When someone is sent to prison, the void they leave behind is felt by everyone. It fractures families. It steals dignity and opportunity from the incarcerated. It makes their own children more likely to enter the system.
Meanwhile, prison is treated as a solution to problems that really need healthcare—like mental illness and addiction—or social support. And discriminatory policing and sentencing means the oppressed are imprisoned more and for longer, with fewer paths to equity when they get out.
We’re told this is what needs to happen to keep communities safe. But those impacted by mass incarceration know there’s another way.
Enter the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
What is the Ella Baker Center?
The Ella Baker Center is a nonprofit dedicated to building power for black, brown, and low-income people to address mass incarceration in their own communities. Based in Oakland, California, they organize locally and across the country to shift resources towards restorative means of safety. Their guiding ethos is Truth and Reinvestment: to tell the truth about our justice system, and to reinvest funds from punishment to prosperity.
Van Jones, Diana Frappier and Mike McLoone founded the Ella Baker Center in 1996. They named the organization for activist and revolutionary Ella Jo Baker, whose sense of social justice was honed at a young age hearing her grandmother’s stories about life as a slave.
Baker grew up to work for the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, organizing for voter registration and the repeal of Jim Crow laws. She took on a mentoring role in the subsequent student organizing movement and was active in the fight for human rights until her death on her 83rd birthday.
Today, EBC honors her legacy through the values of dreaming big, leading with solutions and engaging everyday people to drive positive change.
In the spirit of “what you water grows,” the Ella Baker Center works at three levels to generate power in overincarcerated communities and show that positive alternatives to policing are possible.
1. Decarcerate Alameda County
At the local level, EBC organizes with allies to audit the budgets put forth by elected officials. They believe that budgets are moral documents—and the amount we spend on incarceration doesn’t align with the values of the people. Decarcerate Alameda County is a coalition working to release people from Santa Rita Jail, slash prison funding and invest it in community health: housing, jobs and healthcare.
At the time of writing, Santa Rita Jail has a COVID-19 outbreak. EBC has been monitoring the situation and sharing resources to demand the humane treatment of those there, such as this January 11 press conference.
2. Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families
At the state level, EBC affects public policy through research and legislative campaigns. In 2015 they released Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families, which outlines achievable carceral reforms with a family focus. This report came from a collaboration with Forward Together, Research Action Design and 20 other organizations nationwide. Learn more at whopaysreport.org.
3. Night Out for Safety and Liberation
At the national level, they work to change narratives around what makes a community safe. Night Out for Safety and Liberation gets the conversation started by bringing neighbors together on the first Tuesday of August. With food, art and live performances in the park, it provides a joyful venue to reimagine public safety as equity and power. NOSL 2020 took place as a livestream concert and a socially-distanced mutual aid event providing PPE, school supplies, pro-bono legal counsel and more.
This work on the ground has resulted in material victories for reducing the prison population, make sentencing fairer and offering new pathways for people once they’re free. In the 24 years since its founding, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights has:
- Stopped the construction of a teen “super jail” in Alameda County.
- Eliminated “time adds”, a practice that allowed guards to extend parole consideration hearing dates without due process.
- Trained young Oaklanders to become advocates for peace through the Heal the Streets fellowship program.
- Closed 5 out of 8 California youth prisons—with no increase in youth crime.
- Secured millions of dollars for reentry programs in partnership with Jobs Not Jails.
- Passed the RISE Act, SB 180, which helps restore balance to the judicial process.
and so much more.
How to Donate to Ella Baker Center
You can donate to Ella Baker Center directly on their website. You can also support Ella Baker Center every time you shop online when shopping with Giving Assistant. To start earning cash back rewards for this nonprofit:
- Sign up for a Giving Assistant account.
- Then next time you shop with Giving Assistant at one of over 2,400 cash back partners, you’ll automatically donate your cash back rewards to EBC at checkout.
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