Ford Foundation Commits $250M To Increase Economic Mobility for Those With Criminal Justice System Ties
Approximately 77 million people in America have criminal records — a number the Ford Foundation is hoping to decrease with a focus on an equitable economic recovery from the pandemic.
The Ford Foundation recently announced an initial $250 million investment into the Justice and Mobility Fund, which supports organizations striving to boost economic mobility and strengthen the life paths of those associated with the criminal justice system since, oftentimes, they are denied economic opportunities decades after an original offense.
The fund, which is a collaboration among the Ford Foundation, Blue Meridian Partners and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, has invested $145 million thus far to nine organizations that focus on areas from pre-arrest diversion to re-entry job training and pathways to living-wage employment.
“Mass criminalization and incarceration is one of the most critical civil rights issues of our times. For our nation to rebuild equitably and ensure no community is left behind, we must tackle the immense, unjust barriers to opportunity imposed by our present system of justice,” Nancy Roob, CEO of Blue Meridian Partners, said in a statement. “We’re grateful to work with the Ford Foundation and Schusterman Family Philanthropies to provide the long-term investment that social sector leaders need to scale solutions proven to help justice-involved people climb the economic ladder and build safer, stronger communities.”
For example, Kish Roberts has been in and out of the system since he was 12. After participating in the training, coaching and the transitional employment program with Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) — one of the organizations this fund will benefit — he is now a full-time truck driver in New York. He also participates CEO’s Participant Advocate Council, whose members use their lived experiences to push for social justice and criminal legal reform.
The fund will prioritize racial equity across its work, investing in solutions that counter systemic racism, strengthen community safety, and specifically address the needs of Black communities and other communities of color hardest hit by mass criminalization and over-incarceration. It will pursue a comprehensive set of nationwide approaches—including policy development and advocacy, direct services to individuals, and narrative change that centers the voices of individuals engaged with the system—and place-based initiatives in states with low levels of economic mobility, high incarceration rates, significant racial disparities, and strong momentum for criminal justice reform.
"In this moment of reckoning and recovery, investing in the economic mobility of millions of people ensnared by the justice system is a key frontier in the struggle for safe and thriving communities," Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, said in a statement. "The Justice and Mobility Fund's unique collaboration and contribution expands crucial access to jobs, training, and opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and ensure justice-involved people can thrive. We welcome peers in philanthropy to join and scale this effort, because when individuals are stable, whole communities are stabilized."
In the wake of a global pandemic, the fund will also aim to advocate an equitable recovery with a focus on training and skill-building to help those with criminal records get jobs with living wages and encourage employers to hire, retain and advance individuals with criminal records. CEO, the nation’s largest reentry employment provider, will grow to new locations and provide programs that teach digital and financial skills that help participants secure living wage jobs. Last year, the collaboration helped CEO to implement COVID-19 Returning Citizen Stimulus Initiative, which worked with 32 community reentry partners in 28 cities to provide immediate direct cash assistance to CEO’s rapid pivot to implement a more than 10,000 individuals released from incarceration due to the pandemic, helping them return to their communities on solid footing.
“If we want to achieve racial and economic justice in this country, we must address mass criminalization and its disproportionate impact on Black people and communities of color,” Stacy Schusterman, chair of Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, said in a statement. “A small interaction with the criminal justice system can make it difficult for a person — even when found innocent — to regain economic stability and can create lifelong hardship for the families impacted. The Justice and Mobility Fund is an opportunity to join forces with other funders to increase our impact on a deeply entrenched issue that has been historically underfunded. We hope more partners will consider joining this important work.”
Organizations receiving current Justice and Mobility Fund investments include:
- The Center for Employment Opportunities
- The Vera Institute of Justice
- The Clean Slate Initiative
- Alliance for Safety and Justice
- Jobs for the Future
- Center for Policing Equity
- Michigan Justice Fund, hosted by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
- Oklahoma Justice Fund, supported by the George Kaiser Family Foundation