Foundation Friday: Spotlighting efforts to reform the criminal justice system


A pair of organizations — both recent recipients of grants from the NBA Foundation — are working to fight mass incarceration, assist young people and ease the transition of community members as they return home from prison or jail.

Through their work, the organizations seek to address some of the harms inflicted by our criminal justice system and create a brighter, more just future, where all people, even those who have been previously incarcerated, can live healthy and full lives.

Nearly two million people are incarcerated across the United States, according to the Prison Policy Initiative

Approximately 38 percent are Black, even though Black people make up about 12% of the population in the United States.

Research shows that Black and brown children are significantly more likely than white children to be perceived as older than their years, and they pay the price for this bias at sentencing.

Black youth have regularly been sentenced as adults more often than their white peers over the years, which creates a permanent criminal record, affecting future professional and personal opportunities, as well as increasing the risk of traumatization and recidivism.

In keeping with the mission of the NBA Foundation, we salute the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and Youth Sentencing Reentry Project for their efforts to right these wrongs and help communities of color prosper across this country.

Anti-Recidivism Coalition

Jaylen Brown meets with young people at a

Jaylen Brown meets with participants at a “Play For Justice” event.

The Anti-Recidivism Coalition, founded in 2013, works to end mass incarceration in California and aid people returning to society after time in prison, seeking to create change through policy reform, mentorship and professional training.

Most people who have been incarcerated have gone through some sort of trauma in their lives, especially young people, ARC executive director Sam Lewis said. Many have struggled with the burdens of poverty and disenfranchisement.

Among other programs, the ARC offers mentorship to people while they’re in prison, rides home, housing and a series of supportive services to those who have returned home.

“By offering these resources and services, we do a number of things. One, we give a person a real first chance, or if you want to say, a second chance, to be the best version of themselves. Two, by doing so, we break the cycle of poverty and incarceration,” Lewis said. “(Three), we enhance our public safety.”

People returning from prison face an uphill struggle, Lewis said, deprived of the chance to put together the building blocks of life in this country – professional experience, credit, familiarity with technology. 

Across the country, the recidivism rate stands at approximately 60%, Lewis said.

“I think most people might not realize how difficult it is, especially for people who went in when they were young,” Lewis said. “The things that you have to navigate, the barriers that remain in front of you, are huge, often resulting in recidivism.”

There were once 174,000 people incarcerated in California, Lewis noted. Thanks in part to ARC’s efforts, there are approximately 94,000. 

ARC is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. As it marks this milestone, the organization has begun to expand beyond California to work on a national level.

That expansion has included a series of “Play For Justice” events, held in collaboration with Represent Justice and the NBA, including the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers. 

These gatherings bring people who have been or are incarcerated together with NBA players, allowing for both intimate conversation and the chance to face off on the court.

At one such event, in September 2022, eight young people (who were previously incarcerated as juveniles) met with members of the Boston Celtics. The group sat together and shared their experiences involving the criminal justice system. 

“There was so much relational feeling. Many of the players either know someone, or may have been close to coming in contact with that system,” Lewis said. “It was incredible — the empathy and compassion that the Celtics showed as an organization … Every one of the young people said it was a life-changing experience for them.”

Click here to learn more about the mission of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, here to watch a short film about the organization’s work and here to listen to a podcast featuring Lewis and several young people who attended NBA All-Star Weekend with the assistance of the NBA Foundation.

Youth Sentencing Reentry Project

Members of the Youth Sentencing Rentry Project’s Speakers Bureau.

The Youth Sentencing Reentry Project, founded in 2014, works with children charged as adults, primarily in the Philadelphia area and Montgomery County in Pennsylvania, striving to mitigate the harms that come with engaging with the criminal justice system.

“We believe children should be treated like children,” said Bianca Van Heydoorn, executive director with the YSRP. “They have an inherent ability to change and to grow.”

As part of their work, YSRP creates a mitigation report that captures the full extent of their lives, expanding the focus of the court beyond the specifics of the case at hand. 

If they end up going to prison, members of the organization visit them and stay in contact with their families, aiming to serve as trusted adults during a stressful time.

Van Heydoorn noted a recent study from the Journal Of American Medicine, which found that young people sentenced to adult prison are 33% more likely to die between 18-39 years old.

The organization also sets up “intergenerational healing circles,” fostering conversations between children charged as adults and those who were previously incarcerated as children, and advocates for policy change, Van Heydoorn said.

“The need for this work is acute in the Philadelphia area,” she said.

The city has sentenced more children to life without parole than any other community. Van Heydoorn said that of the 2,800 sentenced nationwide, 300 were from Philadelphia.

“I think incarceration — our investment in punitive measures to respond to community violence — is the social justice issue of our time,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a more urgent human need than for us to grapple with how we live together, and, right now, our response is our criminal justice system.”

Overall, Van Heydoorn said YSRP strives to elevate dignity and self-determination, creating a world where people feel safe in their communities, in their bodies and in their identities.

Click here to learn more about the mission of the Youth Sentencing Reentry Project and read the stories of some of the young people aided by the organization.

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Founded in the Summer of 2020, the NBA Foundation, a joint collaboration between the NBA, NBPA and NBA Governors, has pledged over $300 million over 10 years to create economic empowerment in Black communities.

To learn more about the NBA Foundation, go to


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