Program Guidelines

The Public Welfare Foundation supports efforts to advance justice and opportunity for people in need. The Foundation looks for strategic points where its funds can make a significant difference and improve lives through policy change and system reform. We focus on three program areas: Criminal Justice, Juvenile Justice and Workers’ Rights.

Criminal Justice

More than two million people are incarcerated in the United States – the largest inmate population in the world. The number is growing daily, in large part because of harsh sentencing laws that impose excessively long sentences, even for non-violent offenders. The vast majority of prisoners are sentenced and housed in the states. Importantly, 60 percent of the people in prison are 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 streets safe.


The Foundation’s Criminal Justice Program supports groups working to end overincarceration of adult offenders in the United States, also aiming to reduce racial disparity. In particular, the Program makes grants to groups that are working on sentencing reform, primarily in the states. We seek to reduce lengths of criminal sentences through a range of reform efforts, including charging, sentencing and supervision policies and practices.

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 reliance on incarceration of youth in the United States. In particular, the Program makes grants to groups that are working to:

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 policy and system reforms to improve the lives of low-wage working people in the United States, with a focus on securing their basic legal rights to safe, healthy, and fair conditions at work. Specifically, the Program makes grants to groups working to:

Special Initiative to advance Civil Legal Aid

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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