NEW YORK—The Open Society Foundations today announced an award of $1.4 million to its 2018 class of Soros Justice Fellows, an exciting group of community organizers, journalists, lawyers, policy advocates, and artists who seek to advance reform and spur debate on a range of issues facing the U.S. criminal justice system.
“Open society values face countless threats in this country, and those threats seem to be coming at a truly head-spinning pace,” said Lenny Noisette, who oversees the Soros Justice Fellowships for the Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs. “We’re fortunate to be able to support a group of people who will work to ensure that criminal justice reform remains front and center in debates about fairness and justice in this country—debates that have more urgency now than ever.”
Working in 10 states across the country, the 16 fellows in this year’s cohort include: a lawyer who will fight to make the effects of America’s harsh “three strikes” drug laws more transparent; two formerly incarcerated advocates who will provide legal support to their incarcerated peers; a transgender rights activist who will work to help transgender and gender nonconforming people tell their own stories of how the criminal justice system impacts their communities; and a former probation and parole officer who will now advocate for more humane probation and parole policies.
Some of the 2018 fellows will provide fresh perspectives on issues that have received a degree of attention, while others will work to bring a previously ignored phenomenon to light, or to contribute to a debate drawn from today’s headlines. Whatever their approach, the fellows are bound together by a common purpose: to have an important and lasting impact on the ways the criminal justice system affects individuals, families, and communities in the United States.
Also in this year’s group is an artist whose fellowship is supported with the help of the newly established Art for Justice Fund. As a dual Art for Justice and Soros Justice fellow, Samora Abayomi Pinderhughes will use musical compositions to explore violence and incarceration in communities of color from the perspective of trauma and healing.
“We are especially grateful to work this year with our colleagues at the Art for Justice Fund, a truly exciting philanthropic development that is already making its mark,” said Adam Culbreath, who manages the Soros Justice Fellowships. “As the conversation around mass incarceration gains increasing traction, it’s critically important that we access the insight, talent, and creative vision of socially engaged artists, given the vital role of artists and the arts in helping us make sense of the issues that matter most to us.”
To carry out their work, the 2018 fellows receive a stipend ranging from $52,500 to $120,000 for full-time projects lasting between 12 and 18 months. They join almost 400 others who, since 1997, have received support through the Soros Justice Fellowships.
“This country contains an incredible reservoir of passion and commitment to the issues that we at Open Society care about,” said Culbreath. “This year’s fellows are important individual examples of the talent that exists in the field, and we trust that they will make important contributions both during their fellowships and in the years to come.”
2018 Soros Justice Fellows
Giselle Ariel Bleuz will build the capacity of transgender and gender nonconforming people to produce and distribute media addressing the ways the criminal justice system impacts their communities.
Gabrielle Chapman will lead a statewide coalition in West Virginia that will promote an antiracist policing model, educate the public about racial disparities in the state, and cultivate the next generation of racial justice leaders.
MiAngel Cody’s Banished Project will amplify the stories of black people incarcerated under America’s “three strikes” drug law and challenge the federal government’s refusal to disclose information about people serving mandatory life sentences under the law.
Linda Heng will document the experiences of Southeast Asian youth affected by deportation and the criminal justice system and will help promote their leadership in the broader movement for social justice for Southeast Asians.
Jason Hernandez will develop a curriculum and toolkit for advocates, students, and family members to help them organize clemency campaigns.
Julieta Martinelli will create a multimedia series exploring how the incarceration of undocumented immigrants affects the lives of their children.
Leyla Martinez will create a coalition of Latinas that can help shape public attitudes toward their experiences with the criminal justice system.
Dominique McKinney will challenge state practices that funnel vulnerable youth into the juvenile and adult justice systems.
Jenni Monet will produce a multimedia journalism project exposing extreme gender violence against indigenous women and girls in the United States.
Tung Nguyen will establish a model Vietnamese deportation support system in Orange County, California, that can be implemented nationwide.
Samora Abayomi Pinderhughes will combine musical compositions with audio interviews to create an installation piece exploring the realities of daily violence, incarceration, and detention in communities of color from the perspective of trauma and healing.
Jhody Polk will support incarcerated law clerk programs around the country and develop a network that will mentor those seeking legal careers upon their release from prison.
Donovan X. Ramsey will write a narrative nonfiction book that critically reevaluates the crack epidemic of the late ’80s and early ’90s, told through the stories of those who survived it.
Anthony Robles will develop an interactive website that documents the stories of victims of fatal police use of force in Los Angeles.
LaTonya Tate will identify and implement effective community-based alternatives to Alabama’s outdated probation and parole practices.
Troy Williams will create a nationwide multimedia platform and community engagement program that helps formerly incarcerated people document their experiences and engage the public.