Foundations Announce 2011 Soros Justice Fellows

NEW YORK—The Open Society Foundations today announced an award of $1.6 million to an outstanding group of advocates, journalists, lawyers, grassroots organizers, and filmmakers working on a range of vital criminal justice reform issues at the local, state, and national levels.

The 2011 Soros Justice Fellows, who hail from 14 different states and Washington, D.C., will explore a wide array of issues, including prosecutorial misconduct, federal immigration enforcement, and the harsh treatment of youth. 

“The passion and vision of the Soros Justice Fellows offer real hope for a fairer, more equitable justice system for everyone in this country," said Diana Morris, acting executive director of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Foundations. “These extraordinary individuals are working on a wide range of innovative solutions to address the deep flaws in the current system and to restore justice for all."

The fellows range from an exonerated man who endured 14 years on Louisiana’s death row—with seven execution dates—and went on to found a New Orleans reentry service and advocacy organization; to an investigative journalist who is writing the first book to comprehensively document how the “war on terror” has dramatically transformed our criminal justice system; to a former police officer who, since leaving the force, has become a recognized authority on police misconduct, citizen complaint processes, and police-community relations.

Other fellows include an acclaimed filmmaker who will be finishing a project that critically examines the United States’ 40-year-old “war on drugs”; and a long-time American Indian activist who will be working to confront the impact of incarceration on Native communities in one of the most impoverished, and ignored, places in the country, Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

The 18 Soros Justice Fellows will each receive a stipend of $74,000 to $108,750 for projects lasting between 12 and 18 months. They will join more than 260 other individuals who, since 1997, have received support through the Soros Justice Fellowships; and who are part of a broader Open Society Foundations effort to curb mass incarceration, reduce harsh punishment, and ensure a fair and equitable system of justice in the United States.

George Soros, founder of the Open Society Foundations, has contributed more than $8 billion to foster open societies around the world, including more than $1 billion in the United States.

2011 Soros Justice Fellows

Petra Bartosiewicz, Brooklyn, NY

Bartosiewicz will write a book that will explore how domestic prosecutions in the “war on terror” have transformed the U.S. justice system, making it less just and an institutionalized threat to the liberties of all Americans.

Jacinta Gonzalez Goodman, New Orleans, LA

Immigrants who came to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild the homes, roads, and livelihood of communities now find themselves unfairly targeted by the criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems for arrest, detention, and deportation. Gonzalez will work with day laborers, women, youth, immigrant families, and others to challenge these practices.

Lena Graber, Boston, MA

Graber will work to reduce the government’s abuse of immigration “detainers” – a tool used to maintain custody of potentially deportable individuals in local jails or prisons nationwide. Detainers have become the primary mechanism for the government to apprehend immigrants who come into contact with the criminal justice system, whether or not they are charged with a crime.

Mary Heinen, Ann Arbor, MI

Heinen will organize, educate and support people returning from Michigan correction facilities so that they can advocate for themselves and determine their own needs.

Tarsha Jackson, Houston, TX

Jackson will spearhead an effort to ensure that directly-affected youth and their families play a meaningful role in the efforts to reform policies around youth confinement in the Harris County, Texas, jail system.

Eugene Jarecki, New York, NY

Documentary filmmaker and author Jarecki will complete and promote a film about America’s failed “war on drugs.” The film will take a comprehensive look at the problem and examine policies that offer a new vision for the future.

Hamid Khan, Torrance, CA

In collaboration with a diverse cross-section of individuals and groups, Khan will challenge Los Angeles Police Department surveillance and profiling practices that criminalize benign and legal activity, normalize racial profiling, and render people in certain communities as criminal suspects.

Sonia Kumar, Baltimore, MD

Kumar will challenge policies and practices that contribute to the needless detention of girls in Maryland’s juvenile justice system, and will work to ensure that statewide systems reform include girls’ perspectives, needs, and voices.

Nicole Pittman, Philadelphia, PA

Through public education and advocacy, Pittman will raise awareness around the practicality, constitutionality, and wisdom of including children in our country’s sex offense registration and notification systems.

Richard Rivera, Secaucus, NJ

Former New Jersey police officer Rivera will conduct research and training that focuses on citizen complaints and use-of-force data in New Jersey, as the first step in a larger effort to make the state’s internal affairs system a national model of transparency, fairness and effectiveness.

Benay Rubenstein, Ithaca, NY

Rubenstein will mobilize educators, advocates, researchers, and students to reform the State University of New York’s admissions policies that impose significant barriers to higher education for people with criminal records.

Chandra Thomas, Decatur, GA

Through a series of print and multimedia pieces, journalist Thomas will examine the ways that some Georgia schools divert at-risk children into the state’s 200-plus alternative schools, priming them for the criminal justice system.

John Thompson, New Orleans, LA

Thompson, whose wrongful conviction was at issue in the sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court decision in Connick v. Thompson, will create a public education and advocacy campaign to demand accountability for prosecutorial misconduct.

Grey Torrico, Naples, FL

Torrico will lead a grassroots campaign to resist the joint efforts of local law enforcement and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to arrest, detain and deport immigrants in Collier County, Florida, a part of the country that has become a local flashpoint on immigration enforcement policy.

Michelle Tyon, Porcupine, SD

Longtime South Dakota activist Tyon will launch a community dialog and education initiative among the 48,000 Oglala Lakota people to address crime, violence, and public safety in Native communities by positive means instead of over policing and incarceration.

Gail Tyree, Southaven, MS

Tyree will help create a network of organizations and individuals in the southeast U.S. who can respond quickly and effectively to stop for-profit prisons, jails or detention centers from moving into their communities.

Wesley Ware, New Orleans, LA

Ware will work with LGBTQ youth in New Orleans in a grassroots effort to reform practices regarding the policing, arrest, and incarceration of LGBTQ youth in Louisiana.

Sara Zier, Tacoma, WA

Zier will seek to deter the incarceration of youth with mental illnesses in Washington State by facilitating their access to much needed community-based mental health care services.