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What Difference Can a Soros Justice Fellow Make?

  • Starcia Ague
    Starcia Ague will launch a project to develop the leadership skills of youth held in detention facilities in Washington state, to prepare them for engaged and productive lives once released. © Ed Kashi/VII for the Open Society Foundations
  • Kristen Bell
    Kristen 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. © Ed Kashi/VII for the Open Society Foundations
  • Rose Cahn
    Rose Cahn will work with advocates across the U.S. to stop the unjust deportation of immigrants with unconstitutional convictions. © Ed Kashi/VII for the Open Society Foundations
  • Dolores Canales
    Dolores Canales will expand the involvement of incarcerated peoples’ families in an effort to decrease mass incarceration and end the use of solitary confinement. © Ed Kashi/VII for the Open Society Foundations
  • Gina Clayton
    Gina Clayton will establish an organization to help women with incarcerated loved ones become leaders in the struggle against mass incarceration. © Ed Kashi/VII for the Open Society Foundations
  • Lois Demott
    Lois DeMott will launch a project to provide critical information and support to families and friends of people incarcerated in Michigan. © Ed Kashi/VII for the Open Society Foundations
  • Shannah Kurland
    Shannah Kurland will establish a project that documents police misconduct and provides legal support to people challenging abusive police practices in Providence, Rhode Island. © Ed Kashi/VII for the Open Society Foundations
  • Esi Mathis
    Esi Mathis will train and mobilize communities impacted by the issue of young people serving long, adult sentences. © Ed Kashi/VII for the Open Society Foundations
  • Osagie Obasogie
    Osagie Obasogie will expose the injustices associated with rarely scrutinized DNA databases. © Ed Kashi/VII for the Open Society Foundations
  • Mark Obbie
    Mark 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. © Ed Kashi/VII for the Open Society Foundations
  • Leslie Jill Patterson
    Leslie Jill 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. © Ed Kashi/VII for the Open Society Foundations
  • Andrea Ritchie
    Andrea Ritchie will document and promote policy reforms and litigation strategies that address the specific ways in which discriminatory policing impacts women of color. © Ed Kashi/VII for the Open Society Foundations
  • Alisa Roth
    Alisa 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 across the country. © Ed Kashi/VII for the Open Society Foundations
  • Seth Wessler
    Seth Wessler will report on the rapid growth of for-profit federal prisons used exclusively to hold noncitizens with criminal convictions. © Ed Kashi/VII for the Open Society Foundations

The criminal justice system in the United States is in urgent need of reform. But what can one person do? The Soros Justice Fellowships program—which funds outstanding individuals whose work advances a more fair and sensible justice system, and which recently announced its newest class of fellows—offers support in the following ways:

New and emerging leaders. We support future leaders from all walks of life: people like Esi Mathis, who do the work not because they’ve been groomed for it, but because life circumstances have demanded it of them. Or people like Gina Clayton, whose record of achievement and commitment to core justice reform issues is a harbinger of an exceptionally bright future. And it includes people like Starcia Ague, who possess what might be called the “necessary intangibles”: grit, passion, and resilience.

Promising ideas and approaches. We fund individuals who’ve already established themselves in their respective fields who are now positioned to pursue work that experiments, anticipates emerging issues, or creatively seizes upon opportunities. Whether it’s challenging the ways discriminatory policing affects women of color (Andrea Ritchie) or promoting the use of storytelling in death penalty plea negotiations (Leslie Jill Patterson), the work of the fellows informs the larger body of Open Society’s U.S. criminal justice reform efforts.

Stories that spur debate and conversation. It’s increasingly rare for journalists and other media makers to have the time and resources to pursue vital but marginalized, controversial, or unpopular topics. We support those who have the skills and connections to cut through the noise. Projects can cover issues like sentencing policy from a crime survivor’s perspective (Mark Obbie) or injustices associated with DNA databases (Osagie Obasogie).

So, what does this all add up to? An abiding belief in the capacity of a single individual, at the right moment in time, to make a difference. But we also acknowledge that each fellow’s work exists within, and depends upon, an expansive network of individuals and organizations, and expect that their work will continue to evolve and make ongoing contributions to the fields in which they work.

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