APRIL 24, 2018

Approximately 70% of Americans in jail today are there because of a lack of financial resources with which to pay bail bonds and related fees (even for petty crimes like parking tickets). This is jail time predicated solely on financial need. Civil Rights Corps and co-beneficiary Essie Justice Group are making major strides to fight inequality in our criminal legal system. JusticeAid is excited to help, and we appreciate your support.

Civil Rights Corps brings cutting-edge class-action litigation all over the country to challenge corruption in our legal system, and they’re making a major impact. Civil Rights Corps has already has won victories over unconstitutional bail systems in jurisdictions in Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, and more, as well as challenging debtors’ prisons all over the South. Civil Rights Corps succeeds because of their commitment to partnering with community-based organizations in each of the localities where they take action, ensuring that local solutions take shape based on local input.

Essie Justice Group is an Oakland, California-based organization that mobilizes women with incarcerated loved ones to take on the rampant injustices created by mass incarceration, and they are helping lead the campaign for bail reform in California. Essie’s award-winning Healing to Advocacy Model brings women together to heal, build collective power, and drive social change. Essie is building a membership of fierce advocates for race and gender justice—including Black and Latinx women, formerly and currently incarcerated women, transwomen, and gender non-conforming people.

JusticeAid helps to remind us of what the human being is capable of, and that is essential for changing our culture of mass human caging. Music, theater, poetry, dance, and art are vital to the human spirit, and it is only through insufficient appreciation for that spirit that our society tolerates our grotesque criminal system.

Alec Karakatsanis, Civil Rights Corps
  • Civil Rights Corps

    Civil Rights Corps brings cutting-edge class-action litigation all over the country to challenge systemic injustice in the American legal system. They confront the money bail system and the criminalization of poverty, work to ensure [...]

  • Essie Justice Group

    Essie Justice Group is an Oakland, California-based organization with the mission to harness the collective power of women with incarcerated loves ones to end mass incarceration’s harm to women and communities. that mobilizes women with incarcerated [...]

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Inequality and injustice go hand in hand.
Approximately 70 percent of Americans in jail today are there because of a lack of financial resources with which to pay bail bonds and related fees (even for petty crimes like parking tickets). This is jail time predicated solely on financial need.

Such was the concern raised in a lively panel discussion on the Criminalization of Poverty moderated by  Vanita Gupta, President Obama’s chosen leader of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, with Civil Rights Corps’ Alec Karakatsanis and Essie Justice Group’s Gina Clayton Many thanks to Seth Waxman and WilmerHale for hosting our standing-room-only crowd!  All JusticeAid public forums and discussions are free and live-streamed on Facebook.

Vanita Gupta has been working to advance civil rights her entire career. Before joining The Leadership Conference in June 2017, Gupta served as Acting Assistant Attorney General and head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Appointed in October 2014 by PresidentBarack Obama as the chief civil rights prosecutor for the United States, Gupta oversaw a wide range of criminal and civil enforcement efforts to ensure equal justice and protect equal opportunity for all during one of the most consequential periods for the division. Under Gupta’s leadership, the division did critical work in a number of areas, including advancing constitutional policing and criminal justice reform; prosecuting hate crimes and human trafficking; promoting disability rights; protecting the rights of LGBTQ individuals; ensuring voting rights for all; and combating discrimination in education, housing, employment, lending, and religious exercise.

Prior to joining the Justice Department, Gupta served as Deputy Legal Director and the Director of the Center for Justice at the American Civil Liberties Union. She joined the ACLU in 2006 as a staff attorney. Gupta began her legal career at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Gupta graduated magna cum laude from Yale University and received her law degree from New York University School of Law, where later she taught a civil rights litigation clinic for several years.

Alec graduated from Yale College in 2005 with a degree in Ethics, Politics, & Economics and Harvard Law School in 2008, where he was a Supreme Court Chair of the Harvard Law Review.  Before founding Civil Rights Corps, Alec co-founded Equal Justice Under Law, a non-profit organization dedicated to systemic litigation challenging injustices in the American criminal legal system.  Alec was also a civil rights lawyer and public defender with the Special Litigation Division of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia and a federal public defender in Alabama, representing impoverished people accused of federal crimes.

