Criminal Justice

It is impossible to think about the criminal justice system, without acknowledging how structural racism is embedded into it. While some elected officials have focused on tinkering with the criminal justice system, abolitionists like Mariame Kaba note, “efforts to solve police violence through liberal reforms like these have failed for nearly a century.” Kaba challenges us to ask, “Why do we have no other well-resourced options?”, and steers the conversation toward focusing on community safety. Indeed, a deep understanding of the roots of our nation’s highly racialized and inequitable criminal justice system is necessary, if we are to imagine a more equitable way forward.

The resources in this section call out the origins of structural racism within the criminal justice system, shares the demands and ideas a [...]

Criminal Justice and Specific Populations

Struggle for Power: The Ongoing Persecution of Black Movement by the U.S. Government
Mudassar Toppa and Princess Masilungan et al.
The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL)
A Plan of Action For A Safer Memphis Community: Latinos, the Community and Police Relations
Fuerza Latina Unida and The Advancement Project
America’s Invisible Children: Latino Youth and the Failure of Justice
Neelum Arya et al.
Campaign for Youth Justice and National Council of La Raza
Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline: The Crisis Affecting Rochester’s Students and What We Can Do to Fix It
Metro Justice; Center for Teen Empowerment; Alliance for Quality Education (AQE); Advancement Project
Chokehold: Policing Black Men and Women in America
Paul Butler
The Guardian
From Report Card to Criminal Record: The Impact of Policing Oakland Youth
Jacquelyn Byers et al.
The Black Organizing Project, Public Counsel, and ACLU-NC
Just Kids: Baltimore’s Youth in the Adult Criminal Justice System
Wendy Hess et al.
Public Justice Center; Community Law In Action, Inc.; United Parents of Incarcerated Children and Youth
Talking About Policing Issues: Border Communities
The Opportunity Agenda
The $746 Million a Year School-to-Prison Pipeline: The Ineffective, Discriminatory, and Costly Process of Criminalizing New York City Students
Katherine Terenzi and Kesi Foster
Urban Youth Collaborative; The Center for Popular Democracy
We Too Belong: A Resource Guide of Inclusive Practices in Immigration and Incarceration Law and Policy
Stephen Menendian et al.
Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society

Imagining Criminal Justice Transformation

Abolition Through the Ages: Reform Versus Transformation, Then and Now
Sonali Kolhatkar
YES! Magazine
Abolition Made Practical
Alysia Harris
Scalawag Magazine
Organizers Change What’s Possible
Sharlyn Grace
Inquest, Decarceral Pathways
The Emerging Movement for Police and Prison Abolition
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
The New Yorker
Black Freedom Beyond Borders: Memories of Abolition Day
Amir Khadar et al.
Wakanda Dream Lab; PolicyLink; The BIG We
The System Is Built for Power, Not Justice
Derecka Purnell
Abolition for the People
Cities Reimagine Public Safety Amid Calls to #DefundPolice
Lornet Turnbull
YES! Magazine
From Fringe Idea to Law of the Land — A Look Inside the Creativity Fueling the Struggle to Defund the Police
Nadine Block and Folabi Olagbaju
Waging Nonviolence
How Do We Change America?
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
The New Yorker
If You’re New to Abolition: Study Group Guide
Abolitional Journal
Political Possibilities: Black Feminism Offers a Path to Abolition
Elizabeth Jordie Davies
bitch media
The City That Really Did Abolish the Police
Katherine Landergan
Thinking About How to Abolish Prisons With Mariame Kaba: Podcast & Transcript
Chris Hayes
Care First, Jails Last: Health and Racial Justice Strategies for Safer Communities
Los Angeles County Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group
Freedom to Thrive: Reimagining Safety & Security in Our Communities
Kate Hamaji et al.
The Center for Popular Democracy; Law for Black Lives; BYP100
Power in Partnerships: Building Connections at the Intersections of Racial Justice & LGBTQ Movements to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline
Advancement Project, Equality Federation Institute, and Gay Straight Alliance Network
Race, Crime, and Punishment: Breaking the Connection in America
Michelle Alexander, Eric Cadora, Blake Emerson, et al.
The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change
Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System: A Manual for Practitioners and Policymakers
Dennis Schrantz et al.
The Sentencing Project
The Answer to Police Violence is Not “Reform”. It’s Defunding. Here’s Why
Alex S Vitale
The Guardian
Vision for Justice 2020 and Beyond: A New Paradigm for Public Safety
The Leadership Conference and Civil Rights Corps
We Came to Learn: A Call to Action for Police-Free Schools
The Advancement Project; Alliance for Educational Justice

