CJI and the Open Society Foundations (OSF) established the Starving the Beast (STB) Circle in 2017 to fund community-based options that reduce incarceration as a response to criminalized behaviors like drug use and related activities, sex work, and other survival behaviors. The Circle’s overarching goal is to end criminalization and resulting incarceration, driven by a failed drug war predicated on punishing drug-related activity in ways that target and devastate communities marginalized by race, class, housing status, HIV status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and citizenship status, which bear the brunt of the impact.
STB complements CJI’s Leadership Circle with grassroots advocacy funding targeted specifically to reduce mass incarceration by “starving” the system of those it would prey upon. Starving the Beast grants support to harm-reduction practices that are non-coercive and operate entirely outside the criminal legal system, as opposed to ones occurring due to arrest or other system contacts. STB is intended to improve the capacity of community-based organizations to deliver resources, provide harm-reduction services, and promote policy changes that will limit police interactions around mental health, homelessness, and consenting adult behaviors.
In 2021, Starving the Beast was proudly relaunched as an independently operated CJI Circle with an ambitious, expanded program mission. Now in its fifth year, STB will continue to fund viable alternatives to mass criminalization and mass incarceration as a response to drug use, sex work, subsistence-driven trade, and other aspects of the survival economy through community harm-reduction approaches and services. But STB’s program focus was broadened to include community approaches to combatting over-policing, the underground economy, gang involvement, mental health needs, and community needs surrounding the exploding houselessness crisis. Eligible issue areas will include medical and mental health care, emergency-response policing alternatives, trauma support and healing, and restorative responses to harm.
STB grantees do incredible, transformational work that can help disrupt the cruel dynamic that takes family members and neighbors out of our communities. Our grantees are in the best position to combat the hyper-criminalization and incarceration of communities of color and others living in poverty. In 2021, STB awarded $415,000 to 19 different grassroots advocacy organizations working across 17 U.S. states. Since 2017, Starving the Beast’s total impact has topped $920,000.