Gainesville nonprofit Just Income was recently selected as a finalist for the Justice Innovation Prize, a national award that recognizes innovative ideas to help end mass incarceration.
Dream.Org’s Justice Innovation Prize offers a possible $250,000 award to those finding creative ways to provide education, rehabilitation, job support, and other critical tech-based resources to reduce recidivism. The five finalists will present their programs in front of an esteemed selection committee and a live audience at SOCAP23, the largest social impact investing conference in San Francisco on Oct. 23-25.
Dream.Org National Justice Director Janos Marton said the finalists are “radically transforming the criminal justice system.”
“These are the people that are the most overlooked,” she said in a statement. “They are the closest to the issues and the closest to solutions. At Dream.Org, we are ready to invest in them.”
Since its inception in January 2022, Just Income has distributed $874,000 to 115 Alachua County residents released from incarceration to help them pay mandatory fees or invest in various items to get back on their feet. The program allowed each person to receive $1,000 the first month and $600 for the next 11 months.
In Alachua County, “where 23% of felony probation violations are due to financial constraints, Just Income recipients experienced a radical decrease in such violations, reducing the number of people in cages simply because of poverty,” according to the Just Income press release.
“[We’re] really excited and humbly honored to be considered along the other four finalists,” Kevin Scott, director at Just Income, said in a phone interview. “They’re all doing really astounding work in different capacities and different parts of the country. So, for us to be recognized in the South, especially which is historically kind of an underserved area is a real honor.”
Scott added he is excited to travel to California in October and talk with the audience at SOCAP to discuss Just Income’s work and how to elevate their issue.
The pilot year started in January 2022 with Just Income’s first cohort and the second cohort’s last payment was in February 2023 with each cohort going for 12 months.
“They were staggered a couple of months apart,” Scott said. “All of the money was unconditional with no strings attached and they were free to use the money however they wished, which I think is very important.”
Scott used one person, named Murray, as an example.
“Murray, one of our recipients, used his money to get a mobility scooter because he had had botched hip surgeries while he was in prison. He has a hard time getting around,” Scott said. “And so, he had the flexibility, he saw the scooter in a thrift store, he was able to buy it, he had no strings attached with the resources for the first time, and getting that scooter allowed him to get it on the bus, go visit his mom, who was sick. And the same person, Murray, also made 100 bag lunches and went and gave them out to folks who were experiencing homelessness, because he had been homeless before in his life.”
Scott said many times there are stipulations on how to use funds, such as only for utilities or rent, but with the Just Income funds, people are able to purchase a vehicle to get to work or daycare to support their children.
“The spending data has shown that people who’ve been incarcerated spend their money just like everyone else on retail services, food and groceries, transportation, those are like the top categories of spending,” he said.
“We are privately funded,” he said. “Our first year was through a couple larger grants. Mayors For a Guaranteed Income was one of our big funders in our pilot year and Spring Points Partners, a Philadelphia-based organization, were our two biggest funders. The remainder (of the funds) came through smaller grants, philanthropy, and some donations were privately funded.”
Scott hopes that Just Income can be an ongoing component of the Community Springs operation.
“We are planning to have this be going indefinitely,” he said. “Each year, we will be doing work in the guaranteed income sphere, for the next couple of years, at the very least, this will be the same population that we’re going to target is folks who are coming out of incarceration.
“We just see it as like a population so marginalized, so underserved and so threatened by not having enough resources, that 23% of the probation violations where we live can be traced back to just a lack of money. So, we feel like this is a very vital interruption to that cycle of poverty and incarceration. And we’ve already seen a radical decrease in violations because of that. We think it’s important to maintain and keep going.”