9 Best Charities That Fight to End Mass Incarceration (Complete 2024 List)

9 Best Charities That Fight to End Mass Incarceration (Complete 2024 List)

By
Eniola Adeeko

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Mass incarceration unnecessarily deprives people of their freedom and results in enormous social and economic costs for individuals, families, and governments. For example, the American system of mass incarceration costs taxpayers at least $182 billion annually. As a result, nonprofit organizations are working to promote criminal justice reforms in the US and worldwide. So we had to ask: What are the best charities fighting to end mass incarceration?

The best charities that fight to end mass incarceration are The Sentencing Project and the Vera Institute of Justice. Charities like Race Forward, the Prison Policy Initiative, and the Equal Justice Initiative campaign for prison reforms and a fairer criminal justice system.

Whether you want to provide legal aid to those illegally convicted, contribute to research publicizing the negative effects of mass incarceration. or campaign for legal reforms, there is a charity for you. Keep reading to learn more about what the best charities fighting to end mass incarceration are all about, how they work, and your best way to make a contribution.

Here’s What All the Best Charities That Fight to End Mass Incarceration Have in Common

The charities on this list were chosen based on their mission, impact, transparency ratings, and achievements.

They strive to challenge unfair sentencing policies and excessive punishment.

Many of these charities work with government officials and legislators to create laws that promote a more effective justice system. Other charities protect the rights and welfare of incarcerated people and their families.

Yet, they all share a common goal of fighting to end mass incarceration. 

These Are the 9 Best Charities That Fight to End Mass Incarceration in 2024

Below are our favorite charities fighting to end mass incarceration (you can click on their link to directly jump to their section in this article):

(At the end of this article, we’ll also share our six-step approach on how you can select the best charity to support.)

1

The Sentencing Project: Ensuring Voting Rights for All

Logo for The Sentencing Project
Free the Vote

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Their transparency & ratings:

The Sentencing Project has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator. They also hold the Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.

“We advocate for effective and humane responses to crime that minimize imprisonment and criminalization of youth and adults by promoting racial, ethnic, economic, and gender justice.”

The Sentencing Project

⚒️

What they do:

The Sentencing Project is committed to ending mass incarceration by advocating for policies against extreme sentences. They also campaign for a universal “second look” review process for all people incarcerated within a maximum of 10 years of imprisonment. They also run The Second Look Network, which connects and empowers legal advocates to bring people serving excessive and unfair prison sentences home. In addition, they promote legislation and policies that expand voting rights to citizens with felony convictions and those detained in jails and youth justice facilities. 

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What they’ve achieved:

Today, The Sentencing Project works with over 150 state-level organizations and 68 national groups to end extreme sentencing, advance voting rights and promote youth justice reforms. For example, in 2021, they mobilized over 72 local advocacy groups to promote “second look” legislation that would reduce Michigan’s prison population and give thousands a second chance. In addition, they campaigned for new legislation to restore voting rights to residents in Connecticut and New York, enfranchising nearly 40,000 people.

Ways to contribute:

You can donate directly to The Sentencing Project through their website. You can also support the charity by joining their campaign urging the DC Council to protect second chances and oppose mandatory minimums.

2

Vera Institute of Justice: Ending Mass Incarceration

Logo for Vera Institute of Justice
Vera President Nick Turner on How Sentencing Laws Contribute To Mass Incarceration

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Their transparency & ratings:

The Vera Institute of Justice has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator. They also hold the Gold Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.

“We research, test, and scale innovative solutions to end mass incarceration.”

Vera Institute of Justice

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What they do:

The Vera Institute of Justice brings together experts, activists, and policymakers to end mass incarceration. For example, they provide reliable data and research illustrating the harms of mass incarceration and help advocate for bail and criminal justice reforms. They also work with prosecutors to reduce incarceration and racial disparities. In addition, they run the In Our Backyards initiative aimed at reducing mass incarceration in the communities with the highest rates of incarceration.

