How One Foundation is Working to Influence California’s Criminal Justice System

In California, over two-thirds of paroled inmates end up back behind bars within three years. Women are one of the fastest growing segments of California’s jail and prison populations, most of which are incarcerated for nonviolent and minor offenses. Of course, this system is largely filled with people of color.

With this in mind, the Rosenberg Foundation believes that criminal justice reform is one of the most urgent civil rights issues of our day. Through grantmaking and direct activities that promote alternatives to incarceration, this San Francisco-based foundation aims to reduce reentry, increase employment opportunities for the formerly incarcerated, and support victims’ rights.

Related: Rosenberg Foundation: Bay Area Grants

In San Francisco this summer, the Rosenberg Foundation awarded $40,000 to Legal Services for Prisoners with Children to restore the rights of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people and $60,000 to the Women's Foundation of California to reduce the number of women incarcerated in California. Rosenberg also sent $350,000 over to Californians for Safety and Justice in Oakland to reduce incarceration and corrections spending in the state.

In previous years, Rosenberg’s criminal justice portfolio included support to the Institute for Local Government in Sacramento, Urban Strategies Council in Oakland, and Ella Baker Center in Oakland to expand access to jobs for former inmates. Most Rosenberg criminal justice grants are in the $25,000 to $100,000 range.

Collaboration is central to Rosenberg grantmaking, as this foundation partners with other criminal justice funders like the California Wellness Foundation, The California Endowment, and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The state of California is the focus of all Rosenberg grantmaking, criminal justice or otherwise. However, Rosenberg teams up with national organizations, such as the Ford Foundation, to expand its criminal justice reach as well.

Although the Rosenberg Foundation does accept unsolicited inquiries, it only funds a few of them and most grantee partners are contacted first by Rosenberg staff. Criminal justice grantees continue to pitch and follow through with programs that prevent reentry after release from prison and prevent the unnecessary incarceration of women. Although the United States accounts for just 5 percent of the world’s population, it accounts for 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

“While many other progressive issues appear to be at a standstill (witness immigration reform, climate change, etc.), criminal justice issues appear to have the wind at their back,” wrote Susan Bales, President and CEO of FrameWorks Institute, a Rosenberg Foundation partner.