Black and white photo of Jay Inslee and Tarra Simmons smiling together while posing for a different camera

Our Story

The Civil Survival Project organizes people who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system to build connections, gain knowledge and increase political participation. As an organization focused on criminal justice reform in Washington State led by formerly incarcerated individuals, we offer a unique perspective. We believe that people closest to the problem are closest to the solution. By investing in the justice-involved community of Washington State, we build coalitions for systemic reform in the legislature and beyond.

What We’re Doing

Legislation & Coalitions

Civil Survival created a coalition that collectively led the New Hope Act in 2019. This legislation vacates an unlimited number of misdemeanors and felonies, expands the law to include some new offenses, and reduces the eligibility time-frame. We supported the reinstatement of parole, the law enforcement assisted diversion (LEAD) expansion bill, volunteering in schools with a criminal history, voting re-enfranchisement for people on community supervision (probation), mandatory training for school resource officers, and the decriminalization of driving with a suspended license. During legislative session, we coordinated a Lobby Day where 50 Civil Survival members attended.

We now lead the Clean Slate coalition which will bring the New Hope Act to life by making it an automatic process. In addition, we formed the Voting Restoration Coalition and are currently members. We will be advocating for several sentencing and reentry reform bills in 2020.


Civil Survival conducted four successful all-day Workshops in Tacoma, Seattle, Mission Creek Correctional Center for Women (MCCW), and Olympic College in Bremerton.

Conferences & Presentations

Civil Survival educates and promotes social justice reform on the local and nationwide scene. These opportunities expand our voice and legislative agenda to a broad network of impacted individuals and their communities.

Game Changer Groups

We added a fourth Game Changer Group this year in Tacoma to our three existing groups in South King, Kitsap, and Thurston Counties. This outreach is a pivotal resource for our growing community.

Organizing & Advocacy Leadership

Civil Survival participated in #CUT50’s National Day of Empathy in March, organizing with numerous local organizations to reduce our incarcerated population by 50 percent over the next 10 years. We are also leading the way to eliminating court-imposed debts through LFO Reconsideration Days. Over a thousand people with LFOs had their debts forgiven in Kitsap and Pierce Counties this year.

We are especially proud of members who were chosen to participate in our 6-month Leadership in Advocacy Fellowship. 24 leaders graduated from our inaugural class this December.

Our Work

Civil Survival envisions a world free from mass incarceration, where people who have been directly impacted by the criminal justice system have the supports and skills necessary to build lives as fully participating citizens. We believe that directly impacted people play a key role in developing policies that impact them and their communities. Our trainings, workshops, organizing and legislative work helps by advancing racial and economic justice and increasing opportunities for thousands of former justice-involved individuals in our community.

Notable Accomplishments

  • Tarra Simmons published in the Yale Law Journal
  • Seattle University Law Symposium on voting re-enfranchisement
  • Minority & Justice Commission on Second Chances
  • Life after Conviction panel at Washington Historical Museum
  • Legal Foundation of Washington fund-raiser
  • CLE provided for the Pierce County defenders on collateral consequences
  • Law School Admissions Diversity Conference in Atlanta, GA on barriers to the legal profession
  • Stafford Creek Black Prisoner’s Caucus Legislative Summit
  • Clallam Bay Corrections Center Social Justice Forum
  • Washington State Reformatory Concerned Lifer’s Organization Summit on Foster care to prison pipeline
  • Washington Leadership Institute panel on diversity in the legal profession
  • Barriers to reentry panel moderator at the Access To Justice Conference in Spokane
  • Keynote address at The Freedom Education Project Puget Sound graduation inside Washington Corrections Center for Women
  • Panelist at American Bar Association Conference in San Francisco for the Legal Services Corporation Opioid Task Force
  • Speaker at Council for State Governments West Public Safety Committee in Montana
  • Global Homeboys Network Convening in LA
  • Keynoted at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence conference
  • Keynoted at the Seattle University Evening with Equal Justice
  • Civil Survival Staff spoke at the Unity Rally, Tacoma Healing Awareness Community event, and Washington Recovery Alliance Recovery in the Park
  • Team members attended the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls FreeHer Conference, Brennan Center voting rights convening in NYC, and presented at the Kitsap Human Rights Conference
  • Attended Equity & Inclusion meetings for Central Kitsap School District

Grants, Awards and Recognition

We are honored to be the recipients of numerous awards, appointments, and grants in 2019:

  • Tarra Simmons was honored by Governor Jay Inslee at his State of the State Address in 2019, and has been appointed as an Advisory Board member to Washington State Supreme Court’s Gender & Justice Commission, the Washington State Sentencing Task Force, the Public Defense Advisory Board, Governor Inslee’s Statewide Reentry Council, and serves on the board of the Economic Opportunity Institute, National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, and the Legal Services Corporation Opioid Task Force
  • Civil Survival is a proud recipient of several grants, including two from Seattle Foundation – Communities of Opportunity and Resilience, Legal Foundation of Washington, The Bernard & Audre Rapoport Foundation, and Healthier Here
  • Civil Survival received distinguished awards from the League of Women Voters, Washington State Association of Justice, and Hilary Franz’s DO EPIC award.
  • Our Director Tarra Simmons was also honored with the YWCA Women of Achievement and Patty Murray’s Golden Tennis Shoe Award.

Coming in 2020

Legislative Advocacy

Our goal is to develop more capacity in our impacted community members to lead legislative campaigns in 2020. We will lead the Clean Slate coalition, staff the Voting Restoration Coalition, and work on Volunteering in Schools to help children of formerly incarcerated parents. Additionally, we will support the Housing Justice Coalition and actively support several sentencing reform bills.

Legal Services

Civil Survival is working to replicate LFO Reconsideration Day in several counties in 2020. We will also develop more accessible legal education and pro se materials that can educate our community through our GameChanger groups, as well as through online and social media platforms.

We hope to grow our staff to establish a statewide system for brief consultation and referrals on the many legal challenges people face upon reentry.


Civil Survival will expand our GameChanger groups by adding three new groups in King and Snohomish Counties, and at Mission Creek Correctional Center for Women.

Leadership Development

In 2019, we launched our pilot Leadership Fellowship program. We hope to increase our capacity and repeat this successful program in 2020. Our fellows developed skills in the following areas:

  • Race equity and anti-oppression in mass incarceration
  • Breakthrough Action Leadership ®
  • Leadership in legislative advocacy
  • Criminal justice training
  • The budget process and narrative storytelling
  • The opportunities of conflict
Our leadership development workshops are building capacity to expand our movement and impact.

We need your support!

The work of Civil Survival would not be possible without your support.

Your support will help us:

  • Increase our capacity
  • Build coalitions
  • Advocate for systemic reform in the legislature

Your help is essential.