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What they’ve achieved:

Since their founding, the Vera Institute of Justice has remained committed to ending mass incarceration. For example, in 2020, they worked on 18 projects with 27 community-based organizations across 12 states to advocate for an end to mass incarceration at the federal level. They also partnered with Justice Matters in Kansas to build a unanimous consensus within the county’s leadership to reverse a $29.6 million jail expansion plan.

Ways to contribute:

You can donate directly to the Vera Institute of Justice through their website. You can also support them by campaigning for better care to stop jail deaths in L.A.

3

Race Forward: Advancing Racial Justice in Our Policies, Institutions, and Culture

Logo for Race Forward
Join Race Forward in the movement for racial justice!

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Their transparency & ratings:

Race Forward has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator. They also hold the Gold Seal of Transparency from GuideStar

“We aim to bridge grassroots movement organizations under a shared vision for community liberation.”

Race Forward

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What they do:

Race Forward seeks to provide community-led solutions to abolish mass incarceration and criminalization systems. They do this through their Mass Freedom Initiative, which addresses mass incarceration, criminalization of people of color, and immigration inhumanity. They also run the Mass Freedom Cohort, a national gathering of grassroots organizers to advocate for policy change concerning the incarceration of racialized communities.

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What they’ve achieved:

Since their founding, Race Forward has worked hard to abolish mass incarceration and criminalization of people of color. For example, in 2021, they contributed $1 million to 14 grassroots organizations working to abolish oppressive systems that discriminate against people of color.

Ways to contribute:

You can donate directly to Race Forward through their website. You can also support the charity by working with them to fight mass incarceration and racial injustice.

4

Prison Policy Initiative: Campaigning against Over-Criminalization

Logo for Prison Policy Initiative
Fueling the movement

🔎

Their transparency & ratings:

The Prison Policy Initiative has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator. They also hold the Gold Seal of Transparency from GuideStar

“We produce cutting-edge research to expose the broader harm of mass criminalization and spark advocacy campaigns to create a more just society.” Prison Policy Initiative 

Prison Policy Initiative 

⚒️

What they do:

The Prison Policy Initiative researches and publishes reports about mass incarceration and its harmful effects on people and communities. They also advocate for jail reform, eradicating prison gerrymandering, and mass criminalization. In addition, they campaign for reduced incarceration by implementing more effective probation and parole systems.

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What they’ve achieved:

Since their founding, the Prison Policy Initiative has led the movement against mass incarceration. For example, they have published over 3,800 entries and reports to increase public awareness about mass incarceration. Also, in 2020, their campaign to end prison gerrymandering resulted in the end or reduction of the practice in over 12 states and 200 municipalities in the US

Ways to contribute:

You can donate directly to the Prison Policy Initiative through their website. You can also support them by reading their reports and campaigns.

5

Equal Justice Initiative: Challenging Injustice

Logo for Equal Justice Initiative
The Decline of the Death Penalty Across America

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Their transparency & ratings:

The Equal Justice Initiative has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator

“We are committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States.”

Equal Justice Initiative

⚒️

What they do:

The Equal Justice Initiative provides research and recommendations to assist advocates and policymakers in criminal justice reform. For example, they publish reports, discussion guides, and other educational materials. They also advocate for parole reform and publicize the collateral consequences of incarceration for families and communities. In addition, they challenge abusive punishment for children and support those incarcerated as children through their specialized re-entry program.

🚀

What they’ve achieved:

Since their inception, the Equal Justice Initiative has worked hard to reduce mass incarceration and challenge unfair sentencing legislation. For example, as of 2022, their campaigns have led to banning abusive punishment for children and juveniles in 25 states. They have also fought to release over 880 people sentenced as children to die in prison.

Ways to contribute:

You can donate directly to the Equal Justice Initiative through their website. You can also contribute to this non-profit organization by purchasing from their online shop.

6

Families against Mandatory Minimums Foundation: Ensuring a Fair Criminal Justice System

Logo for Families against Mandatory Minimums Foundation
The Stories You Don't Hear

🔎

Their transparency & ratings:

Families against Mandatory Minimums Foundation has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator.

