The United States makes up just five percent of the world’s population but houses nearly a quarter of its total prison population. The prison system incarcerates a population that faces structural racism, historic marginalization, and numerous barriers to fully reentering free society.
Since its founding in 2005, the John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity has sought to support and collaborate with those directly impacted by policies and practices that dehumanize and marginalize people with conviction histories. This year the Institute, formerly the Prisoner Reentry Institute, is celebrating a name change along with its fifteenth anniversary. Over the years, the Institute has significantly expanded its scope of work to offer a continuum of programs that create pathways from criminal legal system involvement to higher education and career advancement. Their ongoing and varied advocacy is suited by a new, more aspirational name that speaks more broadly to the many pathways and possibilities facilitated by the programs and services it offers.
The Institute works to lower barriers and to support access to housing and higher education for the justice-involved. In addition, it invests in programming that prioritizes success and community-building post-system involvement—opportunities for hands-on learning like their College Initiative program, which has supported nearly 1,500 people in pursuing higher education, or trainings and fellowships that facilitate career success and nurture the next generation of leaders in justice and advocacy.
In 2020, the Institute released a new report that explores CUNY’s tremendous potential for welcoming and supporting students impacted by the criminal legal system. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Institute staff, led by executive director Ann Jacobs, have worked to adapt all of their programs for remote learning. They are also using the unprecedented circumstances surrounding COVID-19 to expand their programming and reach new audiences.
For more information about the Institute for Justice and Opportunity, past and present, visit justiceandopportunity.org.