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Ending wealth-based disparities in Nashville’s criminal legal system


CJI’s vision is for a criminal legal system in Nashville where everyone experiences justice. What is justice?

What justice means to each of us is influenced and shaped by our culture, our education, our family history, our spiritual beliefs, and our own life experiences. For some, it is punishment and retribution; for others, it is forgiveness and healing. Because of our differences, what looks and feels like justice to one person may very well look and feel like injustice to someone else.

CJI was founded in late 2018 by former Nashville Public Defender Dawn Deaner, whose perspective on justice was heavily influenced by her 21 years advocating on behalf of poor people in Nashville’s criminal legal system. After learning about restorative justice, and reflecting upon how routinely she witnessed injustice in the courtroom and beyond, Dawn was ready to work for justice in a new way – one that empowered people suffering injustice to pursue justice as they defined it.

At CJI, we believe justice exists when every person has equal freedom under the law to exercise the power of choice and self-determination in relationship with others, and when peace is maintained by a shared respect for the dignity of every person – regardless of their circumstances – and treating every person equitably.

What We Do


CJI Solves Problems

CJI provides criminal defense representation through court appointments to people in Nashville who seek our services and offers civil legal and social services for clients who need and want them. We are the only organization in Nashville that offers this kind of comprehensive legal representation. If you’d like CJI to represent you, click here.

CJI Heals

CJI’s goal is to spread the word in Nashville about the benefits and potential of Restorative Justice, which replaces the adversarial court process with a collaborative community-based approach, and to pursue it as an option for people involved with the criminal legal system who want that.

CJI Works for Equitable Treatment

In this age of mass criminalization and incarceration, our need for efficiency has caused us to operate courtrooms like conveyor belts, where people are still judged too often by how they look instead of who they are. CJI recognizes that justice requires equity, and equity requires consideration for the individual. As such, CJI works to identify and eliminate mass injustice where it exists.

CJI Acts in Solidarity with Those Experiencing Injustice

CJI is located on the campus of American Baptist College (ABC) – an HBC rich with connections to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and led today by scholars and practitioners committed to advancing the causes of social justice. We also support other initiatives like Participatory Defense, the Nashville Community Bail Fund, and Court Watch, where people experiencing the pain of injustice are working to transform how our courts treat people in poverty.


“The opposite of poverty is not wealth, it’s justice.”

– Bryan Stevenson

As long as poverty, injustice & inequality persist, none of us can truly rest. It doesn’t take much to change a life, Get in touch today and start making the difference.
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