Alliance for Safety and Justice — General Support (December 2019)

(Image courtesy of the Alliance for Safety and Justice.)

Grant investigator: Chloe Cockburn

This page was reviewed but not written by the grant investigator. Alliance for Safety and Justice staff also reviewed this page prior to publication.


Open Philanthropy recommended two grants totaling $10,000,000 over three years to the Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ), via the Tides Center, for general support of its state-level criminal justice reform advocacy. ASJ is a national organization seeking to reduce overreliance on incarceration in states across the U.S. and to promote new safety priorities rooted in community health and well-being.

This grant falls within our work on criminal justice reform, follows our February 2016, April 2017, and November 2018 support, and will be our last grant to ASJ. We are providing a three-year runway of stepped-down funding to ensure that ASJ has time to recruit other major donors. At the end of this three-year runway, we will have funded ASJ for seven years. In that time, the organization has grown substantially in exciting ways, and has established a strong reputation for effective leadership and impactful policy reform work. At this stage, our criminal justice reform team thinks ASJ is a better fit for funders that are looking to support major, well-established institutions. Consistent with our thinking on hits-based giving, we want to ensure that our funding is tracking the emerging edge of the field, and that we are leaving room for funders to resource the lower-risk, more established organizations.

Sources

Document Source
Crime Survivors Speak: The First-Ever National Survey of Victims’ Views on Safety and Justice Source

Alliance for Safety and Justice — General Support (May 2019)

(Image courtesy of the Alliance for Safety and Justice.)

Grant investigator: Morgan Davis

This page was reviewed but not written by the grant investigator. ASJ staff also reviewed this page prior to publication.


The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a grant of $15,000 to the Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ), via the Tides Center, for general support. This funding is intended to acknowledge ASJ’s participation in our impact evaluation process.

This discretionary grant falls within our focus area of criminal justice reform.

Alliance for Safety and Justice — Campaign Academy

Participants at a Campaign Academy. (Photo courtesy of Alliance for Safety and Justice)

Grant Investigator: Chloe Cockburn

This page was reviewed but not written by the grant investigator. Alliance for Safety and Justice Action Fund staff also reviewed this page prior to publication.


The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a grant of $250,000 to the Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ), via the Tides Center, to support its Campaign Academy for Safety and Justice. The Campaign Academy trains people impacted by crime and incarceration in campaigning, negotiations, and communications. The course focuses primarily on those who are survivors of crime or were formerly incarcerated and have relevant experience and vision of how their communities can be transformed. ASJ believes leaders who go through the Campaign Academy may eventually support legislative work and other criminal justice reform campaigns.

This follows our November 2018 general operating support and falls within our focus area of criminal justice reform.

Alliance for Safety and Justice — General Support (2018)

Grant investigator: Chloe Cockburn

This page was reviewed but not written by the grant investigator. Alliance for Safety and Justice staff also reviewed this page prior to publication.

The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a grant of $3,000,000 to the Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ), via the Tides Center, for general support. This is a renewal of previous support for ASJ, which our Program Officer for Criminal Justice Reform, Chloe Cockburn, considers an exceptionally high-performing organization with a track record of securing significant criminal justice policy reforms.

The Open Philanthropy Project separately recommended a grant to the Alliance for Safety and Justice Action Fund via The Advocacy Fund, a 501(c)(4) organization affiliated with ASJ. This falls within our focus area of criminal justice reform.

Alliance for Safety and Justice — General Support (2017)

Grant Investigator: Chloe Cockburn

This page was reviewed but not written by the grant investigator. Alliance for Safety and Justice staff also reviewed this page prior to publication.

The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a grant of $4,000,000 to the Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ) via the Tides Center for general support.

This funding represents a renewal of previous support for ASJ, which our Program Officer for Criminal Justice Reform, Chloe Cockburn, considers an exceptionally high-performing organization with a track record of securing significant criminal justice policy reforms.

