An NFL Inspire Change grant partner since 2020, the CJE fights for criminal justice through reforming pre-trial detention and cash bail.
The systemic state of racial injustice and bigotry in the United States and around the world has increasingly sparked activism on the part of those hoping to do more to aid and invest in the communities around us. To do its part, the NFL has built up a range of initiatives it calls “Inspire Change,” headlined by a program that offers grants to various social justice non-profits around the country.
One of this season’s recipient organizations is Community Justice Exchange, which is focused on dismantling the system of white supremacy and bigotry that permeates the prison system through laws dictating pre-trial detention and cash bail.
What is the CJE?
- Established 2018 in California
- Host of the National Bail Fund Network (NBFN)
- Fights to reform bail and pre-trial detention regulations
- Holds annual “Fall Freedom Day”
- NFL Inspire Change grant partner since 2020
“Mass incarceration is built off racism and classism and it disproportionately affects Black, brown, and indigenous people,” program director Pilar Weiss told Boardroom in a phone interview. “CJE is here to help end things like surveillance and pre-trial detention in order to redefine community safety.”
Weiss and the CJE are looking to do more than just fix or reform the racially prejudiced systems within criminalization at the local level and immigration at the national level. “The word ‘reform’ implies a portion of goodness,” Weiss said. “Putting people in cages is not rehabilitation.”
As for the common rebuttal of extreme cases such as those involving interpersonal violence, Weiss said there is no denying this, but such extreme examples cannot be the basis for just policy: “We cany use outliers to create a system, especially one rooted in bigotry.”
We created this resource to support organizers in differentiating between pretrial reforms that move us closer to liberation & abolition, and those that re-legitimize & re-shape existing systems of punishment & control. https://t.co/bJHna04oG5 pic.twitter.com/1GNtU9arO9— Community Justice Exchange (@CommJusticeExch) June 22, 2021
What is The National Bail Fund Network?
- Nationwide directory of community bail funds
- Founded in 2016
- Focused on bail reform in immigration and pre-trial detention cases
- Freed over 10,000 individuals annually
The NBFN has been a part of Community Justice Exchange since 2018. As Weiss referenced, “it is as the name says,” creating a directory of over 75 different local bail funds around the country. “Each local bail fund is started by the community in that place,” Weiss noted. “Through the CJE, people can use the national directory to find a local fund.”
Bail funds are important because so many circumstances can keep an individual from being able to post cash bail. According to a 2016 study published by Forbes, nearly two-thirds of American households do not have $500 available in a liquid account — bail costs can easily meet and exceed that number depending on the situation and location.
Factoring in systemic racism towards immigrants and Black and brown people, the NBFN is a necessary resource as society hopes to build a better community. A key threat, especially for immigrants who are undocumented, is the system of pre-trial detention that renders them effectively forgotten due to a lack of paperwork and resources.
The NFL and CJE
“The NFL’s grant money will be distributed to support the NBFN, as well as help with the costs of what it takes to properly run the NBFN,” Weiss said. “Costs such as staff and speakers will receive the money from the grant.”
The specific size of the grant was not disclosed. However, Weiss did explain a few ways in which the NFL and its players support the mission of the CJE with more than just money.
“Before we even began the process of applying for a grant, several NFL players showed interest in our cause. Players like [49ers cornerback] Josh Norman and [Saints linebacker] Demario Davis went to bail hearings to see just how the process goes,” Weiss said. “Even Commissioner [Roger] Goddell went. To see such an impactful decision be made in a few minutes really resonated with them. Players from Philadelphia and Texas began to contribute by posting bail for cases in those respective places. Then, there was an application process. We were selected in 2020 and we are proud to have been selected again this year.”
In working with organizations like Community Justice Exchange, the NFL has signaled a willingness to insert itself and its resources into the center of these urgent conversations about criminal justice reform.
“It’s about having a hard conversation [about racism and bigotry in the US],” Weiss concluded. “And the NFL being involved helps aid in that conversation.”