Alec is interested in ending human caging, surveillance, the death penalty, immigration laws, war, and inequality.  He is the author of The Human Lawyer, 34 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 563 (2010); Protecting Corporations Instead of the Poor, 121 Harv. L. Rev. 275 (2007); and Civil Disobedience: The Role of Judges, 120 Harv. L. Rev. 1988 (2007).  His most recent article is Policing, Mass Imprisonment, and the Failure of American Lawyers, 128 Harv. L. Rev. F. 253 (2015).

Alec was recently awarded the 2016 Trial Lawyer of the Year by Public Justice for his role in bringing constitutional civil rights cases to challenge the American money bail system and the 2016 Stephen B. Bright Award for contributions to indigent defense in the South by Gideon’s Promise. You can read a recent profile about Alec’s work with Civil Rights Corps in Harvard Magazine here.

Alec also has taught a high school class on mass human caging, civil rights, and safe interaction with the police in the D.C. public schools; helped lead a community organizing effort against racial profiling and police misconduct in the District of Columbia; and is a mentor in the Big Brother/Big Sister program. He is currently Co-Chair of the American Bar Association Committee on Pretrial Justice.  He also spends his time playing the piano, making weird paintings, and playing soccer.

Gina Clayton-Johnson is the Executive Director of Essie Justice Group, which she founded (named after her great grandmother Essie Bailey) in 2014 to harness the collective power of women with incarcerated loved ones to end mass incarceration’s harm to women and communities.

Gina has spent more than a decade advocating for communities of color.

As an undergrad at the University of Southern California, she became a youth organizer for the NAACP, leading campaigns addressing campus policing, voter registration and state sentencing laws. Her experiences as an organizer and civil rights activist in South Los Angeles led her to pursue law. In her first year as a student at Harvard Law School, someone Gina loves was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Despite years of work in racial justice and organizing prior to law school, it was this painful personal experience that would put her on a new course.

As an attorney in Harlem, NY, Gina represented women of color who were facing eviction as the result of a family member’s criminal matter. She designed and implemented the Housing Defense Practice at The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (NDS) after seeing how women with loved ones behind bars were suffering, resulting in weakened communities. Gina began to look for organizations and academic literature that addressed criminal justice with a focus on women with incarcerated loved ones–and found none.

She founded Essie Justice Group for those women.

Gina holds a BA in American Studies and Ethnicity, with a minor in Education, from the University of Southern California and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Among the awards she has received for her work are fellowships from Equal Justice Works, Soros Justice Fellowship, Echoing Green Global, the JMK Innovation Prize and a Harvard Public Service Venture Fund Seed Grant in support of the design and launch of Essie Justice Group. In 2017, she was awarded the Grinnell Prize, the largest award given by any U.S. college in recognition of social justice.

Gina has also been honored by several publications and was named “Top 14 Women Who Rocked 2014” by Colorlines, and a San Francisco Magazine Soldier of Social Change in their “Women In Power Issue” in 2015.






  • Ilham Askia, Executive Director, Gideon’s Promise
  • Stephen B. Bright, President and Senior Counsel, Southern Center for Human Rights
  • Neko Case, Musician and recording artist
  • Angela J. Davis, American University Law Professor and former Director of the DC Public Defender Service
  • Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director, Correctional Association of New York
  • Rhiannon Giddens, Singer, musician, and actor
  • Karl A. Racine, First elected Attorney General of the District of Columbia
  • Jon Rapping, Founder and President of Gideon’s Promise
  • Seth Waxman, Co-Chair, Appellate and Supreme Court Litigation Practice, WilmerHale; Former Solicitor General of the U.S. (1997-2001)

Mark Rochon, Chair

  • Leila Babaeva
  • Barry Boss
  • Shelley Broderick
  • Charles Bush
  • Anne DiRosa
  • Eden Durbin
  • Sophia McCrocklin and Bill Isaacson
  • Nancy McGregor and Neal Manne
  • Renee McCoy-Collins
  • Stephen Milliken
  • Preston Pugh
  • Matthew Reinhard
  • Jim Rowe
  • Addy Schmitt


  • Miller Chevalier
  • FWD.US
  • Zuckerman Spaeder


  • HR ’73 Class Act
  • Cozen O’Connor
  • The Jeffress Group
  • James Blaine and Cynthia Stroud
  • Sophia McCrocklin and Bill Isaacson
  • Nancy McGregor and Neal Manne