A fundamental characteristic of our nation’s justice system is that it is structured and designed primarily to prosecute and punish low-income people, and in particular, low- income people of color. Through our experience, we have found that it is women, and women of color in particular, who are primarily confronting the deeply entrenched problems in the justice system. We, also, found there were too few opportunities for families to gain the tools necessary to actively engage in reforms or advocacy.
In 2012, we established the Family Leadership Institute. Justice For Families covers all of the expenses for the Institute, including travel and educational materials. The Institute is a high impact leadership development and skill-building program that uses training, coaching and support. The Institute provides deeply impacted people with a unique opportunity to connect with others that share their determination and experiences; hear about victories, defeats and the lessons learned from those efforts; brainstorm ideas about their local work; share valuable connections and resources; and build strong peer-to-peer relationships that are relied upon for support, ideas and technical assistance.
The Institute helps people connect their own experiences to larger systemic issues, understand strategies and tools that created successful historical movements for change and develop effective communication strategies. Through the Institute, people learn the hard and soft skills of advocating for themselves and others and about effective alternatives to incarceration. Since 2012, nearly 150 impacted individuals have attended the Institute. Over 90% of participants have returned to their communities to challenge oppressive systems and change policy, practice and the entrenched culture that underpins the current power structure through local grassroots organizations or as individual activists in places where there is no organizational support.
The experience that families coalesce around at J4F is one that has been deeply traumatic for them and for their families and one that is often ongoing when they begin to engage in leadership activities, and it is also one that varies dramatically due to the structural racism and sexism inherent in the juvenile and adult justice system. Our work and activities are designed with this in mind and are implemented to reflect J4F’s organizational commitment to racial, economic and gender justice.
To help the participants of the Family Leadership Institute stay connected, we created the Family Leadership Network. Monthly leadership calls offer an opportunity for these valuable relationships – and the peer-to-peer support they provide – to continue long after people return home.
If you would like to know more about the Family Leadership Institute and Network, please contact us at Justice For Families.