Being raised in Southwest Detroit in the 1990s, I could define the relationship between the community and the criminal justice system in one word: traumatic. Growing up, I saw that each father, brother, sister or mother who entered the criminal justice system signified a loss for my community. One more person in the criminal justice system meant one fewer person who would graduate from college, start their career, raise their children or discover their talent. Each loss of a family member, friend and coworker dealt a blow to the community’s potential.
That’s why I want to make sure fewer families, friends and communities experience these losses. This year, I found the opportunity to do just that when I joined Walmart to lead the Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity’s philanthropic work on criminal justice.
Some might wonder why a retailer wants to change the narrative on criminal justice. But the answer is clear: Walmart is fundamentally a people business. When people—potential community leaders, talent or customers—are lost to the criminal justice system, it hurts the whole community. Walmart is only as strong as the communities where it operates, and our business leaders recognize that.
In June 2020, as part of Walmart’s commitment to advance racial equity, the company established Shared Value Networks (SVNs), teams of business leaders and associates working to use Walmart’s business capabilities to advance equity in four systems. As part of the criminal justice SVN’s learning journey, we studied the systems that make up criminal justice reform: Prevention, which helps prevent people from entering the criminal justice system in the first place; intervention during incarceration; and aftercare, which is implemented post-incarceration. The SVN is moving forward with several initiatives, including second-chance hiring pilots to boost employment outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals.
We know prevention requires meaningful transformation of various systems impacting the well-being and future of the Black community. The business and the Walmart Foundation work to tackle some of these root causes, including through our Retail Opportunity and Healthier Food for All initiatives. Yet, through our analysis with the SVN, we identified a need for more targeted interventions focused specifically on the criminal justice system. That’s why the Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity set out to fill this void in prevention initiatives. Our work aims to create systems change, which means addressing the root cause of the problem and redesigning the parts of the systems that contribute to Black Americans being disproportionately more likely to be incarcerated.
We know this change will take time and a steady flow of resources, which is why we are building national networks to create and scale up community-based prevention efforts. The center is starting with investments in four networks. Together, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have invested $3.3 million to date to kickstart these networks, which include the following:
The Criminal Justice Reform Prevention Research Network – Establishes a network of prevention-focused criminal justice reform researchers, including place-based researchers, who will apply a racial equity lens to their work.
The National Offices of Violence Prevention Network – Builds capacity for a national network of local government agencies focused on violence prevention and reduction across 30 cities.
The Prison Fellowship Opportunity Youth Network – Creates a national network of community-based organizations focused on creating positive experiences and preventing negative interactions with the criminal justice system for children with incarcerated parents.
The People’s Commissions on Criminal Justice Reform – Develops a network of “People’s Commissions” in 14 cities, which will facilitate information-sharing and research focused on preventing negative interactions with the criminal justice system and reducing racial bias in policing.
To scale criminal justice prevention initiatives, it’s important for these networks to come together to share insights and resources. Once these networks are in place, we aim to serve as a convener to share best practices and drive additional funding for these organizations. For example, the People’s Commissions and the Research Network will work together to share new research that will inform the efforts on the ground for the Opportunity Youth Network and local government agencies in the National Offices of Violence Prevention Network.
Creating change in a system with longstanding inequities is complicated, and building the networks to strengthen criminal justice prevention efforts will take time. But Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are investing in these networks for the long term. This will take the effort of organizations and funders across the country, and our goal for the Center is to serve as the fuel that powers these networks and the organizations within them to spark change. Everyone benefitting from these initiatives is a friend, family member or colleague who can make their community stronger.