The Ella Baker Center is named after an important personality of the civil rights movement who inspired and guided emerging leaders. It builds on her legacy by giving people opportunities and skills to work together to strengthen their communities so that all of them can thrive. For over 17 years, they have formed various coalitions and won positive change trying to break the cycle of disinvestment and incarceration in communities of color. Among their successes, they have closed 5 of 8 abusive youth prisons in California and reduced prison populations by 80%, built California’s first statewide network for families of incarcerated youth to advocate for change, partnered with the California Teachers Association to defeat the “dumb on crime” Proposition 6. Now they are bringing all their past experience and success to bear on one of the most urgent issues of our time: mass incarceration.
The United States locks up more people than any other nation on the planet. All of this incarceration and detention carries huge costs for the nation, the families, and the communities—especially communities of color. In this time of massive budget cuts across the country, state after state is sacrificing family and community safety nets, most markedly the schools. Cities across the country face bankruptcy while students and families amass more and more debt. That’s why their current vision is about more than just an end to mass incarceration, it’s about actively rebuilding and reinvesting in the communities most damaged by it.
They call this approach justice reinvestment— the reallocation of resources from mass incarceration toward education and job opportunities, also known as “books not bars, jobs not jails.” Based on their past experience, there are three basic elements needed to ensure justice reinvestment becomes the new public safety standard: support impacted families and communities, build a movement of impacted people and allies from all walks of life and finally move resources to communities and people-centered programs.
Solitary confinement for the youth