Background

The organization

ASJ is a national organization seeking to replace overreliance on incarceration in states across the U.S. with new safety priorities rooted in community health and well-being. It has built off of and scaled up the success of Californians for Safety and Justice (CSJ), a state-based advocacy and policy reform organization that, among other accomplishments, has ushered in several major policy changes and developed a statewide network for crime survivors calling for justice reform and new community investments to stop the cycle of crime.

The cause

This grant falls within our focus area of criminal justice reform, and represents a renewal of our 2016 grant recommendation to ASJ.

About the grant

Proposed activities

ASJ intends to use this funding for overall capacity building and expansion. Specifically, ASJ has the following goals for 2017:

  • Increase staff (15-20 new hires) and further develop organizational infrastructure.
  • Provide support to advance policy reforms across several states.
  • Launch the national Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ) network of state chapters and an online community.
  • Influence state-based and major national media outlets’ coverage of safety and justice reform.
  • Launch the Safe and Just Campaign Academy, including curriculum design, pilot completion, and inaugural cohort selection and start.

Case for the grant

Details on our initial support for ASJ can be found on our February 2016 grant page.

In considering continued and expanded funding for ASJ, our primary considerations were:

  • Successful justice reform efforts in Illinois: We consider ASJ’s work to have directly contributed to two major policy changes in Illinois that we estimate will result in a reduction of approximately 4,500 prison beds.
  • Strong leadership and room for growth: We continue to consider ASJ’s leadership team exceptionally strong at management, capacity growth, fundraising, and overall strategy. We also consider ASJ’s expansion plans well-developed and have confidence they can be executed at a high level and could likely lead to further justice reform successes.
  • Support for the crime survivor organizing model: ASJ is building a national organizing network to center debates on crime policy around the experiences and voices of crime survivors, especially those from the communities most harmed by crime cycles and least helped. We consider this a powerful and persuasive approach for developing broader public support for replacing “tough on crime” with holistic community safety solutions, and see ASJ as a national leader in this type of organizing and narrative shifting.

Budget and room for more funding

ASJ is currently scaling up and targeting a $20-$25 million annual budget; once reached, it is our impression that ASJ intends to operate at that level for a few years, augmenting with additional fundraising for individual campaigns as needed. Our present intention is to continue supporting ASJ at some level for the foreseeable future.

Our process

In deciding on renewal, our Program Officer for Criminal Justice Reform, Chloe Cockburn, requested evidence of impact from ASJ’s leadership as well as detailed documentation on its plans for future expansion.

The Open Philanthropy Project separately recommended a grant to the Alliance for Safety and Justice Action Fund via The Advocacy Fund, a 501(c)(4) organization affiliated with ASJ.

Alliance for Safety and Justice — General Support

CSJ staff member Aswad Thomas (left) explains how to file a petition to have an old felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor under Proposition 47 at a record change fair in LA in September 2015 (photo courtesy of ASJ)

Note: this page summarizes the rationale behind two grants: 1) a grant that the Open Philanthropy Project made to the Alliance for Safety and Justice, 2) a personal gift that Cari Tuna made to Vote Safe.

ASJ staff reviewed this page prior to publication.


The Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ) is a national organization seeking to reduce overreliance on incarceration in states across the U.S. and to promote new safety priorities rooted in community health and well-being. It aims to build off and scale up the success of Californians for Safety and Justice (CSJ), a state-based advocacy and policy reform organization that, among other accomplishments, developed the first statewide network for crime victims that support justice reform. Vote Safe, the sister 501(c)(4) organization of CSJ, also crafted and ran the successful campaign for Proposition 47, a California ballot measure that reduced incarceration by changing several low-level felonies to misdemeanors, and reallocating the prison cost savings to prevention and treatment.1

Building off these successes, ASJ aims to partner with state-based advocates across the country to expand state-based capacity to advance justice reform, launch a national networking center for state advocacy, and build public support for new safety priorities that can reduce over-incarceration while improving community health and well-being.