“We want to create a more fair and effective justice system that respects our American values of individual accountability and dignity while keeping our communities safe.”

Families against Mandatory Minimums Foundation

⚒️

What they do:

The Families against Mandatory Minimums Foundation seeks to reunite families and reduce mass incarceration. For example, they campaign for a Second Chances Agenda, which includes passing “second look” laws, expanding compassionate release, and using clemency more often. They also advocate to end mandatory minimum sentences and impose fairer, proportionate sentences. In addition, they support policies that provide incarcerated individuals with rehabilitative programs, education opportunities, and meaningful work.

🚀

What they’ve achieved:

Since their founding, the Families against Mandatory Minimums Foundation has helped over 500,000 people receive fairer, shorter sentences. They have also reduced the prison population in the US by 200,000 people. Also, in 2022, the California legislature approved their bill to expand compassionate release and signed it into law. In addition, in 2020, they provided legal aid to help over 2,300 federal prisoners to be granted early release.

Ways to contribute:

You can donate directly to Families against Mandatory Minimums Foundation through their website. You can also contribute to the charity by signing the petition for their Second Chances Agenda. In addition, you could also become an advocate to end mass incarceration.

7

A New Way of Life: Linking Promise with Opportunity

A New Way of Life - About Us

🔎

Their transparency & ratings:

A New Way of Life has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator. They also hold the Bronze Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.

Healing, power, and opportunity for formerly incarcerated people.

A New Way of Life

⚒️

What they do:

A New Way of Life seeks to eradicate mass incarceration through advocacy. For example, they run a multimedia initiative, Testifi, to transform public dialogue on mass incarceration through storytelling and the experiences of formerly incarcerated women. They also support formerly incarcerated women with safe housing to help them ease back into society. In addition, they offer pro bono legal services to protect the rights of formerly incarcerated people. Furthermore, they provide family reunification services to families impacted by mass incarceration.

🚀

What they’ve achieved:

Since their inception, A New Way of Life has fought to end mass incarceration and support incarcerated people by providing pro bono legal services to over 3,400 people with conviction histories. They also provided housing to over 1,500 formerly incarcerated women. In addition, they have also helped to reunite more than 400 women with their children.

Ways to contribute:

You can donate directly to A New Way of Life through their website. You can also assist them by volunteering.

8

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: Advocating for the Rights of Minorities

Logo for NAACP
THRIVE.

🔎

Their transparency & ratings:

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has a 3-star rating from Charity Navigator. They also hold a Gold Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.

“We address policies that unfairly target or penalize Black people in the criminal justice system.”

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

⚒️

What they do:

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People fights for the rights and freedom of colored people in the US. For example, they campaign for restorative justice to reduce mass incarceration, decrease costs in the justice system, and build cohesive communities. They also challenge mandatory minimum laws, unfair sentencing policies, and excessive punishment for people of color. In addition, they campaign to eliminate economic and social bias to promote equal access to opportunities for all people and reduce crime rates in the US. Furthermore, they advocate for a reform of the criminal justice system to ensure justice for all people, irrespective of their race.

🚀

What they’ve achieved:

Since their inception, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has become a nonprofit organization comprising 2 million members in 2,200 units across the US. They have spent over $8 million in grants and scholarship awards to support colored people and, thus, reduce criminality in the US. In addition, they have mobilized over 17,000 youth activists to fight for the rights and freedom of the members of the Black community. 

Ways to contribute:

You can donate directly to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People through their website. You can also support them by joining a local unit in your city. In addition, you can join their campaign to invest in Black communities.

9

Critical Resistance: Dismantling Prison Industrial Complex

Logo for Critical Resistance
Angela Davis, "The Shifting Concept of the Prison Industrial Complex"

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Their transparency & ratings:

Critical Resistance has a 3-star rating from Charity Navigator. They also hold the Bronze Seal of Transparency from GuideStar.

“We seek to build an international movement to end the prison industrial complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe.”

