Twitter billionaire Jack Dorsey announced on Monday that he is donating $10 million to REFORM Alliance, a criminal justice reform organization. The goal of the gift is to get personal protective equipment to every prison and jail in the United States.
“I’m grateful REFORM exists,” Dorsey said in a statement announcing the gift. “The criminal justice system needs to change. COVID-19 adds to the injustices, and REFORM is best suited to help.”
According to data from the New York Times, prisons and jails account for eight of the country’s top ten largest localized COVID-19 clusters (the deadliest outbreaks are in nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities). The largest coronavirus cluster in the country is at Ohio’s Marion Correctional Institution, which had 2,439 cases as of May 11, 2020. The institution’s website states that the prison housed 2,564 inmates as of July 1, 2019; if the number of inmates hasn’t changed, that means more than 95% of its population has been infected.
The $10 million gift will come from #startsmall, Dorsey’s $1 billion philanthropic initiative, launched last month partly as a response to the pandemic.
In a tweet on Monday, Dorsey said, “The goal is to help ensure the incarcerated population, correctional officers, healthcare workers, & personnel working state, federal, & private facilities are protected from COVID-19 exposure.”
There are an estimated 2.3 million inmates in the country, according to Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit research organization. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded more than 400,000 correctional officers and jailers as of May 2019. According to a spokesperson, the $10 million from Dorsey will be enough to provide protective personal equipment for every single inmate in the American prison system.
“This generous donation from Jack and #startsmall is an absolute game-changer,” REFORM Alliance CEO Van Jones said in a statement. “Not only will this gift help us protect millions from the threat of COVID-19, but this level of support from a tech titan marks a turning point for the criminal justice reform movement. It’s truly an honor to call Jack an ally in this fight, be able to provide masks to every prison in America and potentially save tens of thousands of lives.”
REFORM was founded last year, spurred by the imprisonment of recording artist Meek Mill, who was sentenced to two to four years in prison for a violation in the terms of his parole, after he posted videos of himself performing tricks on a dirt bike in New York City.
Mill is now co-chair of REFORM. He’s tapped in to an all-star roster of billionaire founding partners, including artist Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, tech entrepreneur Michael Rubin, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, private equity investor Robert F. Smith and hedge fund investor Daniel Loeb. Laura Arnold, wife of billionaire hedge fund manager John Arnold, and Clara Wu Tsai, wife of billionaire Alibaba cofounder and Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai, are also founding partners.
After the pandemic is over, Dorsey has said that #startsmall will shift its focus to women’s health and education as well as advancing universal basic income. He has been publicly tracking his gifts on a Google sheet. The document shows he has dispersed $24.6 million to philanthropic efforts, though as of 11 a.m. PDT on Monday, he had not added the REFORM Alliance gift.
On Tuesday, one day after the news of the grant to REFORM, Dorsey announced his largest grant to date: a $15 million donation to San Francisco’s Give2SF Response & Recovery Fund. It will support food security, housing access, and small business and worker support for undocumented, mixed status and low-income San Franciscans.