The National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union: Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, 1972

Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society (Duke)



Case Study Sector


In the early 1970s, Aryeh Neier, then head of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), decided to create a program to establish more expansive rights for prisoners incarcerated in the United States. Already, in the 1970s, it was apparent that overcrowding and a lack of adequate staff and services were making American prisons less humane and more violent places. Neier believed that an ongoing initiative focused on this specific area of civil and human rights would be more effective than the case-by-case interventions more commonly pursued by the ACLU. He decided to combine two existing ACLU projects on prisoner’s rights to form the National Prison Project (NPP).
NPP was funded, at its outset, by the Field Foundation, the Stern Family Fund, and the Playboy Foundation. Very soon it gained the support of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, which became by far its largest supporter. The NPP aims “to create constitutional conditions of confinement and strengthen prisoners’ rights.” Its primary tactic is class action litigation that seeks to redress, in court, prison conditions and policies that violate the civil and human rights of inmates.



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