Skip to main content
Newsroom Press release

Open Society Foundations Award Fellowships to 14 Visionaries Working to Reform Criminal Justice in the United States

Recipients include an ordained pastor, lawyers, journalists, and people who have spent time in prison

NEW YORK—The Open Society Foundations today awarded $1.25 million to the newest class of Soros Justice Fellows working on a range of criminal justice issues, from solitary confinement to DNA databases to police misconduct.

“We are proud to support these extraordinary individuals working to curb mass incarceration and develop new approaches to ensure accountability in the justice system,” said Ken Zimmerman, director of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Foundations. “We hope their projects will spur debate, catalyze change, and lift the curtain on a closed system rife with inequities.”

Fellow recipients include the only “juvenile lifer” ever to be pardoned by the governor in Washington State. Her project will develop the leadership skills of young people in detention so they can better advocate for their rights and lead productive lives upon release.

Another fellow—an ordained pastor in California whose son was sentenced to die in prison and who lost a grandson and nephew to violent crime—will train and mobilize communities directly impacted when young people are charged and sentenced as adults.

The recipients also include an English professor who will promote the use of storytelling in the field of capital defense to reduce executions in the state of Texas, and a journalist who will investigate the rapid growth of for-profit federal prisons used exclusively to hold noncitizens.

To carry out their work, the fellows receive a stipend of $58,700 to $110,250, for full-time projects lasting between 12 and 18 months. Since 1997, more than 300 individuals have received Soros Justice Fellowships to create a more equitable system of justice in the United States.

2014 Soros Justice Fellows

Starcia Ague, Seattle, WA

Argue will launch a project to develop the leadership capacity of youth held in detention facilities in Washington State to prepare them for engaged and productive lives once released.

Kristen Bell, Los Angeles, CA

Bell will work to implement a groundbreaking new California law that allows for the early release of people serving long adult sentences for crimes they committed as youth.

Rose Cahn, San Francisco, CA

Cahn will work with advocates across the country to stop the unjust deportation of immigrants with unconstitutional convictions. 

Dolores Canales, Inglewood, CA

Canales will expand the involvement of incarcerated peoples’ families in an effort to decrease mass incarceration and end the use of solitary confinement. 

Gina Clayton, San Francisco, CA

Clayton will establish an organization designed to help women with incarcerated loved ones become leaders in the struggle against mass incarceration.

Lois DeMott, Lansing, MI                                                                                                         

DeMott will launch a new project to provide critical information and support to families and friends of people incarcerated in Michigan.

Shannah Kurland, Providence, RI

Kurland will establish a project that documents police misconduct and provides legal support to people challenging abusive police practices in Providence, Rhode Island.

Esi Mathis, Covina, CA

Mathis will train and mobilize communities directly impacted by the issue of young people serving long, adult sentences. 

Osagie Obasogie, San Francisco, CA

Obasogie will expose the injustices associated with rarely scrutinized DNA databases.

Mark Obbie, Canandaigua, NY

Obbie will write a series of articles that explore sentencing policy from crime victims’ perspectives and point out that victim needs are not being met by the criminal justice system.

Leslie Jill Patterson, Lubbock, TX

Patterson will promote the use of storytelling in capital murder plea negotiations, habeas proceedings, and clemency petitions to reduce executions in the state of Texas.

Andrea Ritchie, Brooklyn, NY

Ritchie will document and promote policy reforms and litigation strategies that address the specific ways in which discriminatory policing impacts women of color.

Alisa Roth, New York, NY

Roth will develop a series of radio and print stories that explore how the criminal justice system has become the de facto mental healthcare system for so many people across the country. 

Seth Freed Wessler, Brooklyn, NY

Wessler will report on the rapid growth of for-profit federal prisons used exclusively to hold noncitizens with criminal convictions.

Read more

Subscribe to updates about Open Society’s work around the world

By entering your email address and clicking “Submit,” you agree to receive updates from the Open Society Foundations about our work. To learn more about how we use and protect your personal data, please view our privacy policy.