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Foundations Announce 2016 Soros Justice Fellows

NEW YORK—The prison-to-school pipeline. Incarceration and the digital divide. How the child welfare system responds to parental substance use. The long quest for justice by those who suffered racially motivated torture at the hands of Chicago police.

These are just some of the cutting-edge projects being undertaken by the 2016 class of Soros Justice Fellows. The Open Society Foundations is pleased to announce an award of $1.2 million to help fund the work of these emerging and established leaders, who seek to challenge long-standing assumptions underlying the U.S. criminal justice system—and push for change.

“Criminal justice policy is at a critical juncture, with momentum to make meaningful changes to address mass incarceration, sentencing reform, and policing practices, to name just a few issues,” said Leonard Noisette, who leads the Justice team at the Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs and oversees the fellows program. “We are proud to help promote the work of the 2016 class of Soros Justice Fellows, who will add new ideas, new leadership and new voices to a conversation that this country urgently needs.”

The fellows, working in seven different states across the country, will tackle a diverse array of criminal justice policy challenges from both an advocacy and media perspective. Several projects center on the formerly incarcerated—exploring how technology can create opportunities for people returning from prison, what pathways exist to higher education, and what it takes to succeed in the high-stress, fast-paced work environment of the food service industry. Others will examine ways to support survivors of abuse who may themselves face the threat of arrest. Still others will work to lift up the voices of those held in immigration detention, and undertake an effort to reform sex offense laws.  

“We are excited to welcome the 2016 class of fellows,” says Adam Culbreath, who manages the program. “The issues they grapple with are some of the most challenging of our day, and we look forward to their leadership and fresh ideas helping to shape the national debate for years to come.”

To help facilitate their projects, fellows receive a stipend of $58,700 to $110,250 for full-time projects lasting between 12 and 18 months. The class of 2016 fellows join more than 350 others who, since 1997, have received support through the Soros Justice Fellowships to create and clear pathways to justice.

2016 Soros Justice Fellows

Issac J. Bailey, a journalist, will explore the issues of crime, race, punishment, and the effect of incarceration on families across generations.

Steven Czifra will help formerly incarcerated community college students reach their full academic and professional potential by creating a pathway for admission to the University of California, Berkeley.

Eliza Hersh will work to reform California’s broken sex offense registration system, and train legal advocates to bring relief to the people, families, and communities harmed by current laws.  

Teresa Hodge will launch a campaign to promote tech education and opportunities for people returning from prison and to close the digital divide compounded by incarceration.

Mariame Kaba will partner with organizations to support and advocate for women (trans and non-trans) who are survivors of sexual and physical violence but who also live under threat of arrest and incarceration.

Alice Kim and Joey Mogul are writing a book about the four-decade long struggle for justice for survivors of racially motivated police torture under the regime of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, culminating in the passage of unprecedented reparations legislation in May of 2015.

Thomas Lennon and Nick August-Perna will complete Knife Skills, a documentary film examining the human dimension of life after prison and the healing power of good food, as it follows the hectic launch of an haute cuisine French restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, staffed almost entirely by men and women with criminal records.

Ryan Lo will use digital media storytelling as a way to change the narrative about people returning from prison and to help support efforts to reform the criminal justice system.

Reyna Montoya will organize people directly affected by the immigration detention system to create community healing through art, change the narrative to emphasize the humanity of people in detention, and create policy recommendations to end the harsh and unjust treatment of undocumented immigrants.

Danny Murillo will work to empower formerly incarcerated students by creating a network of people throughout California who have successfully made the transition from incarceration to higher education.

Lisa Sangoi will research and write an advocacy report on the child welfare system, with a focus on how the system fails parents and families in its response to allegations of parental substance use.

Kristina Shull will work to dismantle the immigration detention system from the “inside” by challenging censorship practices, exposing abuses, and lifting up migrant voices in popular media and public discourse.

Ebony Underwood will form a national coalition and create an online digital hub to advocate for and raise awareness of policies that support children of incarcerated parents.  

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