Volume 9

The Crisis of Criminalization: A Call for a Comprehensive Philanthropic Response

Crisis of Criminalization report cover

Get the report (PDF) / Read the report online (ISSU)

Written by Andrea J. Ritchie and Beth E. Richie

This report is an urgent call for a comprehensive philanthropic response to the growing crisis of criminalization. Over the past decade mass incarceration – the reality that over 2.2 million people are locked up in the nation’s prisons and jails, and 60% are people of color – has emerged as a central social justice issue of our time. Advocates, organizers, and philanthropic partners have confronted this crisis by working to reduce both racial disparities and the overall population of incarcerated people, and to mitigate the collateral consequences of criminal convictions.

While these interventions remain critical, mass incarceration represents the tip of a much larger iceberg – the growing crisis of criminalization.  Over 10 million arrests take place annually across the country. Four million people are currently on probation, parole or otherwise under the control of the criminal legal system without being incarceratedThese daunting statistics reflect a growing crisis in the United States – not of increasing violent crime, but of an ever-expanding web of criminalization. 

The crisis of criminalization is dramatically intensifying in the current political climate as criminalization is increasingly used as both a mechanism and justification for mass detention and deportation of immigrants. It is also increasingly serving as a weapon in assaults on communities of color and low-income communities through the “war on drugs” and policing of poverty, and on reproductive and LGBTQ rights  Criminalization – of individuals and entire communities – is increasingly impeding progress in virtually every field of philanthropic investment: racial and economic justice, civil liberties and human rights, women’s and LGBTQ equality, education and youth leadership, reproductive justice, and public health. But it is a process in which we can – and must – intervene to build safe, healthy, and thriving communities.

This groundbreaking report calls for immediate, concerted, comprehensive, sustained, cross-sector, collaborative philanthropic response to the growing crisis of criminalization, and outlines strategies to more effectively tackle criminalization and mass incarceration, to stop the spread of surveillance and punishment, and to meet the challenges of the current political climate.