We believe that ASJ’s approach – to act as a national organization coordinating state-level efforts – may be able to help translate increased national attention towards criminal justice reform into major policy victories at the state level.

The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a $1.75 million grant via Tides to help launch ASJ’s 501(c)(3) arm, and Cari Tuna personally gave $250,000 to the 501(c)(4), Vote Safe.

1. Rationale for the grant

1.1 The cause

Criminal justice reform is one of our focus areas within the category of U.S. policy. Although we consider criminal justice reform to be an unusually tractable cause within U.S. policy, our understanding is that most states (excepting California and New York) have seen only slight decreases in incarceration as a result of reform campaigns. We believe this may be due in part to limited state-level capacity; in many states, there does not appear to exist an organization focused on reducing over-incarceration with the capacity to advance policy reform or run successful campaigns.

In addition, the public may not have a clear understanding of what changes could be made to the current criminal justice system beyond simply reducing incarceration. Our impression is that this lack of a clear vision for safety could make reform efforts vulnerable to collapse in the face of shifts in crime, strong pushback by criminal justice reform opponents, or simply waning attention on the issue, any of which may or may not come into play.

1.2 The organization

Our intention with this grant is to help ASJ to build off the success of Californians for Safety and Justice (CSJ) (which will continue to exist, and will act as the flagship for the growth and development of ASJ). CSJ’s sister 501(c)(4) organization, Vote Safe, led the campaign to pass Proposition 47, a ballot measure that according to one study resulted in 13,000 fewer incarcerated people in California in the first year after its passing.2 ASJ has told us that the measure is also estimated to give nearly one million Californians an opportunity to remove nonviolent felonies from their criminal records and access new opportunities for stability.

Led by Lenore Anderson and Robert Rooks (both also leaders of CSJ), ASJ will be a national organization focused on building capacity for state-based advocacy, advancing policy reform in its partner states, and gaining majority support nationwide for new safety priorities focused on community health and well-being.

ASJ’s overall policy focuses are sentencing reform and reallocation of resources from prison spending to community safety and health (similar to the “justice reinvestment” approach about which we have written in more detail in our cause report on criminal justice reform).

1.2.1 Organizational strategies

ASJ plans to work toward its goals using three different strategies, each of which will require dedicated staff.

  • Strategy 1: developing state-based capacity and advancing state-based justice reform. ASJ plans to choose several “partner states,” where it will partner with local advocates and provide strategic support for an extended period. The partnership will provide capacity-building support to advance justice reform, aiming to significantly reduce prison populations and over-spending on corrections. ASJ will choose policy objectives in these states that it believes to be viable, impactful, and consistent with public safety.
  • Strategy 2: launching a national networking center for state advocacy. ASJ intends to launch a national networking center to provide policy development and networking support to states, thus strengthening advocacy institutions in states beyond those partner states that are the focus of Strategy 1. As part of this strategy, ASJ plans to create a national website, convene conferences, and conduct trainings.
  • Strategy 3: building support for new safety priorities. Building on its continuing experience with CSJ, ASJ aims to promote a new set of safety priorities to replace over-incarceration with a focus on community health and well-being. It intends to do so by commissioning public opinion research, producing reports, engaging in public education, and securing media coverage of its policy aims. ASJ also plans to organize a constituency of crime survivors across the country in support of criminal justice reform.

1.3 Organizational track record and leadership

Chloe Cockburn, our Program Officer for Criminal Justice Reform, has a very positive view of ASJ’s leadership and their track record with CSJ. Our perspective on ASJ’s leadership is based to a large extent on Chloe’s view and contributes significantly to our expectations of ASJ as an organization.

