A new $2 million grant from the Mellon Foundation will support the University of California Sentencing Project organizers, scholars and artists — inside and outside of prison — who are working to disrupt narratives that legitimize the racialized and gendered criminalization of people in California’s prisons for women.

The project is housed at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women | Barbra Streisand Center in collaboration with UC San Diego, as well as currently and formerly incarcerated individuals from the California Coalition for Women Prisoners and the Felony Murder Elimination Project.

More than half a million people — disproportionately Black, Indigenous and Latino — were under criminal supervision in California as of January 2022. According to the UC Sentencing Project, mass incarceration fueled by long-term sentences is particularly acute in the state: California has the third-highest number of people serving life without the possibility of the parole in the U.S.

“Incarcerated people just want to tell their story,” said April Harris, co-prinicpal investigator on the project and a writer who is serving a life sentence at a women’s state prison in Chino, California. “They have never been able to do that. The courts and their evidence automatically create a narrative for them.”

The project aims to provide a better understanding of racial and gendered drivers of long-term sentences in California; highlight impacts of these sentences on individuals, their families and communities; and give those most impacted by extreme sentencing an opportunity to voice their accounts of the U.S. criminal legal system.

“Incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people have determined the vision and direction of the project from the beginning,” said Grace Kyungwon Hong, director of the Center for the Study of Women | Barbra Streisand Center, professor of gender studies and Asian American studies at UCLA, and co-principal investigator of the project. “We couldn’t do this work without their expertise and perspective.”

Read the full story about the project at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women | Barbra Streisand Center website.