Lawrence Justice Ministry
What is Justice Matters?
Justice Matters is a grassroots, Interfaith organization that creates the vehicle for local religious congregations to join together, identify common community concerns, research solutions, and act as one to achieve systemic improvements around equity and justice. Our expressed mission is to build the City of God where justice rolls down like a mighty river. We work toward this vision as an expression of our faith and values of love, relationship, and justice.
Presently, 17 congregations are members of Justice Matters, representing 10,000 people of faith. We represent a diverse mix of black, white, and Hispanic persons, coming from different religious traditions, including Catholic, mainline Muslim, Protestant, and nondenominational Christian.
About Justice Matters
Lead Organizer: Camille Debreczeny
Associate Organizer: Sarah Balzer
What we do
Within our first 4.5 years, we have accomplished broad-scale, systemic improvements on public health issues including: $11,637,500 public investment of in a locally managed Affordable Housing Trust Fund; Intensive, year-long, evidence-based childhood trauma training (Crittenton Children’s Center’s Trauma Smart curriculum) for all Pre-Kindergarten teachers serving low-income populations in Lawrence, and, Restorative Justice training for faculty and staff at two of the public schools with the highest use of out-of-school suspension in the Lawrence Public School system. Find out more below.
Mental Health Crisis Center – Construction of the most comprehensive behavioral health crisis center in the state of Kansas due to open 2021.
Synopsis: In 2015, Justice Matters led a delegation of civic leaders from Douglas County to witness firsthand a mental health crisis center in San Antonio that focuses on diverting people away from jail and expensive emergency room visits directly into immediate treatment. After three years of attempting to get a separate vote on mental health, The Douglas County Commissioners called sales tax increase to be placed on the ballot that would fund the construction of a Crisis Center along with doubling the size of our jail as one up or down all-or-nothing vote. Justice Matters succeeded in getting the ballot measure voted down in May 2018. We then hired the attorney that found a way to exclusively fund a new behavioral health system in Douglas County. The funding proposal passed with over 70% voter approval in the November 2018 election.
Dedicated public funding for to create and preserve Affordable Housing in Lawrence. View a map of the housing projects.
Synopsis: Justice Matters led a demonstration of how an affordable housing trust fund can systematically provide safe, decent homes for women fleeing domestic violence, children aging out of foster care, people in recovery, etc. After proving that a funded Affordable Housing Trust Fund is an important, high impact investment, Justice Matters continued to focus attention on affordable housing for several years, leading the campaign to repurpose an existing revenue source that will put $10-12 million into permanently affordable housing between 2019-2028. This work has already led to supportive, transitional housing for people in recovery after a mental health crisis and domestic violence survivors.
Criminal Justice Reform
Stopping a massive jail expansion in favor of safe, cost-effective alternatives and reforms.
Synopsis: The Douglas County Commission has been exploring jail expansion for several years. During this time Justice Matters has pressed for safe, cost effective jail alternatives and reforms. The County Commission called for a special election in May 2018 which would have put an additional 163 million into jail expansion and operations. Justice Matters led a coalition to defeat this measure in favor of reforms to safely lower the jail population. Our calls for alatneratives have led to a series of reforms including: (1) Pre-trial reforms projected to reduce the jail population by 50 – 70 people/day saving $4.368 million in tax payer money/year, (2) District Attorney policy changes restricting law enforcement’s cause for arrest to only those defendants with complete cases (projected reductions to be determined), (3) an additional Pro Tem District Judge to reduce case processing time for those awaiting trial (projected reductions to be determined), and the creation of a Drug Court.
School to Prison Pipeline
Because of our work, all the faculty and staff in the Lawrence Public Middle Schools will receive Restorative Justice training.