Policing and Public Safety

Automating Banishment: The Surveillance and Policing of Looted Land
Stop LAPD Spying Coalition
Police-Free Schools
Melissa Coretz Goemann, A. Grifno, and M. Mata
National Juvenile Justice Network
Public Safety Reinvestment
Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ)
The Chauvin Verdict, Ma’Khia Bryant’s Killing and Why We Must Resist Settling for the Breadcrumbs of Justice
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw
The African American Policy Forum (AAPF)
Invitation to Prophetic Imagination: Community Safety for All: Congregational Action Toolkit
Defund Police
Project NIA; Blue Seat Studios
Bring the Heat: Reconstructing the Public Safety System
Bring the Heat Campaign
Defund the Police: Resources
White Noise Collective
Evaluate Your City’s Policing Practices
Local Progress
Reformist Reforms Vs. Abolitionist Steps in Policing
Critical Resistance
Broken Windows Broken People
Molly Crabapple
Fusion Voices
Community-Centered Policing Tools: Limiting Police Use of Force
PolicyLink and the Advancement Project
Incorporating Racial Equity into Criminal Justice Reform
Marc Mauer and Nazgol Ghandnoosh
The Sentencing Project
Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department
United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division
Itemizing Atrocity
Tamara K. Nopper and Mariame Kaba
Listening Sessions Report: A Community and Police Partnership to Eliminate Racial Profiling
Oregon Action; Center for Intercultural Organizing; Northwest Constitutional Rights Center; Portland Police Bureau, et al.
Police Use of Force Project: How Police Use of Force Policies Can Help to End Police Violence
Campaign Zero
Race and Punishment: Racial Perceptions of Crime and Support for Punitive Policies
Nazgol Ghandnoosh
The Sentencing Project
The State of Police Reform: What Has and Hasn’t Changed in St. Louis Policing?
Karishma Furtado et al.
Forward Through Ferguson
The U.S. v. Trayvon Martin: How the System Worked
Robin D.G. Kelley
War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing
Kara Dansky

Resistance and Organizing

Invoking “Terrorism” Against Police Protestors
Shirin Sinnar
Just Security
Abolition in COVID-Times
Cara Page, Caitlin Breedlove, Shira Hassan, Mia Mingus, and Sonali Sadequee
Fortification Podcast
Know Their Names: Black People Killed By the Police in the Us
Alia Chughtai
Al Jazeera
Police “Reforms” You Should Always Oppose
Mariame Kaba, Prison Culture
Until Freedom Comes: A Comprehensive Bailout Toolkit
National Bailout
The Abolitionist Toolkit
Critical Resistance
Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual
Home with a Purpose: History of the Safe Return Project
Saneta devuono-powell et al.
Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society
New Era of Public Safety: An Advocacy Toolkit for Fair, Safe, and Effective Community Policing
Lynda Garcia et al.
Leadership Conference Education Fund and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Prison Activist Resource Center
Prison Activist Resource Center
Reflections on Policing: Organizers in Five Communities Speak Out
Andrew Grant-Thomas
Othering & Belonging: Expanding the Circle of Human Concern

Restorative Justice

What Is Restorative Justice?
Cymone Fuller and Ashlee George
Impact Justice, National Training & Innovation Center
Restorative Justice
Centre for Justice and Reconciliation, Prison Fellowship International
Transformative Justice: A Curriculum Guide
Mariame Kaba et al.
Project NIA

