This week's guest, Alex Duran, discusses his mission to reform the criminal justice system and change the way philanthropy is allocated. Duran is the program director at Galaxy Gives, GG, a philanthropic foundation in New York City that invests in non-profits and businesses working to end poverty and oppression. For communities to build political and public power that is effective, there must be financial backing and leadership that resembles the people and reflects their needs which is why GG helps those directly impacted by turning them into leaders. From here, they look for alternatives to mass incarceration.
"Fundamentally, we are trying to dismantle the carceral state.", says Duran of what he defines as the overuse of police in schools and their links within politics and policy while simultaneously there remains a lack of mental health care and social safety. "The carceral state is a response to a whole wider range of social problems that we only respond to with law enforcement rather than with care and safety and compassion."
Duran wants to find alternative methods to punitive justice while removing the other forms of oppression seen with the lack of education, green spaces, and mental health. He aims to end poverty, hunger, and the often-overlooked issue with banks, as he calls them, "predatory lending institutions" that exploit people in black and brown communities.
Part of Duran's work and meeting this challenge through philanthropy works to transfer money and resources to the right places, such as one of GG's organizations, One Voice which mobilizes correctional officers to speak out and tells their stories of how they came to work in prisons. "In the community they grew up in, that's the only option they had.", Duran says, which is why he wants to take money away from incarceration and into reskilling and offering more opportunities.
Galaxy Gives unique approach goes beyond what he calls "admiring the problem," a trap many wealthy philanthropists fall into where the action is slow. Instead, GG empowers the people that have experienced the problems being solved, bringing valuable perspectives and solutions to the table. "Philanthropy has been a closed, elite space where a white male has ten times more opportunities to get funding than a directly impacted woman who is formerly incarcerated."
Having been incarcerated for 12 years and seeing a corrupt system firsthand with his case, Alex has great insight. He says,"The district attorney really wasn't interested in achieving justice; they were really just interested in, I guess, furthering their career. From there, he was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to join the Ford Foundation and develop new ideas for funding.
"Philanthropy will never have the same power that the government has.", he explains, "it's not in the same position to provide services but really to incubate ideas and test them out." He believes that the mission is to create the programs that work and then follow government funding. "That's the real power of philanthropy." says Duran, "We believe that the people who have, sort of, come in contact with the system are the ones that should be leading the work to change it."
"One of the things that I love about working for Galaxy Gives is that our founder really believes in the radical idea of not throwing anyone away and that human beings have the capacity to reinvent themselves." Galaxy Gives continued efforts in justice reform by bringing public defenders into the conversation, working with the Bail Project, and changing parole and probation policies. In addition, they build coalitions with grassroots groups like FRRC and create fellowship programs. With this dedication, Duran believes the carceral state can be removed and hopes to see the 2.3 million imprisoned down to 500 thousand in ten years.
"Philanthropy really has the opportunity to lead at this moment and to test out ideas that can stand up models of transformational justice that does not rely on incarceration.", says Alex, "In our lifetime, we could see the end of mass incarceration."