The Public Welfare Foundation supports efforts to ensure fundamental rights and opportunities for people in need.
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FY 2014 Program Guidelines

The Public Welfare Foundation supports efforts to advance fundamental rights and opportunities for people in need. We look for carefully defined points where our funds can make a difference in bringing about systemic changes that can improve lives. We focus on three program areas: Criminal Justice, Juvenile Justice and Workers’ Rights.

Criminal Justice

More than two million people are held in American prisons and jails – the largest inmate population in the world. The number is growing daily, largely because of harsh federal and state sentencing laws and unnecessary jail detention of people awaiting trial in counties across the country. Most significantly, more than 60 percent of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. Locking up increasing numbers of people – disproportionately people of color – at great expense to taxpayers, and later releasing them with little access to rehabilitation and drug treatment services, has not made our street safe.


The Foundation’s Criminal Justice Program supports groups working to reduce unnecessary incarceration of adult offenders in America. In particular, the Program makes grants to groups that are working to:

  • Reform sentencing laws and parole and probation systems, including the use of diversion and alternatives to incarceration;
  • Reform pretrial jail detention policies and practices; 
  • Develop and promote innovative strategies to reduce the overrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in the criminal justice process.


Juvenile Justice

On any given night an estimated 60, 000 youth – the overwhelming majority of whom are accused of minor and non-violent offenses—are incarcerated in a correctional facility or out-of-home placement. Despite research showing that incarceration leads to high juvenile recidivism rates, as well as poor education, employment, and health outcomes for youth, systems often fail to use alternatives to incarceration that have been shown to be more effective at rehabilitating young people.  Moreover, an estimated 250,000 youth are tried in the adult criminal justice system annually, and nearly 10,000 youth are housed in adult jails or prisons on any given night.  These policies ignore the well-established differences between youth and adults, increase recidivism rates, and expose youth in adult jails and prisons to high rates of sexual abuse and suicide.  Youth of color are disproportionately likely to suffer the harms of these failed policies and practices.


The Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Program supports groups working to end the criminalization and over-incarceration of youth in the United States.  In particular, the Program makes grants to groups that are working to advance systems reforms that will:

  • Reduce youth incarceration rates in the juvenile justice system (through policies that, for example, limit the use of incarceration, expand the use of community-based alternatives to incarceration, reduce lengths of stay, and/or decriminalize minor misbehaviors or otherwise divert youth from the juvenile court system);
  • End the practice of trying, sentencing, and incarcerating youth as adults; and
  • Promote more fair and equitable treatment of youth of color by the juvenile justice system.

Workers' Rights

Work just isn’t working for too many in America today. Too often, hard-working people have their wages stolen by employers who refuse to pay the promised wage, the legally required wage, or sometimes any wage at all. Other employers cut too many corners, leaving workers vulnerable to being hurt, getting sick or even killed on the job. Injury and illness reduce workers’ ability to earn a living, compromise their overall health, and saddle workers and their families with expensive medical bills. 

Making matters worse, workers often lack sufficient clout to negotiate for improved conditions, even though it is their right to do so. And those workers whose rights are violated sometimes discover that they have no meaningful remedies. They are left to depend on government agencies that may or may not have the resources to respond to their problems, or they are constrained from exercising their right to take their cases to court. 



The Foundation’s Workers’ Rights Program supports groups seeking policy and system reforms to improve the lives of low-wage working people, with a focus on securing their basic legal rights to safe, healthy, and fair conditions at work. Specifically, the Program makes grants to groups seeking reforms that will do the following:

  • Make Work Safe and Healthy - by preventing illness, injury, and death on the job, and improving workers' rights compensation.
  • Make Work Pay - by empowering workers to hold low-road employers accountable for wage theft, misclassification, and contingent work abuse; and
  • Build Workers' Advocacy Capacity - by strengthening the ability of low-wage workers to promote policy and systems reform.

Additionally, the Program supports investigative journalism, national broadcast news coverage, and other high-profile media and public education about workers’ rights issues.


Special Initiative to advance Civil Legal Aid for the Poor

For more information click here.


Special Opportunities

The Special Opportunities Program supports projects reflecting the Foundation’s mission and underlying values, including its longstanding commitment to racial equity and justice. These are one-time only grants that are especially timely and compelling.  At times this kind of grant serves as a laboratory for new ideas.   Relatively few of these grants are given. The Foundation is unable to support unsolicited applications in this program area.


President’s Discretionary Fund

The President’s Discretionary Fund offers very small grants to advance the Foundation’s mission. Relatively few of these grants are given. The Foundation is unable to support unsolicited applications in this program area.

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