Grantee Highlight: Building a powerful network of women with incarcerated loved ones

Every month, we highlight a grantee that we’ve recently funded through our Equity Grants Program, which advances racial and economic inclusion in the Bay Area.

Founded in 2014, the Oakland-based Essie Justice Group supports women of color to become visible leaders in criminal justice advocacy. The financial and socio-emotional impact of having a loved one behind bars, compounded by stigma, has resulted in the mass isolation of women with incarcerated loved ones. Essie channels the collective power of women with incarcerated loved ones toward policy and systems change.

The experiences of women with incarcerated loved ones are directly connected to the broad legacy of racial and economic inequity. Today, nearly one in two black women has a family member in prison. By comparison, one in eight white women have a family member in prison. To date, the organizing potential of more than six million women of color with incarcerated loved ones – people who have a deep understanding of the inequitable criminal justice system – has been largely overlooked.

Participants in Essie’s Healing to Advocacy program spend nine weeks learning how to advocate for themselves, their families, and for the community. Graduates then help facilitate a new “sister circle” by participating in advocacy campaigns. And Essie ensures that the program eliminates barriers to its female participants: childcare, meals and transportation are offered at every meeting.

One of the foundation’s People pathway strategies is to reform the inequitable bail system, which is a priority shared by Essie and its 2017 Bail Reform Campaign. The foundation’s recent grant to Essie will also help the organization establish a network of 150 women with incarcerated loved ones in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.

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