NEW YORK—A Gulf Coast activist investigating claims of people left to die in a New Orleans prison during the Katrina storm and a university professor examining how technology can reduce incarceration rates and racial disparities while enhancing public safety are among this year's Open Society Institute Soros Justice Fellows.
Other winners of OSI's Justice Fellowships include a scholar writing about the lifelong impact of imprisonment on motherhood and women's reproductive rights; a lawyer working to combat unfair treatment of detained immigrants; and an award-winning filmmaker documenting the story of a 16-year-old boy tried as an adult for murder and sentenced to a double life term, on the basis of one eyewitness and no physical evidence.
"Supporting dynamic individuals committed to building a stronger, more equitable justice system has been a hallmark of OSI's engagement in criminal justice reform," said Antonio Maciel, director of OSI's U.S. Justice Fund. "The fellowship program not only complements and deepens OSI's justice reform work, but also contributes to the development and recognition of leaders in this field."
In all, the fellowships, totaling $1,040,000 in grants, will support these 17 leaders from 10 states and the District of Columbia who are working to restore fairness and discretion to the U.S. justice system. Soros Justice Fellows conduct one-and two-year projects and receive stipends that range between $45,000 and $76,000.
This is the ninth consecutive year that OSI has offered grants to individuals committed to systemic criminal justice reform in the U.S.—part of a wider effort to strengthen justice in the United States and around the world. Since 1997, OSI has awarded over $11 million to 216 Soros Justice Fellows to ensure that the interests of the most vulnerable people are at the forefront of policy.
OSI over the past decade has spent some $742 million in the U.S. to support human rights, access to justice, education, professionalism in law and medicine, palliative care, and to ensure the inclusion of everyone in the democratic process.
Fellows are listed below in alphabetical order.
2006 Soros Justice Fellows
Katherine Beckett; scholar; Racial Disparity Project; Seattle, WA
To examine how the enforcement of trespass laws is contributing to an increased number of misdemeanor arrests, growth of the jail population—particularly among youth of color and homeless people—and limiting access to public space in Seattle, Washington.
Susan Burton; grassroots organizer and advocate; A New Way of Life Reentry Program; Los Angeles, CA
To educate, organize, and train formerly incarcerated women in Southern California to advocate against barriers facing women with criminal records as they seek to obtain employment and housing and become responsible, productive contributors to society.
Paul Butler; lawyer and scholar; The George Washington University; Washington, DC
To write The Future of Justice: The Radical Transformation of Crime and Punishment in America and educate the public, policymakers, and activists about strategies to promote public safety and fairness in the criminal justice system. The book will explore how technology is changing law enforcement and punishment and will make recommendations to reduce the prison population and racial disparities.
Angela Chan; lawyer; Asian Law Caucus; San Francisco, CA
To launch a program to dismantle language barriers that prevent families with limited English proficiency from participating in the defense and rehabilitation of youth in the juvenile justice system.
Alina Das; lawyer; New York State Defenders Association; New York, NY
To develop reentry programs for immigrants facing criminal charges and convictions and work with community organizations, attorneys, and courts to provide support to immigrants throughout their involvement in the criminal justice system.
Elisa Della-Piana; lawyer; Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights; San Francisco, CA
To help protect homeless people and provide legal support when they receive criminal citations—for acts such as sleeping or sitting in public—that essentially punish them for being homeless. Della-Piana's project will work to clear their records of these charges, which could prevent them from obtaining future housing and jobs, and work to redirect resources spent on jailing the homeless to increase housing, treatment, and employment opportunities.
Mika'il DeVeaux; grassroots organizer and advocate; Citizens Against Recidivism; Queens, NY
To organize the Muslim community and advocate for better housing, employment, and social services for people with criminal records as they return home and seek to become productive, responsible members of the community.
Susan Koch; filmmaker; Cabin John, MD
To complete and distribute Simple Justice, a documentary film that follows the case of Mario Rocha, a young Latino man arrested at 16 for murder, tried as an adult, and sentenced to life in prison on the basis of one questionable eyewitness and no physical evidence. The film will provide an inside look at the legal system, and the roles that race and resources play.
Linda LaBranche; researcher and advocate; Northwestern University, Medill School of Journalism; Baton Rouge, LA
To document the 25-year impact of The Angolite, an uncensored, prisoner-produced newsmagazine, on the prison population and operation of Louisiana State Penitentiary.
Dee Ann Newell; advocate; Family and Corrections Network; Little Rock, AK
To promote policies that respond to the needs of children with incarcerated parents and to produce a toolkit on promising strategies and changes that have been implemented.
Sunita Patel; lawyer; Legal Aid Society, New York, NY
To develop a model for greater transparency and public accountability around the detention of immigrants in New Jersey jails.
Robert Perkinson; scholar; University of Hawaii; Honolulu, HI
To write Texas Tough: The Rise of a Prison Empire, a history of American punishment from slavery to the present with an emphasis on the politically influential state of Texas, which has the highest incarceration rate in the nation.
Ursula Price; advocate; A Fighting Chance; Houston, TX
To investigate reports of abuse and the neglect of inmates in the Orleans Parish Prison during the flooding following Hurricane Katrina. Price will document allegations made by people incarcerated at the prison and work with evacuated inmates and their families to influence the rebuilding of the New Orleans prison and justice system.
Debbie Reyes; grassroots organizer; Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment; Delano, CA
To develop "Uncaging the Valley," a grassroots group that will work to prevent the construction of youth and adult prisons in California's Central Valley by uniting environmental and social-justice organizing.
Rachel Roth; scholar; Ibis Reproductive Health; Cambridge, MA
To write Unlocking Reproductive Rights to document the lifelong negative impact of imprisonment on women's reproductive rights, including the right to bodily integrity and motherhood.
Cassandra Shaylor; advocate and scholar; Justice Now; Oakland, CA
To write a guidebook that provides policymakers, activists, and the general public with practical, viable alternatives to prisons that contribute to safer, more democratic communities.
Heather Thompson; scholar; University of North Carolina; Charlotte, NC
To write Attica: Race, Rebellion and the Rise of Law and Order America to generate public interest about what happens behind prison walls and inform policy debates about how best to respond to lawlessness and treat those incarcerated for committing crimes.