Criminal Justice Reform and the Role of Philanthropy

The massive failure within the U.S. criminal justice system is no longer excusable or avoidable. The stark reality is that our history and our criminal justice policies and practices do not align with our principles.

Slavery, the Civil War, the failure of reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, Terrorism through lynching, resistance to the civil rights movement, endemic institutional discrimination and systemic poverty, and police brutality has resulted in a broken criminal justice system. The U.S. has the largest incarceration rate in the world with 2.3 million people imprisoned along with 7 million on probation or parole. Out of the 9.3 million people in the correctional system, 1 in 3 are African-American. Currently, the prison system makes $74 billion in profit, the gross domestic product of 133 nations. There is something fundamentally wrong and unjust with this situation. 

The failure to face history along with decades of misguided policies and practices has reinforced a corrosive legacy that affects domestic legitimacy eroding efforts to realize “a more perfect union”. Equally important, this reality strains international relations undermining progress towards a more secure, just and prosperous world at large.

Yet, across the country and across the political spectrum the moment for truth, reconciliation and justice is upon us. International Human Rights Day (December 10th) honoring the UN Declaration of Human Rights is an ideal time to rally around shared values such as justice, dignity, fairness and equality. By listening to the voices of the criminal justice reform movement philanthropists can help amplifying awareness, clarify issues, and focus on systemic solutions. Individually and collectively philanthropists are poised to make deep and lasting contributions to the movement for human dignity and justice.  

U.S. criminal justice reform is urgent, timely, ripe and catalytic making now the time for action. Funders have the opportunity to help strengthen and sustain the movement through alignment and advocacy. Find your area of focus within the field of criminal justice reform and apply your time, talent and treasure. 

To put it simply, in the field of criminal justice reform, hope and empathy needs to replace fear and anger. Each of us can make a difference. 

David Keller has been actively engaged in strategic philanthropy since 2002 and is the Founder of the David and Anita Keller Foundation. Additionally, David is the Chief Solutions Officer at Article 3 Advisors, a not-for-profit consulting practice working at the nexus of human rights and strategic philanthropy. He is on also on the board of The Philanthropy Workshop.