The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights advances racial and economic justice to ensure dignity and opportunity for low-income people and people of color.
The Ella Baker Center is named for an unsung hero of the civil rights movement who inspired and guided emerging leaders. We build on her legacy by giving people opportunities and skills to work together to strengthen our communities so that all of us can thrive.
We believe that every person has the right to safety, to dignity, to equality, and to self-determination. Our work aims to defend and advance these rights in the United States.
For over 17 years, we have formed unlikely coalitions and won positive change that breaks the cycle of disinvestment and incarceration in communities of color. Among our successes, we 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
- Jump started the green collar jobs movement and passed the federal 2007 Green Jobs Act
Now we’re bringing all our past experience and success to bear on one of the most urgent issues of our time: mass incarceration.
The Problem: 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 our nation, our families, and our 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 our schools. Cities across the country face bankruptcy while students and families amass more and more debt. Yet politicians continue to invest billions into jails and prisons that fail to help people get their lives on track and fail to make our communities safer.
As long as we continue to spend on failed approaches that lock people up, we won’t be able to afford the vital resources that actually set up youth and families for success such as schools, job training programs, and funds for business innovation at local and regional levels.
We have a choice: continue to expand surveillance, prisons, and poverty, or reinvest in people, health, and prosperity.
The Solution: Justice Reinvestment
Mass incarceration and the failings of the US criminal justice system are finally starting to capture the interest of elected officials and the media.
Yet this interest is unlikely to lead to the people-centered change our communities need without a people-powered movement that can insist on a holistic approach to public safety with lasting results.
That’s why our 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.
We call our 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 our 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
- Move resources to communities and people-centered programs
Within those three elements are countless ways for folks like you to get involved. Like Miss Baker, we believe that when people have the knowledge, inspiration and solutions they need to address the challenges they face, they can make a difference.
We’re here to make sure you get what you need to lead.