The United States is the world leader in incarceration, with 2.3 million people living in our prisons or jails. Growing prison populations highlight many of our society’s failures to serve the mentally ill, protect at-risk youth, and provide equal rights to minority populations. In total, there are 9 million people imprisoned worldwide. There is a lot of work to be done to monitor and reform our criminal justice systems.
How can you help? Learn more about four Manhattan-based organizations working on behalf of the accused, incarcerated, and exonerated and find the criminal justice volunteer opportunity that is right for you.
Explore Local Criminal Justice Volunteer Opportunities
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch is a New York City-based NGO that promotes human rights and justice worldwide. HRW puts pressure on human rights abusers through community partnerships and advocacy to the press and local governments. To participate in Human Rights Watch campaigns, visit their Take Action page to learn about simple steps you can take online and over the phone to increase awareness and hold leaders accountable. Direct volunteer positions with Human Rights Watch are also available. Visit their Careers page and search for Volunteer & Intern opportunities to apply.
The Innocence Project
The mission of the Innocence Project is to free wrongfully incarcerated people through DNA testing and work to reform the legal system. Their social work department also helps to support and reintegrate the exonerated back into society. If you are interested in becoming an advocate for their cause, check out the quick-start guide, “How to Talk About Innocence-Related Issues” and learn how to meaningfully engage with political figures, the media, and other advocacy and community groups. You can also hold an Innocence Project House Party to educate friends and raise awareness about DNA exonerations.
Open Society Foundation
Open Society Foundations fund a range of programs to encourage the growth of vibrant and tolerant democracies worldwide. The Open Society Justice Initiative is operated out of the Foundation’s New York office and supports criminal justice reform around the world by developing alternatives to pretrial detention, broadening access to legal representation, and creating new alliances to promote legal reforms. The Foundation offers opportunities for grant funding, internships, and scholarships to groups and individuals whose work aligns with their mission. Visit their Criminal Justice topics page to read about grant opportunities, ongoing projects, and events related to this initiative.
Correctional Association of New York
The Correctional Association of New York is working to develop a more effective and humane criminal justice system, driven by a deep faith in the inherent dignity of all human beings. Three state-wide coalitions mobilize diverse networks of advocates, lawyers, community activists, and human rights and health organizations to seek sweeping changes to juvenile justice programs, solitary confinement policies, and women’s correctional facilities. Check out the CA’s Ways to Get Involved page to sign up for volunteer opportunities, learn more about the coalitions, and even become a CA advocate by enrolling in a leadership training program.
New York Civil Liberties Union
The New York Civil Liberties Union promotes equality and the right to due process for all New Yorkers. Recognizing that the criminal justice system often works against people of color, low-income people, and immigrants, the NYCLU is working to enact reforms that will make fair treatment and accountability a reality. Learn more about taking action with the NYCLU on their website and apply to be a volunteer. Have a moment right now? The NYCLU also makes it possible for you to act immediately on issues of due process and justice by sending emails to state leaders.
These five organizations are doing tremendous work to affect change to the criminal justice system in the U.S. and worldwide. For more volunteer opportunities, explore local social justice organizations and make a difference in your community.
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