Model & Strategy

At the nexus of economic decline, prison expansion, and intensified segregation lies post-industrial Detroit. Detroit residents face systemic barriers to opportunity, dwindling access to affordable housing, and crises related to criminalization and aggressive policing. Detroit, which is over 80% Black, is one of the poorest major cities in the United States, with 60% of Detroit children living in poverty.

The Detroit Justice Center (DJC) was founded on the belief that we cannot build cities that work for everyone without remedying the impacts of mass incarceration. This requires innovative ways of community lawyering—rooted in defensive and offensive fights for racial justice and economic equity—that build up our poorest residents through direct services and novel approaches to land use, housing, and employment. DJC provides legal services to keep people out of jail and prison, guides path-breaking economic programs like community land trusts and co-ops that build power in neighborhoods, and nurtures visionary solutions such as restorative justice hubs and safe housing for people healing from gun violence. DJC uses a three-pronged approach – what they call “defense, offense, and dreaming” – to serve clients, build power, and catalyze systemic solutions:

  1. Defense: The Legal Services and Advocacy Practice focuses on winning the release of people from jails, fighting for eviction moratoriums, eliminating court debt and warrants, co-coordinating legal defense to protect the rights of protestors, and more while advocating for systemic change.
  2. Offense: The Economic Equity Practice supports some of the city’s most innovative approaches to building a sustainable economy and shaping the future of work. DJC fosters equitable development in Detroit by providing legal support for community land trusts, worker-owned cooperatives, and small businesses led by returning citizens. DJC’s Community Legal Advocate program trains community members to help Detroiters understand, use, and shape the laws that impact them.
  3. Dreaming: The Just Cities Lab focuses on introducing and normalizing alternatives to punitive justice while advocating for community reinvestment and restorative justice.
Detroit Justice Center logo
At a Glance
Founded: 2018
Founder & Executive Director: Amanda Alexander
Social Justice
Location of work: Domestic
Detroit Justice Center
Detroit, MI
Working alongside communities to create economic opportunities, transform the justice system, and promote equitable and just cities.
Amanda Alexander headshot
Meet Amanda Alexander

Amanda Alexander, founding Executive Director of the Detroit Justice Center, is a racial justice lawyer who works alongside community-based movements to end mass incarceration and build thriving and inclusive cities. Originally from Michigan, Amanda has worked at the intersection of racial justice and community development in Detroit, New York, and South Africa for more than 15 years. As a 2013-2015 Soros Justice Fellow, Amanda launched the Prison & Family Justice Project at University of Michigan Law School to provide legal representation to incarcerated parents and advocate for families divided by the prison and foster care systems.

Amanda is a Senior Research Scholar at University of Michigan Law School and a 2015-2018 member of the Michigan Society of Fellows. She facilitated the Inside-Out Theory Group at Macomb Prison near Detroit for many years and drove a successful effort to establish an Inside-Out Prison Exchange program at UM-Ann Arbor and local prisons. Amanda regularly provides assistance and training to community organizations, advocates, and government agencies working to promote successful re-entry, alternatives to incarceration, and economic equity. She is an adviser to the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated, has served on the national steering committee of Law for Black Lives, and is a board member of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership.

Amanda holds a JD from Yale Law School and a Ph.D. in international history from Columbia University. Previously she has worked with the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy, the Bronx Defenders, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the Centre for Civil Society in Durban, South Africa. As an Ella Baker Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights, she assisted with litigation challenging stop-and-frisk policing. As a Fulbright-Hays Scholar, Amanda conducted research on land, housing, and inclusive cities in South Africa. Her advocacy and research have won the support of an Echoing Green Fellowship, Social Science Research Council Fellowship, Ford Foundation Doctoral Fellowship, and other fellowships and grants. Her writing has been published in The Globe & MailMichigan Journal of Race & LawHarvard Journal of African-American Public PolicyMichigan Child Welfare Law JournalJournal of Asian and African StudiesReview of African Political Economy, and other publications.


DJC supported the launch of Detroit’s first contiguous Community Land Trust and has formed three land trusts to date to keep neighborhoods affordable.

DJC launched the Metro Detroit Restorative Justice Network in 2020 to transform the criminal punishment system and invest in proactive forms of safety and well-being.

DJC successfully advocated for eliminating the practice of driver’s license suspensions for nonpayment of fines, which will end the cycle of debt, warrants, and jail that impacted over 360,000 Michiganders in 2020.

DJC has written 137 property tax appeals and saved $891,300 in property taxes, helping dozens of low-income households avoid tax foreclosure.