The following is a list of organizations that we feel are doing positive work in the Nashville area in relation to the criminal justice system. We are not directly affiliated with all of the following organizations but hope to highlight their work for those interested in getting more involved in community efforts. Interested in becoming a community partner? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
** The yellow sidebars indicate quotes that have been pulled from the listed organizations and are not our own words. We have provided links to these websites for those looking to get involved/learn more.
Opened as an extension of the Vanderbilt Prison Project in 1974, Dismas provides a home for previously incarcerated individuals who are transitioning back into society in hopes of helping them successfully rebuild their lives.
“Our program encourages residents to build a positive support system, address addictive behaviors and other medical concerns, achieve financial stability, and secure long-term housing so they will depart Dismas with a greater sense of community, self-worth, and an optimistic outlook.”
No Exceptions Prison Collective
No Exceptions focuses on three issues for advocacy and organizing: sentencing reform, internal conditions, & abolition of all private prisons.
From the No Exceptions Website:
“We aim to function as an organizing arm for the families of Tennessee prisoners, as well as mobilize other collaborators and sister organizations toward the fruition of our goals. Through popular education in faith-based communities, universities, and schools, we seek to educate and engage the broader community in dialogue on the realities of mass incarceration, the inevitability of change, and the possibilities of creating alternative paradigms.”
Unheard Voices Outreach
“We work with returning citizens to co-create customized “Life Plans” that meet their unique challenges, circumstances, and vision for the future. We help them cultivate people skills, connect them to paths of self-sufficiency and assist them in building a community of supportive friends. We also educate and partner with youth and their families to disrupt pipelines to prison.”
The Nashville Community Bail Fund
“The Nashville Community Bail Fund provides financial support to individuals who cannot afford to post bail. With the NCBF’s help, they can continue their lives pending trial. By showing up for court, they help free the next person. Working together, the NCBF and those it frees create a self-sustaining tool that makes the court system more fair for everyone.”
The Tennessee Innocence Project
“The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law, exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. The Innocence Project’s mission is to free the staggering number of innocent people who remain incarcerated, and to bring reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment.”
Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
“The death penalty is costly, unfairly applied, creates more victims, ensnares the innocent, and puts murder victims’ families through a painfully, protracted process with an average of 28 years between sentencing and execution in Tennessee. We at Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty seek to honor life by abolishing Tennessee’s death penalty as we urge the state not to take a human life in our name. We work toward fulfilling our mission through education, grassroots organizing, and advocating a change in public policy.”
Tennessean Higher Education Initiative
“THEI funds and coordinates on-site degree-bearing college programs to incarcerated individuals in Tennessee prisons, leading to Associate’s degrees in Business Administration and Political Science. An abundance of research shows the efficacy of post-secondary education in reducing recidivism rates. With a current prison population of 2.29 million people, the United States maintains the highest per capita and percentage incarceration rates in the world. China comes in a distant second with 1.4 million incarcerated. Poor and minority communities are particularly affected by mass incarceration, with one in nine college-age African American men currently behind bars. The causes of this reality are complex, but a lack of access to high-quality education before, during, and after incarceration is a major contributing factor. THEInitiative works to address this challenge by providing students with the education and skills necessary to lead productive, intellectually engaged lives while in prison and upon return to their home communities.”
ACLU of Tennessee
“The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) is dedicated to translating the guarantees of the Bill of Rights into reality for all Tennesseans. We are an enduring guardian of justice, freedom, fairness and equality, working to protect and advance civil liberties and civil rights for all Tennesseans. Our goal is to preserve the Bill of Rights for future generations. ACLU-TN uses an integrative advocacy model – including advocacy, legislative lobbying, litigation, organizing and public education – to strategically pursue its mission to protect your constitutional rights.”
Men of Valor
“In First Samuel we read, ‘those who were in distress or in debt or discontented’ gathered around David. He encouraged those “outlaws”, united them, and trained them to become the great soldiers who were eventually known as David’s mighty “men of valor.” In similar fashion, our ministry begins with reaching out to incarcerated men. These men, too, are discontented, rebellious, and have certainly proven to be outlaws in our society. We encourage them with the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we welcome them into the family of God, we train them in the Biblical principles of manhood, and with a very structured plan, we help them to become the men, husbands, fathers, and members of society that God created them to be.”
Nashville Legal Aid Society
“The mission of Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands (“LAS”) is to advance, defend, and enforce the legal rights of low-income and vulnerable people in order to secure for them the basic necessities of life. We are Tennessee’s largest nonprofit law firm that takes a comprehensive approach to providing high quality, free, civil legal services and community education for people to protect their livelihoods, their health, and their families.”
Tennessee Justice for our Neighbors
“Tennessee Justice for Our Neighbors provides affordable, high-quality immigration legal services to immigrants, educates the public and faith-based communities about issues related to immigration, and advocates for immigrant rights.”
“Gideon’s Army is a community-based, grassroots organization that works to design programs, based on contemporary interpretations of the theory of restorative justice. As locally based organization with a long-term goal for state-wide expansion, Gideon’s Army is currently the only local organization in Nashville that focuses solely on dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline through social activism by children in the prison pipeline, their families, and their community. Utilizing research-based best practices combined with community outreach, Gideon’s Army builds its restorative justice programs based upon this information and uses program results to guide its policy work. Through intensive volunteer and community training as well as dialogue, we as a community lead and work together throughout the entire process.”
“Project Return fights for the successful new beginnings for people returning to our community after incarceration. Project Return was founded in 1979 by two visionary Nashville leaders, the reverends Bill Barnes and Don Beisswenger, who realized the overwhelming obstacles that people face when leaving prison and returning to our community. Project Return has grown to an expansive, employment-focused agency with an extensive array of supportive services, assisting hundreds of returning men and women each year.”
Family Reconciliation Center
“Family Reconciliation is a nonprofit guest house that believes in radical love through hospitality. We offer free overnight rooms to families and individuals visiting incarcerated loved ones in the Nashville area. The Guest House has five bedrooms, and each room can accommodate multiple guests. Funded by the generosity of individuals, churches, and organizations, The Guest House ensures that individuals and families can stay in a comfortable and safe environment while visiting their loved ones.”