policies, practices, and systems their projects seek to address (e.g., applicants who have themselves been incarcerated, applicants who have a family member or loved one who has been incarcerated and whose fellowship project emerges from that experience, or applicants who are survivors of violence or crime).

Ineligibility Criteria

The program does NOT fund the following:

  • enrollment for degree or nondegree study at academic institutions, including dissertation research
  • projects that address criminal justice issues outside the United States (applicants themselves, however, can be based outside the United States, as long as their work directly relates to a U.S. issue)
  • lobbying activities

Those interested in the fellowship should first download and review the complete fellowship guidelines. Applicants are required to submit a letter of intent (LOI) of no more than two pages, single spaced, that describes the proposed project. A resume or bio should also accompany the LOI (along with a work sample for Media applicants). From the initial pool of LOIs, we will select a limited number of applicants to submit full proposals. Full proposals are accepted by invitation only.

Applications for all of the fellowships described above (Advocacy, Media, Youth Activist) must be submitted online (the online system will begin accepting materials on September 9, 2016). Applicants who are uncertain whether some aspect of their proposed project fits within the parameters of the fellowships guidelines or whether the project is otherwise likely to be of interest may submit an email inquiry. The email should provide a brief (no more than 200 words) description of the proposed project, as well as some background information on the applicant, and should be sent to: [email protected]. Please do not submit an email inquiry before reviewing the appropriate documents.