  • Under the leadership of Anderson and Rooks, CSJ scaled up from having a budget of $2 million and one staffer, to a budget of $5.5 million and a staff of 15, within three years. CSJ leadership also launched its 501(c)(4) sister organization, Vote Safe, that ran the Yes on Proposition 47 campaign, which had a budget of $10 million and which we consider to be a strong success.
  • CSJ has also developed a network of crime victims that support criminal justice reform, including starting a network called Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.
  • In addition to leading and expanding CSJ, Anderson and Rooks have substantial experience in areas which Chloe believes will be helpful to them at ASJ. This includes Anderson’s experience with leadership and management, in political settings, and as a former prosecutor, and Rooks’ experience with community organizing and building alliances.

1.4 Long-term hopes for the grant

We are highly uncertain what to expect in terms of ASJ’s long-term development. ASJ’s plans are very ambitious, and the landscape for criminal justice reform could change considerably over the next 10 years. However, based on ASJ’s plans, and assuming ASJ meets its first-year funding target of around $10 million, we think the following is an optimistic but plausible projection for the grant:

  • In the first year, ASJ emerges as a major national entity with a clear strategic vision for advancing state criminal justice policy reform. ASJ works in five partner states, with two state advocacy reform efforts or campaigns in development.
  • After five years, ASJ works with 15 partner states and is involved in four campaigns, with two successful campaigns already completed. ASJ will have reframed the national debate on new safety priorities, and will have created an active new safety constituency (survivors of crime) that organizes to change state policies. ASJ will have built a new national consensus that there is no correlation between extreme sentencing and public safety.
  • After ten years, there is a reduction in incarceration in a majority of states. There is also a reallocation of public resources to new safety priorities as well as a general public attitude that mass incarceration should “never again” be the norm.

1.5 Room for more funding

ASJ has told us that it could effectively use up to $10 million in its first year, though it could operate on as little as $2 million. ASJ would use additional funds beyond $2 million to take on more partner states and scale up its communication work.

We believe there are a number of other funders interested in providing lower levels of support to ASJ. However, our impression is that foundations’ priorities often do not lie in capacity building and that they may not choose to support long-term strategic advocacy plans to change entrenched systems. As a result, we believe that these funders might not provide the level of support that ASJ (or we) think is appropriate.

2. Risks and reservations about this grant

We have a number of reservations regarding this grant:

  • Compared to CSJ’s previous work, ASJ’s plan is very ambitious, requiring it to take on new kinds of work, more than double its number of staff, and expand beyond California to states throughout the U.S. We find it plausible that ASJ may not expand to its planned size or reach, though we are very uncertain to what extent this might occur.
  • It may take a significant period of time for ASJ to hire staff and become fully operational, during which time state-level conditions could potentially change in a way that reduces ASJ’s potential to effect change. We do not think this is particularly likely to be a major issue.
  • ASJ may have underestimated the time/capacity it will take to work in each partner state, which may mean it is able to work in fewer states than planned.
  • If ASJ has trouble fundraising its ideal budget, the organization may not be able to achieve all of its current goals.

3. Plans for follow-up

3.1 Follow-up expectations

We expect these grant funds to be used within roughly the next year. During this time, we expect to have a conversation with ASJ staff every 2-3 months, with public notes if the conversation warrants it.

3.2 Key questions for follow-up

Questions we plan to try to answer about this grant include:

  • How many partner states is ASJ working with after one year? In each of these partner states, how is ASJ’s relationship with its partner organization? What progress has been made in each partner state toward justice reform?
  • How much progress has been made in developing a national networking center for state advocacy?
  • What has ASJ done to build support for new safety priorities? Have these activities been effective?
  • Have any unforeseen needs or challenges arisen regarding the infrastructure of the organization? How have ASJ’s activities differed from its original plan?
  • What lessons can we learn from ASJ and its approach to starting a new large organization? This is a relatively novel kind of philanthropy for us, and we expect that we will learn something about how to assess future opportunities to help start new organizations.

4. Sources

DOCUMENT SOURCE
The New York Times 2015 Source (archive)