Just City is a non-profit organization that was formed in 2015 by individuals from the county public defenders office who saw a need for a powerful independent voice to serve, advocate and reform in the area of criminal justice. It advances policies and programs that strengthen the right to counsel and mitigate the damage caused to families and neighborhoods as a result of contact with the criminal justice system and works to accelerate community-driven solutions to the problems presented by that system.
Allison Gibbs, Director of Programs and Operations, explains that there is a real need for organizations like Just City to provide balance in Memphis and the nation because there are a disproportionate number of poor and African-American people who must deal with the criminal justice system by themselves. Just City’s vision of a more equitable community is realized through the development and implementation of several specific programs and initiatives, one of which is expunging records to help heal people and neighborhoods after incarceration. In the state of Tennessee, in most cases, clearing up a criminal record requires a $450 expungement fee, even when qualified applicants have completed all of the requirements of their sentences. So, even after someone who has committed a crime does all the judge says that person needs to do to serve his or her time, they are often not able to move on with their lives. A criminal record can prohibit them from gaining admittance to or student loans for college, being part of public housing, and receiving social benefits. If they commit another crime, they do need to do more time for that, but, if they do not, they should not be continually punished for that one crime. Just City’s Clean Slate Fund pays expungement fees on behalf of those who qualify but can’t afford them.
To Allison, love looks like a just city where people have second chances and where there is equitable wealth distribution and equal access to jobs, affordable housing, health care, food and quality education for all students. She hopes that our leaders and those in power can make that vision of love come to fruition.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” Thanks to Just City for implementing the demands of justice and working to correct things that stand against love.