The Smart Justice Initiative (SJI) was launched in 2019 to support individuals and communities impacted by our country’s punitive legal system forge brighter, more prosperous futures through educational attainment and meaningful careers.  We believe that postsecondary education is transformative, both as a catalyst for personal change, as well as justice system reform.  SJI key focus areas include higher education in prison, supporting justice-involved students on campus, economic success, and racial equity, with a particular focus on policy and systems change.  

20MM’s Spark Grants program is an innovation in rapid grantmaking aimed at quickly infusing resources into highly impactful initiatives that would otherwise go unfunded through a traditional, lengthy timeline. We evaluate and make a decision on each proposal within just fifteen (15) business days, and disburse awards shortly thereafter. Our vision is to introduce a process that can fill urgent needs for education organizations that are well-aligned with our focus areas. 

This past Smart Justice Spark Grant round yielded 137 Letter of Inquiries, of which 40 were invited to submit full proposals and a final 5 were selected as awardees.  Metrics around our Key Target Outcomes revealed some interesting trends around the areas of focus for justice reform organizations, with the top 3 Key Target Outcomes receiving the following percentage of proposals:

  • 63%- Increase access to wraparound reentry support services for individuals reentering the community that establish innovative pathways to higher education and/or career technical training.
  • 49%- Increase the economic mobility of system-impacted individuals through workforce programming that leads to high growth, high wage careers
  • 41%- Increase access to alternatives to face-to-face high-quality educational programming in coping with the COVID-19 pandemic for individuals who are incarcerated.

Additionally, from the round there are over 60 organizations that we will be following up with as part of a broader smart justice landscape analysis that will help inform our ongoing strategy refinement and partner development efforts.

We are excited to announce the awardees and their projects! Michelson 20MM’s Smart Justice Spark Grant Round Awardees are:

Foundation for California Community Colleges & Academic Senate for California Community Colleges 

The Foundation for California Community Colleges (FoundationCCC) and the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) are teaming up to address faculty turnover in HEP (higher education in prison) programs. Together, the partners will develop and distribute high-quality, open-license training materials to support California Community Colleges faculty members serving students in prisons and jails.

The Regents of the University of California/ University of California, Irvine

The University of California–Irvine is building a first-of-its-kind education pathway so that people in California prisons can earn a UC bachelor’s degree and receive tuition support. The project is designed to scale across the entire UC system and for replication at institutions around the country.

Root & Rebound

Root & Rebound restores power and resources to the families and communities most harmed by mass incarceration through legal advocacy, public education, policy reform and litigation. The organization is developing resources for educating and training staff at key California higher education institutions and professional licensing boards— materials that can be leveraged by other advocacy organizations across the country.

The Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program

The Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program (FFRP) provides career support to formerly incarcerated firefighters and currently incarcerated individuals who are interested in careers in the Wildland and Forestry sector. The Spark Grant award will support FFRP in their work to coach and guide participants through the transition from prison fire camps to full-time, paid members of California’s firefighting force. 

Anti-Recidivism Coalition

The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) empowers formerly and currently incarcerated people by providing a support network, comprehensive reentry services, and opportunities to advocate for policy change. ARC is working to increase access to vocational certifications, higher education, and occupational licenses for the justice-involved, in addition to launching a Fair Chance Employment Campaign to reduce reentry barriers.

These Smart Justice Spark Grant awardees join previous recipients in the Smart Justice portfolio, including Impact Justice, Vera Institute of Justice, RAND Corporation, 2nd Call, and the Campaign for College Opportunity.  In addition we have partnered with our  Racial Equity grantees to address the disproportionate impact of the criminal justice system on Black and Brown communities. These partners include Color of Change, the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, JusticeLA, and Homeboy Industries.  Collectively these grantees from 2019 and 2020 work in thought partnership with 20MM to reimagine justice through higher education and career success.

The Michelson 20MM Foundation is dedicated to supporting and investing in leading organizations, technologies, and initiatives that seek to transform learning and improve access to educational opportunities that lead to a meaningful career. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon and inventor Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson. Learn more at


To receive updates on the Michelson Spark Grant program
please fill out the form below.