Critical Resistance

⚒️

What they do:

Critical Resistance fights for the abolition of imprisonment and the rights of incarcerated people. For example, they campaign against the construction of new jails and prisons and advocate for the permanent closure of prisons. They also challenge increased sentencing and work to reduce imprisonment. In addition, they organize campaigns and projects that provide direct communication and political education support to imprisoned people.

🚀

What they’ve achieved:

Since their inception, Critical Resistance has advocated for the end of mass incarceration. For example, in 2021, they helped divert $18 million from the Oakland Police Department budget to community resources. They also shared political education, mutual aid, and organizing resources with over 19,000 imprisoned people. In addition, they collaborated with movement partners across California to close a prison in Tracy

Ways to contribute:

You can donate directly to Critical Resistance through their website. You can also assist them by volunteering or joining a chapter near you. In addition, you can contribute by buying their merchandise.

How Can You Select the Best Charities to Support?

The charities on the list are, we deem, the best charities fighting to end mass incarceration. However, you may have a particular charity you want to support. Let’s look at what you can do to ensure your contribution has the most significant impact.

  • Check out the charity website. Charities that are worthy of your donations are transparent in their mission and their figures. Familiarize yourself with their history, mission, and values. Their website usually is the best place to start.
  • Identify the charity’s mission. Without a goal, the charity is likely to fail. If the charity’s mission isn’t clear, it’s probably worth looking for a charity that does have a clear mission. 
  • Check if the charity has measurable goals. An effective charity has clear goals. You want to know your donation will help the charity reach its goals. But if it doesn’t have targets, it’s likely to fail or squander your gift. The charity should be able to account for its spending and supply evidence of the work they do.
  • Assess the successes or goals the charity has achieved. You wouldn’t invest in a business if it kept missing its targets. In the same way, charities are like this too. If no one is assessing a charity’s progress in reaching its targets, the chances are they’re not making a substantial positive change.
  • Check the charity’s financials and stats. Trustworthy organizations will publish financial statements and reports each year. Some might be exempt from having to do so, but they should be able to provide them to public members who are interested in donating.
  • Locate sources who work with or benefit from the charity. Word of mouth and first-hand experience of a charity’s work lets you know the charity’s quality. If you’re able to do so, check out the charity for yourself or speak to someone familiar with it. This way, your donation will go to the right place. 

How Can You Best Support These Charities?

After you’ve made your decision, it’s time for you to decide on how you’d like to help the charities you’ve chosen. Check how you can help – each charity runs specific programs that have unique aims. Find out what the aim of such programs is and whether they are right for you. 

Here are a few ways you can help your chosen charity:

  • Donate money. You can find donation pages on the website of most charities. Your donation can be a one-time payment, or you can set it to be deducted regularly at different intervals. You can mostly pay via credit card, but some charities also take PayPal or Bitcoin payments.
  • Buy their official merchandise. The charities can also raise money by selling merchandise. So, you can support them by buying the mugs, shirts, caps, pens, pencils, and any other such items they may be selling. Ideally, you should buy as much as you can to share and spread the word about the charity’s activities.
  • Engage in volunteer work. As you’ve seen from our descriptions above, some charities engage in a lot of local and grassroots programs. You can help by taking on and organizing the program in your local area.
  • Help their fundraising efforts. You can spread the word about the charity in your workplace, school, church, etc., and hold creative fundraising drives on social media or offline within your small circles.
  • Share their stories. Most charities have compelling stories that you can share with your audience to attract more people to the cause.

Final Thoughts

Now it is up to you to select the charity that resonates most with you. And whichever charity you end up choosing and contributing to, we are sure that they will immensely appreciate your support. Hopefully, the information within this article has made this selection process a bit easier for you to support charities dedicated to fighting to end mass incarceration – based on the causes that matter most to you.

Stay impactful,

Illustration of a signature for Eniola

PS: Finally, I want to leave you with a thought-provoking TED talk from Dan Pallotta, a leading philanthropic activist and fundraiser, about what is wrong with the way we think about charities – and what we can do about it:

The way we think about charity is dead wrong | Dan Pallotta

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