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.
WHAT: The death penalty is a racially biased, expensive, broken system that puts innocent people at risk, fails to make us safer, and serves neither law enforcement nor murder victims’ families. The 8th Amendment Project provides the abolition movement with leadership and strategy, as well as results: Death sentences are down dramatically—39 in 2013, 35 in 2014, 28 in 2015, and 20 in 2016. Seven states (NY, NJ, NM, CT, IL, MD, DE) have repealed the death penalty, either legislatively or by judicial fiat.
HOW: We invest in advocacy and litigation to support the campaign goal of abolition.
• Strategy matters.
- o Florida: 2nd highest death row in the country. By training lawyers and mitigators and setting up systems for state-wide case tracking and other strategic coordination, the Florida Center for Capital Representation (FCCR) has helped reduce death sentences. FCCR was well positioned to argue for broad re-sentencing in the aftermath of Hurst v. Florida, a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that Florida’s non-unanimous jury law was an unconstitutional means to impose the death penalty.
o Pennsylvania: 5th highest death row in the country. The Atlantic Center for Capital Representation has changed the conversation about the death penalty by shining a bright light on its inadequacies; and by coordinating litigation strategy, legislative reform, and public policy debate. ACCR led a successful effort to increase fees paid to court appointed lawyers in capital cases and has advocated for screening of capital attorneys.
WHAT: The U.S. is an international outlier in sentencing juveniles to life without parole (JLWOP). JLWOP opens a window into a range of injustices young people face: transferring youth to the adult system, racial disparities, inhumane conditions of confinement, gross inadequacies of legal representation, and trauma. Ending JLWOP is integral to advancing broader juvenile and criminal justice reforms.
HOW: We provided seed funding, and support advocacy toward ending JLWOP.
• We helped launch the Campaign for Fair Sentencing of Youth which works to abolish juvenile life without parole.
o Targeted advocacy has resulted in progress. The number of states that ban juvenile life without parole has more than tripled between 2011 and 2017, spurred by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has stepped in three times since 2010 to limit JLWOP.
o Follow up is necessary. After the Supreme Court’s decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, which held these rulings should be applied retroactively, we stepped up to help raise over $1.3 million for re-sentencing people who had received this unconstitutional punishment. Further support is necessary to complete re-sentencings.
WHAT: Mass incarceration is a symptom of a racially biased and overly punitive system that does not make us safer, wastes taxpayer dollars, damages families, and divides communities.
HOW: We provided seed funding to the Brennan Center for Justice for the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration to raise the voices of law enforcement leaders. With over 175 members from 50 states and all divisions of law enforcement, this coalition aims “to build a smarter, stronger, and fairer criminal justice system by replacing ineffective policies with new solutions that reduce both crime and incarceration.”