Michigan Justice Fund

Is 2021 The Year To Give From Your Ira

Adapted from this press release

A group of national and local foundations recently awarded $2 million in support to 12 organizations through the Michigan Justice Fund, an initiative designed to address inequities in the criminal justice system throughout the state.

Grand Rapids Community Foundation joined the Michigan Justice Fund, a funder collaborative of 14 foundations, in 2021. As an initiative of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, the Michigan Justice Fund primarily seeks to help stem the flow of individuals into the criminal justice system, support the investment of public dollars to community-driven alternatives to incarceration, and ensure that those returning home after incarceration receive the support they need to flourish.

“Practitioners and advocates, those closest to the work of justice reform, have helped the Michigan Justice Fund to build a strategy for enacting smart and racially equitable justice policies that keep our communities safe and reduce barriers to opportunity,” said Melanca Clark, President & CEO, Hudson-Webber Foundation and Chair of the Michigan Justice Fund Steering Committee. “We are thrilled to deploy a round of investments to support organizations and projects that will move our state forward.”

Local Impact

Grand Rapids Community Foundation is excited to be a part of this work for multiple reasons. We are excited to learn about, advocate for and affirm efforts that are happening in West Michigan. “We were really happy to see some of our current grant partners be supported at a state level to do work that we’ve seen have a positive impact in Grand Rapids,” Janean Couch, program director, said. This first round of grantmaking brought to light some of the work that is happening in Kent County’s ecosystem around criminal justice reform that we were not previously aware of, and our team is eager to continue learning.

In other cases, this funding collaborative allowed us to advocate for current partners who are doing great work. A local example of this is Women’s Resource Center who was provided a grant from the Michigan Justice Fund to expand their services to Muskegon and Ottawa County. The Community Foundation recently awarded WRC a grant to ensure continued support for women facing the greatest barriers to attaining employment and economic independence. “It is always nice to see their work be scaled by other funders and to be able to support them at other tables through positive affirmation,” Janean said about WRC. 

Lessons Learned

Through listening to the brilliance of the peer funders who are in the collaborative and nonprofit partners, as well as, some intentional strategic learning, the Community Foundation is excited to see how participating in this group will impact the future. The strategy for the Michigan Justice Fund was created with a group of 26 organizations across the state. These organizations were selected to be representative of a diverse cross-section of nonprofits from across Michigan that directly serve justice-impacted individuals. “We’re counting on our nonprofit partners to center those most impacted by these systemic problems so that they are the people with the power for designing solutions,” says Janean. “The feedback loops and stakeholder engagement that the Michigan Justice Fund had already established for the fund was one of the reasons we were excited to join.” 

“That model of community listening and feedback is exactly what we try to lead with,” says Janean. The Community Foundation will continue to ask questions about what our role beyond the Michigan Justice Fund in the space of criminal justice reform could be. “We are continuing to lean into the different ways we can center community.” 

12 Grants from the Michigan Justice Fund 

  • ACLU Fund of Michigan – $316,320 for the Prosecutor Transparency Project, a research partnership with the Washtenaw, Oakland, and Ingham County prosecutors’ offices to examine prosecutorial decision-making impact on racial Minorities
  • Aspen Institute – $175,000 for the Aspen Criminal Justice Reform Initiative to launch the planning process for the Grand Rapids Justice and Governance Partnership, which is designed to advance multi-sector, jurisdictional approaches to reduce the reliance on the justice system
  • Center for Employment Opportunities – $200,000 to launch a Participant Advisory Council, a group of program alumni and participants designed to inform and lead justice reform efforts throughout Michigan
  • Citizens for Racial Equity in Washtenaw – $200,000 to address racial disparities across Washtenaw County’s juvenile and adult criminal legal systems
  • LINC UP – $80,000 for public education efforts and development of alternatives to current budgetary priorities in Grand Rapids
  • Michigan League for Public Policy – $400,000 to coordinate collaborative criminal legal reform efforts focused on racial equity and representation of justice-impacted people through the Michigan Collaborative to End Mass Incarceration
  • Michigan Prison Doula Initiative – $50,000 to grow childbirth preparation and doula support programs for incarcerated pregnant people
  • Neighborhood Defender Service – $200,000 for eviction/housing defense legal services for criminal defense clients in Wayne County
  • St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center – $200,000 for a collaborative program with M.A.D.E. Institute to provide returning citizens in transitional housing in Genesee County with job readiness training and work opportunities
  • Wayne State University – $200,000 for a pilot program designed to increase the success and economic mobility of formerly incarcerated individuals through strengthening access to higher education
  • Women’s Resource Center – $200,000 to expand New Beginnings, a program that provides women who are returning to the community after incarceration with education and employment services and support, to Muskegon and Ottawa counties
  • Youth Justice Fund – $50,000 for a trauma-informed, peer-support program that provides wraparound services for returning citizens who were incarcerated as youth

Participating funders of the Michigan Justice Fund include Blue Meridian Partners on behalf of the Justice and Mobility Fund, the Community Foundation for Southeast MichiganCommunity Foundation of Greater FlintDTE Energy FoundationEthel & James Flinn FoundationFord FoundationGrand Rapids Community FoundationHudson-Webber FoundationJoyce FoundationJPMorgan Chase, KresgePublic Welfare FoundationRuth Mott Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

As the Michigan Justice Fund looks forward, the collaborative will continue to strengthen the capacity of those working for justice reform, shift the narrative on incarceration, and build a network of engaged and informed funders.