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Oregon Justice Resource Center: An NFL “Inspire Change” Story

The Portland-based OJRC, an NFL social justice grant partner, recently began its second decade of fighting mass incarceration in the United States.

For the first time, the NFL has designated Weeks 17 and 18 of the regular season as a showcase for its “Inspire Change” social justice initiatives. Front and center for the proceedings are the NFL’s grant partners focused on causes like education, criminal justice reform, and community emowerment.

Today, Boardroom goes behind the scenes of the Oregon Justice Resource Center.

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What is the OJRC?

  • Founded in 2011
  • Fights for civil rights and improved legal representation underserved communities
  • Has assisted immigrants from 36 different countries
  • Launched FA:IR Law Project to fight unjust convictions and excessive sentencing

Now in its second decade of existence, the OJRC originally formed around the goal of confronting the systemic issues that drive mass incarceration.

“We want to change the value system of society from punishment to compassion,’ OJRC executive director Bobbin Singh told Boardroom in a phone interview. “White supremacy is a 200-year system. Our immediate goal is to frustrate that value system, with our ultimate goal of ending mass incarceration.”

The Oregon Justice Resource Center’s Focus

Mass incarceration affects minorities at an alarmingly disproportionate rate compared to their white counterparts. This includes Black and Indigenous People of Color as well as women, youth, and immigrants. One of the programs within the OJRC that the organization uses to help those in Oregon is the Women’s Justice Project. It is designed to help impoverished women return to life without the burden of debt.

“We don’t want women overwhelmed with legal issues,” Singh said. “We want people to know their rights to restore full rights.”

Many incarcerated women have suffered trauma in their past that may have led them there. The OJRC is working with local government on policy reforms to help these individuals. Only 1 of the 14 prisons in Oregon is designated for women, which leads to overcrowding and a lack of resources.

Oregon also has one of the largest Native American communities in the country.

“With Native women, sometimes there is no clear connection to tribes,” Singh said. “We want to help with their identity to further help with rehabilitation.”

Young people and immigrants additionally face a unique dynamic within the legal system. Due to a wide range of factors, they’re often forced to withstand disproportionately harsh punishments.

“15- to 17-year-olds are being given life without parole. We are developing infrastructure to stay with youth from arrest to re-entry into society,” Singh said.

This forms the basis for the OJRC’s Youth Justice Project.

“No youth should be thrown away,” he added. “Whenever you’re ready, we’re not going to give up on you.”

The Youth Justice Project offers intake form for those looking for assistance. Overall, it aims to end anything that ultimately derails a young person’s life or permanently cuts it short before they have a chance to reach adulthood.

“Immigrants make similar mistakes any person would make,” Singh said. “The OJRC has immigration attorneys available. We work with public defenders to understand potential impacts. We meet with prosecutors to ensure those in the system [remain] in the country. And we work with District Attorney offices to consider policies and policy reform to be sensitive to immigration status.”

While the OJRC does not provide direct legal representation to anyone in proceedings regarding immigration or criminal charges, the organization seeks to provide advice to those who are involved in these cases, as well as resources to ensure that a return to society is possible.

How the NFL Supports the OJRC

OJRC has the space and ability to think creatively about their methods of reforming laws, strengthening communities, and dismantling the pillars of white supremacy. That approach led to the NFL partnership, particularly as the league sought to make an impact in markets in which it does not currently have teams.

“It was somewhat unexpected,” Singh said of the process by which the OJRC got onto the league’s radar and became a grant partner. “There has been a major shift in the national coverage of social justice issues in the past decade. The NFL lends credibility to the work.”

The grant money the OJRC received will be focused on the Women’s Justice Project and the Youth Justice Project.

“Funding is important. And along with that funding, the NFL allows for the opportunity to bring athletes in to amplify the work we’re doing. They’re offered promotion on their platforms as well.”

The OJRC has met resistance as it continues to fight for meaningful change. Singh points out that since the pushback is so often rooted in white supremacy and systemic prejudice, the mission is daunting, but the motivation to keep fighting is clear. “It’s so radical to think to change the value system. We know what we’re up against. It’ll take time. Power and wealth rooted in these systems will be challenging to uproot.”

Click here to learn more about the Oregon Justice Resource Center and find ways to volunteer and donate.

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