Sentencing and Incarceration

The Prison Industry: How It Started. How It Works. How It Harms.
Bianca Tylek et al.
Worth Rises
The Promise of Racial Impact Statements: Findings from a Case Study of Minority Impact Statements in Iowa
T. Gahn, B. Porter, A. Dopp, N. Shakura, J. Thomas, et al.
National Juvenile Justice Network
Racial and Ethnic Disparities Program Assessment Tool for Treatment Courts
American University
Until Freedom Comes Bail Toolkit
National Bail Out
#TheRealCrime: Mass Criminalization of Our Communities
Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)
Introduction to the Prison Industrial Complex Workshop
The Chicago Prison Industrial Complex Teaching Collective
Mass Incarceration and Children’s Outcomes: Criminal Justice Policy Is Education Policy
Leila Morsy and Richard Rothstein
Economic Policy Institute
Selling Off Our Freedom: How Insurance Corporations Have Taken Over Our Bail System
Katie Unger
Color Of Change and ACLU
Teaching “The New Jim Crow”
Michelle Alexander
Teaching Tolerance; The New Press; SPLC
The State of Our Communities: Understanding Mass Incarceration and Migrant Detention
Opal Tometi and Terence Courtney
Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)
Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families
Saneta deVuono-powell, C. Schweidler, A. Walters, and A. Zohrabi
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together, and Research Action Design

“If you’re quiet, knowing that there’s a culture of racism inside most police departments, and you’re not saying anything, you are on the wrong side of history.”

~ Alicia Garza, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter


Mass Incarceration, Visualized – The Atlantic

Also in this section:
  • Addressing Hate and White Supremacy

  • Economic Development

  • Employment and Labor

  • Health and Healthcare

  • Language Justice

  • Reparations

  • Voting Justice and Democracy Building

  • Children, Families, and Youth Development

  • Economic Security

  • Environmental Justice

  • Housing

  • Media and Technology

  • Reproductive Justice

  • Community Planning: Land and Transportation

  • Education

  • Food Justice

  • Immigration and Refugee Rights

  • Philanthropy

  • Trauma, Violence, and Healing



In the context of racial equity work, accountability refers to the ways in which individuals and communities hold themselves to their goals and actions, and acknowledge the values and groups to which they are responsible.

To be accountable, one must be visible, with a transparent agenda and process. Invisibility defies examination; it is, in fact, employed in order to avoid detection and examination. Accountability demands commitment. It might be defined as “what kicks in when convenience runs out.” Accountability requires some sense of urgency and becoming a true stakeholder in the outcome. Accountability can be externally imposed (legal or organizational requirements), or internally applied (moral, relational, faith-based, or recognized as some combination of the two) on a continuum from the institutional and organizational level to the individual level. From a relational point of view, accountability is not always doing it right. Sometimes it’s really about what happens after it’s done wrong.

SOURCE:  Accountability and White Anti-Racist Organizing: Stories from Our Work, Bonnie Berman Cushing with Lila Cabbil, Margery Freeman, Jeff Hitchcock, and Kimberly Richards (2010). 

Related Resources:  Accountability

Location: PLAN / Change Process

Black Lives Matter

A political movement to address systemic and state violence against African Americans. Per the Black Lives Matter organizers: “In 2013, three radical Black organizers—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—created a Black-centered political will and movement building project called #BlackLivesMatter. It was in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman. The project is now a member-led global network of more than 40 chapters. [Black Lives Matter] members organize and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” 

SOURCE:  Black Lives Matter, “Herstory” (accessed 7 October 2019).


When people act to perpetuate oppression or prevent others from working to eliminate oppression. 

Example: Able-bodied people who object to strategies for making buildings accessible because of the expense.

SOURCE:  Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook, edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin (Routledge, 1997).

Institutional Racism

Institutional racism refers specifically to the ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups. The institutional policies may never mention any racial group, but their effect is to create advantages for whites and oppression and disadvantage for people from groups classified as people of color.


  • Government policies that explicitly restricted the ability of people to get loans to buy or improve their homes in neighborhoods with high concentrations of African Americans (also known as “red-lining”).

  • City sanitation department policies that concentrate trash transfer stations and other environmental hazards disproportionately in communities of color.

SOURCE:  Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building by Maggie Potapchuk, Sally Leiderman, Donna Bivens, and Barbara Major (2005).

Related Resources:  Racism (scroll down alphabetically to the box for “Institutional Racism”)

Location: FUNDAMENTALS / Core Concepts

Movement Building

Movement building is the effort of social change agents to engage power holders and the broader society in addressing a systemic problem or injustice while promoting an alternative vision or solution. Movement building requires a range of intersecting approaches through a set of distinct stages over a long-term period of time. Through movement building, organizers can:

  • Propose solutions to the root causes of social problems.

  • Enable people to exercise their collective power.

  • Humanize groups that have been denied basic human rights and improve conditions for the groups affected.

