Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations Award Two Grants Advancing Innovative Programs Supporting Individuals Impacted by the Criminal Justice System

Grantees are the Re-entry Clinic at the Mitchell Hamline Law School and SEEN, a Minnesota prison-based project of We Are All Criminals

The Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations today announced the awarding of two grants to community organizations whose work focuses on addressing disparities in the criminal justice system. Both programs are aligned with two of the Foundations’ key strategies: advocating for equity and investing in community-led solutions.

A grant of $145,000 will fund an expansion of the Mitchell Hamline School of Law Re-entry Clinic aimed at closing a gap in services provided to those returning from prison by providing--in addition to direct legal representation--community education and a resource hub for re-entry services in the community. The clinic engages law students, under the supervision of experienced attorneys, to provide legal representation with clinic clients.

“More than 8,000 people are released from prison in Minnesota every year and thousands more are released from local facilities,” said Peter Knapp, Mitchell Hamline’s interim president and dean. “But being out of lock up doesn’t mean you’re not locked out. Formerly incarcerated individuals face great barriers, many of them legal. This grant will enable us to expand the Clinic’s representation and support as our clients navigate legal and other challenges that people face as they return home.”

A second grant for nearly $40,000 will fund SEEN, a project lead by We Are All Criminals (WAAC) in partnership with the Minnesota Prison Writers Workshop (MPWW), men and women currently incarcerated in Minnesota’s state prisons (writers), and the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC). SEEN will collect portraits, audio, written works and video of people in prison shared via social media, in addition to printed exhibits. SEEN was designed to share the voice and humanity of individuals in Minnesota prisons. The project encourages viewers to ‘see’ those incarcerated as human beings who are more than the mistakes they have made.

“We are deeply grateful to the Foundations for this grant that will expand both the reach and offerings of the SEEN project,” said Emily Baxter, executive director of We Are All Criminals. “In partnership with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, our ongoing vision will include portraits and the written and spoken word of more currently incarcerated people, correctional and probation officers, and the family members and loved ones of people currently incarcerated.”

Over the past five years, the Foundations have awarded grants to a number of organizations dedicated to criminal justice reform. Among those that have received Foundations’ support are COMPAS, Inc., Dispute Resolution Center, Mentoring Young Adults, Oyate Hotanin, St. Paul Youth Service, Ujamaa Place and Volunteer Lawyers Network.

“We need avenues by which to welcome back people who are re-entering society and help them not only survive but return with dignity. This means access to jobs, housing and meaningful opportunities to move forward with their lives,” said Eric J. Jolly, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Foundations. “The Mitchell Hamline Law School Re-entry Clinic and the SEEN project are both working to make re-entry less difficult and more equitable, and to humanize justice-impacted people, by tackling barriers and sharing narratives about what it means to be incarcerated. We are honored to support the innovative work of both organizations.”

Watch a video about the SEEN project

View photos and prose from the We Are All Criminal SEEN project

Download the press release as a PDF