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Open Society Foundations Announce 2015 Soros Justice Fellows

NEW YORK—The Open Society Foundations announced today an award of $1.2 million to the 2015 class of Soros Justice Fellows. The fellows bring a diverse set of life experiences and skills to their work; among the 15 fellows selected are journalists, educators, social workers, lawyers, grassroots organizers, formerly incarcerated people, and survivors of crime.

Working across nine states and the United Kingdom, the fellows will advance efforts in restorative justice, work to curb mass incarceration, and challenge long-held concepts of crime, punishment, mental health, and drug policy in the United States.

“We’re very pleased to usher in a new class of Soros Justice Fellows,” said Ken Zimmerman, director of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Foundations. “This program has been a vital pipeline for new voices and new ideas in the criminal justice arena, supporting work that has helped broaden the debate and improve the prospects, across the political spectrum, for criminal justice practices that genuinely advance public safety and fairness. We believe the new set of fellows will contribute further transformative thinking and doing.” 

Several fellows seek to create national networks of women affected by violence and incarceration, striving to raise public awareness of the toll these forces take, and help women mobilize on behalf of their families and their communities. Others will work to improve life outcomes and public understanding of those convicted of sex offenses, repurpose prisons as sustainable farms, and combat racial profiling and police brutality.

“We’re thrilled to be able to support a group of people we anticipate will make important contributions to the field of criminal justice reform,” said Adam Culbreath, who manages the Soros Justice Fellowship program. “We’re also excited that they’ll be joining a vibrant community of fellows—both past and current—who work on some of the hardest issues of the day.

“People like MacArthur ‘genius’ grant recipient Jon Rapping, whose organization Gideon’s Promise shines a spotlight on the crisis facing public defender systems nationwide. Or CNN Hero Susan Burton, whose personal journey speaks volumes about the capacity within us all to transform our lives in the face of systemic injustice. Or lawyer and activist Olga Tomchin, whose work on behalf of transgender people detained under deplorable and inhumane conditions in Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities has raised the visibility of an issue few had even known about.

“We expect similar achievements from the fellows in this year’s group, and we can’t wait to see the fruits of their labor, both during their fellowships and beyond.”

To carry out their work, fellows receive a stipend of $58,700 to $110,250 for full-time projects lasting between 12 and 18 months. The 2015 fellows join more than 350 others who, since 1997, have received support through the Soros Justice Fellowships to create and clear pathways to justice for marginalized populations.

2015 Soros Justice Fellows

Galen Baughman will work to end the indefinite detention of young people in Virginia who are branded by the state as irredeemably dangerous “sexually violent predators.”

Maya Foa will identify and implement strategies designed to prevent the misuse of medicines in lethal injection executions in the United States.

Rachel Herzing will launch a project to reduce the demand for police emergency responses in Oakland by increasing residents’ capacity to resolve conflict without having to call the police.

Andrea James will create a national network of formerly incarcerated women who will raise the level of dialogue about how incarceration impacts women, their children, and their communities.

Dorothy Johnson-Speight will mobilize women who are impacted by homicide and who seek changes to our overly punitive responses to violence and crime.

Judith Levine and Erica Meiners will write a series of articles that aim to deepen understanding and spur conversation about sex laws and “sex offender” management, and the people they affect.

nuri nusrat will develop the country’s first nonpunitive, pre-charge restorative diversion model for children who sexually harm other children, in an effort to address victim needs and prevent children who harm from being incarcerated or placed on sex offense registries.

Anne Parsons will write a book exploring how the deinstitutionalization of mental hospitals intersects with the rise of mass incarceration, showing how one form of confinement and stigmatization has in effect been replaced by another.

Maritza Perez will advocate for quality educational opportunities for Latinos who are currently or formerly incarcerated.

Marlon Peterson will advocate for bold measures to end gun violence and increase community safety in New York City through the creation of zones where no one will need to carry a gun—not even the police.

Chanravy Proeung will mobilize Southeast Asian communities to combat racial profiling and police brutality.

Noran Sanford will work to convert closed prisons in impoverished regions of rural North Carolina into sustainable farms and educational centers that serve youth, returning veterans, and others from the surrounding regions.

Maia Szalavitz will write a book to spur a more humane and effective drug policy by showing that addiction is a learning disorder, as opposed to simply a brain disease or criminal choice.

Eddy Zheng will raise awareness about the impact of criminalization and deportation on the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community and ensure that the API voice and experience is included in the larger movement to end mass incarceration in the United States.


The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities in more than 100 countries, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education.

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