Equal Justice USA (EJUSA) describes itself as “a national, grassroots organization” with “progressive” values, whose mission is “to build a criminal-justice system that is fair, effective, and humane.” According to EJUSA, America’s justice system today is plagued by “significant race and class biases” that “impact not only which defendants receive which punishments, but also the availability of services and support for victims and their families.”
EJUSA’s top priority is to advocate for a repeal of the death penalty in all 50 states. The organization asserts that capital punishment discriminates not only against nonwhite minorities but also against low-income defendants, who in many cases have been “represented by attorneys who were drunk, asleep, or completely inexperienced.” EJUSA also maintains that numerous death sentences have stemmed from the wrongful conviction of innocent people. “The DNA era has given us irrefutable proof that our criminal-justice system sentences innocent people to die,” says EJUSA.
Yet another EJUSA complaint is that the lengthy process of trials and appeals in capital cases can “prolon[g] the pain of victims’ families, who must relive their trauma” repeatedly. Finally, EJUSA notes that the death penalty’s implementation is very expensive, generally costing “millions more dollars than a system of life [in prison] without parole – before a single appeal is even filed.” Resources that are currently “wasted” in the effort to bring a convicted murderer to the electric chair, says EJUSA, should be redirected toward “common-sense criminal-justice policies that reduce crime and support victims.”
EJUSA was founded in 1990 as a program of the Maryland-based Quixote Center, a self-identified “faith-based, social justice center working with people who have few resources for their struggles.” In 1997 EJUSA launched its Moratorium Now! campaign to help state and local organizations draw public attention to the issue of capital punishment. This initiative began to pay dividends in 2002, when it played a role in persuading Maryland’s governor to issue a moratorium on executions in his state. Three years later, EJUSA partnered with New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty to ban capital punishment in New York. And in 2007 EJUSA and New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty achieved a similar result in New Jersey.
In 2008, EJUSA spun off from the Quixote Center to become an independent organization, opening new field offices and relocating its national headquarters to Brooklyn, New York. Since then, it has played “a leading role” in helping to place tight limits on capital punishment in Maryland, to ban the death penalty in Illinois, and to pass death-penalty repeal legislation through the Montana state senate. All told, as of May 2011 EJUSA had developed or assisted repeal and moratorium efforts in more than 30 states. It also had helped to recruit a host of faith communities, local businesses, and other organizations – including 152 local governments – to join the call for a moratorium on executions.
To help advance its anti-capital punishment agenda, EJUSA urges its members and supporters to contact their legislators, write letters to the editors of their local newspapers, host educational house parties/fundraisers on EJUSA’s behalf, and persuade their own faith groups, organizations, and local business leaders to publicly take a stand against the death penalty. To facilitate the efforts of its allies, EJUSA has produced and distributed organizing packets complete with step-by-step instructions and model state and local resolutions. The group has also developed workshops and model organizing projects designed “to help states reach out to unlikely allies, including law enforcement, victims’ family members and victims’ service providers, and conservatives.”
In 2006 and again in 2007, the Quixote Center received $50,000 in grant money earmarked specifically to support EJUSA, from George Soros‘s Open Society Institute (OSI). When EJUSA became an independent entity in 2008, it was awarded a $125,000 grant by OSI. The following year, Soros’s foundation approved yet another $125,000 grant for the organization.
 In a 2002 examination of death-penalty statistics, National Review journalist Ramesh Ponnuru concluded that in the entire 20th century, approximately 32 people had spent time on death row when they had not committed a capital offense. Of those, none had been executed.