In Our Backyards Community Grant Proposal

There are presently no open calls for submissions.

Request for Proposals: In Our Backyards Community Grants

Background: Vera’s In Our Backyards Initiative 

A little-known fact threatens our nation’s collective efforts to end mass incarceration: as major cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New Orleans reduce their incarceration rates, many smaller communities across the country are moving in the opposite direction. In fact, thousands of smaller cities and rural counties are now grappling with the nation’s highest rates of jail incarceration and prison admissions—and, increasingly, some of the most outsize jails. The Vera Institute’s In Our Backyards initiative is driven by the realization that national gains made toward undoing mass incarceration are being totally eroded by deepening problems in overlooked communities across the country. The number of people in jail has been rising for the past four years, fueled by growth outside of major cities. 

This work is made particularly urgent by the quiet jail boom that is rapidly expanding carceral capacity across the country—at the same time that efforts to close facilities like  the Atlanta City Jail and the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility are underway, hundreds of smaller communities are building or planning bigger jails. 

Funding Opportunity: In Our Backyards Community Grants 

To spark and sustain reform beyond the biggest cities, Vera is requesting proposals from community-based and/or statewide organizations committed to reducing incarceration rates and resisting unnecessary jail expansion in smaller cities and rural communities.

Applicants are eligible to apply for up to $20,000 to support work over an eight-month period (June 2020 – February 2021). Through a competitive selection process, Vera will fund up to 10 organizations. The funding is intended to sustain existing work in smaller cities and rural counties, to expand work that is rooted in large cities or their suburbs to reach smaller communities, or the support collaboration across the urban-rural spectrum.[1] You can see the inaugural cohort of In Our Backyards Community Grantees and learn more about their work at

Vera will hold an optional conference call for interested applicants on Monday March 16, 2020 at 2:00pm EST; applicants are strongly encouraged to send a brief email expressing their intent to apply by March 20, 2020

Application materials must be submitted by April 13 (11:59 pm PST) and applicants will be notified by May 18, 2020 of the outcome of their application.

The In Our Backyards Community Grants are animated by a recognition of two key dynamics: First, in many of the thousands of high-incarceration counties across the country, there is not enough existing appetite for meaningful reform from within local government. This may be rooted in a lack of awareness about the severity of local incarceration, a belief that the system is functioning as it should, or a misconception that growing prison admissions and crowded jails can’t be addressed by policy change. Second, the most ambitious efforts to reduce incarceration in America’s biggest cities have been driven and sustained by locally-rooted organizing and advocacy that creates momentum for reform and holds local government accountable for progress. Organizing and advocacy groups in small cities and rural counties benefit from opportunities to share strategies and be connected to this larger movement.  

These Community Grants are designed to support work to:  

1. Make data and knowledge about incarceration more widely available, including: how both prisons and jails are being used, rising rates of women’s incarceration, the racially and ethnically disparate impact of local justice systems, how community supervision interacts with jail and prison admissions, and specific local drivers of incarceration; 

2. Change the public narrative about incarceration in local and national media by elevating the particular experiences of small and rural communities, and the human toll of jail; and

3. Build public and governmental will to reverse mass incarceration locally and statewide, through policy and practice change.  

The grant will also entail a close partnership with Vera’s In Our Backyards team, and grantees should either plan to make use of Vera’s existing local incarceration data, or identify opportunities to fill data and knowledge gaps. We will convene grantees once near the beginning of the grant period to share strategies, tactics, and challenges and receive additional training, and invite the network to subsequent convenings and trainings.

COVID-19 UPDATE: In light of the current pandemic, we recognize that the context in which we will all be working over the coming months is increasingly hard to predict. For the foreseeable future, collaborations, meetings, public forums, and canvass efforts will be undertaken in a context of social distancing as we all adapt to a new normal. We also recognize that this moment of crisis presents a renewed sense of urgency to reduce jail and prison populations and invest in critical community infrastructure. As a result, we want grantees to have the flexibility to plan work that is both responsive and proactive. The baseline expectation will be that you will spend down funding between June and February but if you would like to propose a slightly different timeline for your work in light of the growing public health crisis presented by COVID-19, please do so with a clear explanation of your rationale. If you are proposing work that will begin in June, consider noting how your proposed activities will reflect the realities of or responses to the novel coronavirus.

[1] We define “large cities” as metropolitan areas with more than a million residents, and their suburbs as the counties in the surrounding metropolitan area.  

In Our Backyards Community Grant Proposal