  • Create structural change by building something larger than a particular organization or campaign.

  • Promote visions and values for society based on fairness, justice, and democracy.

SOURCE:  Julie Quiroz-Martinez, From the Roots: Building the Power of Communities of Color to Challenge Structural Racism (Akonadi Foundation, 2010), citing the Movement Strategy Center, which offers these further definitions.

Related Resources:  Movement Building

Location: PLAN / Change Process


The systematic subjugation of one social group by a more powerful social group for the social, economic, and political benefit of the more powerful social group. Rita Hardiman and Bailey Jackson state that oppression exists when the following 4 conditions are found:

  • the oppressor group has the power to define reality for themselves and others,

  • the target groups take in and internalize the negative messages about them and end up cooperating with the oppressors (thinking and acting like them),

  • genocide, harassment, and discrimination are systematic and institutionalized, so that individuals are not necessary to keep it going, and

  • members of both the oppressor and target groups are socialized to play their roles as normal and correct.

Oppression = Power + Prejudice

SOURCE:  What Is Racism?” − Dismantling Racism Works (dRworks) web workbook.

Racial Inequity

Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing, such as the percentages of each ethnic group in terms of dropout rates, single family home ownership, access to healthcare, etc.

SOURCE:  Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist, Random House, 2019.

Racist Policies

A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between or among racial groups. Policies are written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups. Racist policies are also expressed through other terms such as “structural racism” or “systemic racism”. Racism itself is institutional, structural, and systemic.

SOURCE:  Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist, Random House, 2019.

Related Resources:  Laws and Policies

Location: FUNDAMENTALS / History of Racism and Movements

For specific topics, also see PLAN / Issues


States have a legal duty to acknowledge and address widespread or systematic human rights violations, in cases where the state caused the violations or did not seriously try to prevent them. Reparations initiatives seek to address the harms caused by these violations. They can take the form of compensating for the losses suffered, which helps overcome some of the consequences of abuse. They can also be future oriented—providing rehabilitation and a better life to victims—and help to change the underlying causes of abuse. Reparations publicly affirm that victims are rights-holders entitled to redress.

SOURCE:  International Center for Transitional Justice.

Related Resources:  Reparations

Location: PLAN / Issues

Structural Racism

  1. The normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional, and interpersonal – that routinely advantage Whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. Structural racism encompasses the entire system of White domination, diffused and infused in all aspects of society including its history, culture, politics, economics, and entire social fabric. Structural racism is more difficult to locate in a particular institution because it involves the reinforcing effects of multiple institutions and cultural norms, past and present, continually reproducing old and producing new forms of racism. Structural racism is the most profound and pervasive form of racism – all other forms of racism emerge from structural racism.

  2. For example, we can see structural racism in the many institutional, cultural, and structural factors that contribute to lower life expectancy for African American and Native American men, compared to white men. These include higher exposure to environmental toxins, dangerous jobs and unhealthy housing stock, higher exposure to and more lethal consequences for reacting to violence, stress, and racism, lower rates of health care coverage, access, and quality of care, and systematic refusal by the nation to fix these things.


  1. Chronic Disparity: Strong and Pervasive Evidence of Racial Inequalities by Keith Lawrence, Aspen Institute on Community Change, and Terry Keleher, Applied Research Center, for the Race and Public Policy Conference (2004).

  2. Flipping the Script: White Privilege and Community Building by Maggie Potapchuk, Sally Leiderman, Donna Bivens, and Barbara Major (2005).

Related Resources:  Structural Racism

Location: FUNDAMENTALS / Core Concepts

White Supremacy

The idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions. While most people associate white supremacy with extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis, white supremacy is ever present in our institutional and cultural assumptions that assign value, morality, goodness, and humanity to the white group while casting people and communities of color as worthless (worth less), immoral, bad, and inhuman and “undeserving.” Drawing from critical race theory, the term “white supremacy” also refers to a political or socio-economic system where white people enjoy structural advantage and rights that other racial and ethnic groups do not, both at a collective and an individual level.

SOURCE: “What Is Racism?” − Dismantling Racism Works (dRworks) web workbook.

Related Resources:  System of White Supremacy and White Privilege and Addressing Hate and White Supremacy

Locations: FUNDAMENTALS / Core Concepts and PLAN / Issues