The Butler Family Fund’s commitment to criminal justice reform focuses on ending two extreme sentences: (1) the death penalty, and (2) the sentence of juvenile life without parole. From extreme sentencing, our grants expand out to the wider problem of mass incarceration. We work hand in glove with philanthropic partners to spur collaborative, strategic, effective, and laser-focused campaigns.
The death penalty is an expensive, broken system that puts innocent people at risk, does not make us safer, and serves neither law enforcement nor murder victims’ families. We support the 8th Amendment Project’s national campaign to end the death penalty via the Themis Fund . By trumpeting the national consensus against capital punishment and establishing its unconstitutionality, the 8th Amendment Project provides the abolition movement with the leadership, strategy, and capacity to end this country’s death penalty. The results are clear: Seven states (NY, NJ, NM, CT, IL, MD, NE) have repealed the death penalty, and new death sentences are dramatically down across the country.
Lethal injection is inhumane. Executions by lethal injection are frequently botched. Lethal injection drugs are not designed to kill, and are administered in experimental dosages by medically untrained wardens. Butler supports Reprieve’s Stop Lethal Injection Project, which has worked with over two dozen pharmaceutical firms to prevent the sale of these medicines for use in executions. Many states can no longer purchase ‘traditional’ execution drugs. Lethal injection issues were responsible for over half the stays of executions in 2015, the year with the lowest number of U.S. executions in the last quarter century.
Quality legal representation lowers death sentences. Butler supports the Florida Center for Capital Representation (FCCR) to reduce death sentences in Florida by improving the quality of legal representation. FCCR trains lawyers and bolsters legal strategy by setting up systems for state-wide case tracking and other strategic coordination. Butler helped the Texas Defender Service to influence the development and quality of legal services for capital public defender units in Texas, including the Regional Public Defender Office for Capital Cases in West Texas and the creation of the Office of Capital Writs for state habeas corpus representation. In addition, Butler was a seed funder for the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation which has changed the conversation about the death penalty in Pennsylvania by shining a bright light on its inadequacies; and by coordinating litigation strategies, legislative reform, and public policy debate. ACCR led a successful effort to increase the fees paid to court appointed lawyers in capital cases and has advocated for screening of capital attorneys.
The U.S. should not be an international outlier in sentencing juveniles to life without parole. We helped launch the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth which works to abolish juvenile life without parole. Ending this egregious sentence is necessary to advance broader juvenile and criminal justice reforms. Juvenile life without parole opens a window into a range of injustices faced by young people: transferring youth to the adult system, racial disparities, inhumane conditions of confinement, gross inadequacies of legal representation, and the trauma inflicted on children by the justice system. Targeted advocacy has resulted in progress. The number of states that ban juvenile life without parole has nearly doubled between 2012 and 2016, spurred by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has stepped in three times since 2010 to limit juvenile life without parole. Butler was grateful to play a key role in raising over $1.3 million for urgent work by litigation and advocacy groups to implement the most recent Supreme Court victory (Montgomery v. Louisiana). These funds provide resources for resentencing thousands of former juveniles who have been languishing in prison for decades.