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Soros Justice Fellows: The Power of One

The Soros Justice Fellowships Program, which last week announced its 2011 fellowship awards, subscribes to a few, pretty straightforward principles.

First, we believe that one person with one idea, at one moment in time, under the right circumstances, can make a difference. And with the bulk of resources within the Open Society Foundations U.S. Programs directed toward social justice organizations, the fellowships remain an especially important vehicle for supporting individual voices and perspectives.

Second, we believe that no single approach to an issue holds a monopoly on effectiveness. For this reason, the fellowships support individuals employing a range of methods: community organizing and mobilization, litigation, policy-driven research and analysis, investigative journalism, documentary film, and public education, among others.

And third, we believe that people at all stages and phases of their careers have a role to play in any movement for change. As a result, the fellowships program is deliberate in its effort to support both new and emerging leaders, as well as those who have long track records of achievement.

Taken together, these basic principles have resulted, each year since the program’s founding in 1997, in the selection of exciting and eclectic mixes of investigative journalists, lawyers, grassroots organizers, policy advocates, filmmakers, and others, who collectively have worked on a multitude of criminal justice reform issues at the local, state, and national levels.

For 2011, the cohort includes projects that address several issues at the core of the Criminal Justice Fund’s work, reflecting our long-standing commitment to the field in particular areas: the intersection of mental health and justice involvement (Sara Zier), harsh treatment of youth in the system (Sonia Kumar, Nicole Pittman), post-incarceration opportunities and support (Benay Rubenstein, Mary Heinen), and the impact of incarceration on specific communities (Michelle Tyon, Gail Tyree, Wesley Ware).

The 2011 cohort—which is exceptionally diverse and contains several people who’ve been directly impacted by this country’s harsh carceral system (Heinen, John Thompson, Tarsha Jackson, Michelle Tyon, Gail Tyree)—also includes projects that address other critical reform issues, such as the growing merger of criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems in several southern states (Grey Torrico, Jacinta Gonzalez Goodman, Lena Graber); key issues and disturbing trends in policing practices (Richard Rivera, Hamid Khan); the past, present and future of this country’s “war on drugs” (Eugene Jarecki); and troubling new aspects of the School-to-Prison-Pipeline (Chandra Thomas).

Moreover, given that threats to an open society are not solely the province of one arm or division of the Open Society Foundations, several 2011 fellows will take on work that is relevant not only to the Criminal Justice Fund, but also that cuts across multiple U.S. funds and campaigns, from the ongoing “war on terror” (Petra Bartosiewicz, Hamid Khan), which is of interest to our National Security and Human Rights Campaign; to immigrant rights (Torrico, Gonzalez, Graber) and LGBTQ equality (Ware), two areas of focus for our Equality and Opportunity Fund.

We’re thrilled at the prospect of these individuals becoming part of the community of Soros Justice Fellows and expect that they will make vital contributions to the field of criminal justice reform, as well as to the larger interest of the foundation in addressing core threats to open society in the United States.

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