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New CASA scholarship launches to create a criminal justice system that reflects the people it serves

Margie Manning



Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

CASA and its backers want to bring systemic change to the criminal justice system.

To accomplish that goal, CASA has a launched a new scholarship fund for domestic violence survivors and people of color. The fund will provide financial assistance for education and training needed to pursue a career in criminal justice.

Lariana Forsythe

The Stand Up For Change Scholarship Fund was created following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis. His death prompted widespread Black Lives Matter protests.

“Over the past month, we have seen the world respond to systemic violence and oppression following the murder of George Floyd,” said Lariana Forsythe, CEO of CASA, Pinellas County’s certified domestic violence center. “At CASA, we believe all forms of violence and oppression are connected, and like so many organizations, we questioned what else we could do to create a more just and equitable community. The Stand Up For Change Scholarship Fund aims to do just that.”

The fund, held at Pinellas Community Foundation, will be initiated with a $12,500 match by Nicholas McDevitt, a CASA board member, and another $12,500 from Duggan Cooley and David Martinez-Cooley.

Duggan Cooley

The idea behind the scholarships is to change systems from the inside out, said Duggan Cooley, who is CEO of the Pinellas Community Foundation.

“The desire to maintain power and control over another person are at the heart of both domestic violence and racism. In order to bring about change within our criminal justice system, it is important to provide pathways to access education and training for people who have lived experience with domestic violence or racism,” Cooley said. “Bringing this lived experience into education, and ultimately a career in criminal justice, allow our systems a more comprehensive understanding the dynamics at play in domestic violence and racism.”

CASA has found that domestic violence survivors often experience re-victimization in the criminal justice system due to a lack of understanding of the complex cases by police officers, judges and attorneys. People of color encounter both systemic and unconscious biases that leave them with longer sentences and five times the incarceration rate of white Americans, according to CASA.

“Initiating the Stand Up For Change Scholarship Fund allows me to continue my support of domestic violence survivors while creating lasting change by acknowledging both the importance of those working in criminal justice and the need for continuous improvement to the system,” McDevitt said.

The total funding goal is $200,000, providing an average of $10,000 a year in scholarship support. For every $25,000 raised, the scholarship will generate about $1,250 in scholarship support annually.

The scholarships will be awarded based on the decision of an independent committee, which will review applications and make recommendations for awards. A scholarship can be used to pay for traditional educational expenses with a focus on paying tuition and textbook costs. All scholarship payments will be made locally to the chosen educational institution of the student, as specified in their application.

To learn more about the fund, including who is eligible and how to contribute, click here.

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