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Foundations Announce 2017 Soros Justice Fellows

NEW YORK—The 2016 election ushered in a dramatic shift in the landscape for criminal justice reform. The Open Society Foundations are pleased to announce the 2017 class of Soros Justice Fellows, a dynamic mix of attorneys, advocates, artists, writers, and scholars who bring fresh ideas and energy to the challenge of maintaining past gains and continuing to push for progress toward a more humane criminal justice system in the United States.

Working in 11 states across the country, the 23 fellows seek to address the country’s overly punitive approach to crime, develop effective responses to both interpersonal and police violence, and challenge the ways in which the effects of incarceration linger long after someone has been released from prison. Included in this group is the inaugural cohort of Soros Justice “Youth Activist” Fellows—seven people between the ages of 18 and 25 who are just beginning their careers and who show real promise to develop into social justice leaders and innovators.

Together, the fellows work with and on behalf of a wide range of communities, including many who are too often overlooked in conversations about mass incarceration in the United States, such as black LGBTQ immigrants, survivors of crime, people serving long sentences, and those on probation, parole, or supervised release.

Among the fellows supported this year through an award of $1.7 million: an advocate launching a program to support formerly incarcerated women in California’s Central Valley, an organizer working to limit how “predictive algorithms” use race to decide who remains in jail and who gets out, and a researcher whose work will show how past prison closures can provide a model for future closures. While the fellows will work on a diverse range of issues, using a variety of approaches, their projects all point to the need to reduce the destructive impact of current criminal justice policies on the lives of individuals, families, and communities in the United States.

“We are facing a potential sea change from the criminal justice policies of the past decade,” said Leonard Noisette, who oversees the Soros Justice Fellows program as director of the Justice team at the Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs. “This is an exceptionally important time to seed the field with new blood and new leadership. We are thrilled to be working with such a talented group of fellows at such a pivotal moment in history.”

“We are particularly excited to collaborate this year with our colleagues in the Open Society Foundations’ Youth Exchange in supporting the Youth Activist Fellows, who together bring a vital perspective and set of experiences to the work,” said Adam Culbreath, who manages the Soros Justice Fellows program. “In these times, it’s especially important to recognize—and tap into—the capacity of the next generation of leaders. They are the future architects of the society that we want to see.”

To carry out their work, fellows receive a stipend ranging from $40,000 to $110,000 for full-time projects lasting between 12 and 18 months. The 2017 fellows join more than 375 others who, since 1997, have received support through the Soros Justice Fellowships.

“Our fellows have, over the years, worked on some of the toughest, most intractable issues of the day,” Culbreath said. “And they’ll continue to do so. We expect that this year’s class of fellows—with its combination of youth and experience, its creativity and vision, and its deep connections to reform work taking place nationwide—will make important contributions to that ongoing struggle.”

2017 Soros Justice Fellows

Bella BAHHS will create Sister Survivor, a group designed to support young black women organizing to mitigate the impact of the criminal justice system on their lives.

Rose Elizondo will create alternatives to the retributive justice system using Navajo peacemaking philosophy to restore balance to communities after crime. 

Claudia Gonzalez will create a program for formerly incarcerated women in California’s Central Valley, with the goal of increasing pathways to healing and success beyond the prison’s walls.

Valencia Gunder will create a rapid response toolkit to advance solutions to the overlapping problems of interpersonal violence and police violence.

Mark-Anthony Johnson will build a statewide network of health care professionals, criminal justice organizations, wellness practitioners, and formerly incarcerated leaders to address the long-term impacts of incarceration.

Martina Kartman will support communities impacted by the criminal legal system, addressing the harms associated with interpersonal and state violence, and pushing for alternatives to punitive sentencing.

James Kilgore will lead an effort to advance more effective and less punitive policies on the use of electronic monitoring in the criminal justice system.

Damon Locks and Sarah Ross will produce an animation and mobile media project that seeks to expand the discourse of the prison reform movement to include people serving long-term sentences.

Ola Osaze will build regional networks of advocates working to safeguard black LGBTQ immigrants from the harms of the criminal justice and immigration systems in the United States.

Katie Rose Quandt will publish a series of articles and data visualizations on extreme sentencing for violent offenses, with a particular focus on life without parole.

Hannah Sassaman will work with communities impacted by mass incarceration to limit how “predictive algorithms” using race, and factors correlated with it, affect decisions about who stays locked up and who goes home.

Luis Angel Reyes-Savalza will create a community-led deportation defense model that involves legal representation and organizing with undocumented immigrants.

Topeka K. Sam’s Probation and Parole Accountability Project will help educate, empower, and defend the rights of people currently on probation, parole, or federal supervised release.

Kandace Vallejo will lay the foundation for a multiracial, youth-led statewide movement to reduce incarceration, detentions, and deportations in Texas.

Jarred Williams will use a novel dataset and analytical method to show how past prison closures can provide a model for future closures. 

2017 Soros Justice Youth Activist Fellows

Jasmine Babers will highlight connections between the foster care system and the criminal justice system.

Yanitza Cubilette will launch an organizing effort in Connecticut addressing the needs, dreams, and demands of black and brown youth in the state.

Shulora Gonzales will help educate and support women who have chosen to leave sex work.

Destiny Harris will apply youth-led restorative and cultural healing to work with those who have been harmed by incarceration.

Derek Rankins will develop a space for men of color to build community.

Set Hernandez Rongkilyo will use participatory video storytelling to examine the mass criminalization of immigrants in the United States.

Austin Smith will help black youth at different levels of interaction with the criminal justice system create a space to build power.

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