Blogs

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As I step down from a Safety and Justice Challenge role I’ve served in since 2015, I’m proud of what we achieved together in Charleston, SC and hopeful for the future of justice reform. I am optimistic the progress can provide a path for other communities to sustainably improve their local systems while safely reducing the misuse and overuse of jails. As reported in our 2021 Annual Report , Charleston County’s local jail population was reduced 40 percent from our initial baseline in 2014 to 2021. Municipal and Magistrate charges booked into our jail were cut by 80 percent. The rate of local bookings among our adult population decreased by 67 percent. ...
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A new R Street Institute report supported by the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge explores the successful implementation of pre-arrest diversion strategies in three conservative communities. Such strategies respond to challenges facing law enforcement agencies across the country including staffing shortages, negative public perception, overpopulation in jails, increases in violent crime, and court backlogs. While criminal justice reform can be a politically charged term, we found that several conservative jurisdictions champion pre-arrest diversion as a way to support law enforcement and to remain fiscally disciplined. These jurisdictions ...
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Cities and counties participating in the MacArthur Foundation ’s Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) significantly reduced their jail populations over the past few years – both prior to and since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite that progress, racial and ethnic disparities in jails persist. You can read more about the data here. In January 2022, the Challenge deepened its commitment to learning and investing in more intentional and effective strategies to eliminate institutional and systemic racism within the justice system. It selected four jurisdictions to join a new Racial Equity Cohort based on proposals that explicitly focused on racial ...
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Members of the Safety and Justice Challenge learned during their annual convening in January 2022 about how Tulsa, Oklahoma has struggled to reckon with the legacy of its 1921 Race Massacre. The discussion showed how Tulsa’s history impacts its present. It also demonstrated the complexity any jurisdiction must face in navigating ongoing inequities as it seeks to lower its jail populations sustainably and fairly. Today in 1921 mobs of White residents of Tulsa killed as many as 300 Black people. City officials had deputized some of the mobs and given them weapons. The mobs burned and destroyed 35 square blocks of homes and businesses in the Greenwood District. ...
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There is great news for people looking to understand how jail populations are changing across the country: The Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) has a new tool enabling anyone to track progress of SJC site jails. The jail trends tool distills all the progress achieved across SJC sites since the Challenge began. Users can click through to different tabs to explore key trends across SJC sites and can drill down in each of these trends to view them on an individual site basis for a more nuanced local perspective. We are also planning a series of accompanying briefs over the coming months, which will be available here as they’re released. Each brief will ...
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Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd two years ago today on May 25, 2020. People protested racial injustice in the criminal justice system across the country and beyond, and as a result, some cities and counties pledged to make significant changes to law enforcement. But in recent conversations with people involved with the MacArthur Foundation ’s Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), many reflected on how not enough has changed in the last two years and how the landscape for criminal justice reforms is now becoming more challenging. And yet, they also pointed to areas of progress. Jose Bernal , an organizer with the Ella Baker ...
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Too often across county government there are siloes between efforts to reduce jail incarceration and efforts to house people. But a recent report by the Urban Institute funded by the Safety and Justice Challenge shows how cross-governmental collaboration can break down these siloes and address historic injustice which has contributed to the jail-homelessness cycle. The report is based on learnings from three private roundtables we held in 2020 with practitioners, people with lived experience of jail incarceration, and subject matter experts across housing, behavioral health, and criminal justice. The purpose of the roundtables was to understand how gaps and ...
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There is new hope in St. Louis County for people afraid to move on with their lives or engage with the criminal justice system because of unresolved warrants, municipal code violations, or having missed a court date. The center, which is part of a national effort to lower jail populations in jurisdictions across the country as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), aids in responding to concerns raised by the Department of Justice (DOJ) about racial injustice related to municipal court practices in its 2015 investigation into the Ferguson Police Department —which is located in the northern part of St. Louis County. The DOJ commissioned a report ...
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Members of the Safety and Justice Challenge grappled with questions about how mass incarceration is linked to Black history at a recent fireside chat during the annual convening of SJC network members. Bria L. Gillum , Senior Program Officer, Criminal Justice with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation hosted the conversation with Kelly Lytle Hernandez , a professor of History and African American Studies at University of California, Los Angeles. She is also a member of the SJC Advisory Council and a MacArthur Fellow. Bria asked Kelly how she uses her journey as a historian and professor to think about mass incarceration. Kelly began by acknowledging ...
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March is Women’s History Month, and the picture for women in America’s jails remains troubling. Focusing on women in jails is an important part of the work of the Safety and Justice Challenge as it seeks to reduce jail populations across the country. Here are just a few examples of the challenges women face in jail. We Lock Up More Women Than Any Other Country Only 4% of the world’s female population lives in the U.S., but the U.S. accounts for 30% of the world’s incarcerated women. Such an alarming disparity should prompt us to consider how our policies and practices are contributing to it. Nearly half of the 231,000 women and girls locked up in the ...
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It’s been two years since the United States began to shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As we continue in our mission to reduce jail populations across the United States, the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) asked some of our strategic allies to reflect on lessons learned from the pandemic. Systems Adapted to Release More People and Take on New Challenges Criminal justice systems across the country adapted to keep people safe. “They worked in partnership to reduce arrests and bookings, and they increased releases,” said Wendy Ware, vice president of the JFA Institute . Some jurisdictions made changes to their bail protocols. Others relied ...
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Recognizing that too many people spend too much time in jails across America when their deeper need is for behavioral health treatment, counties are deploying innovative programs to help address this problem. To better support community members living with a behavioral health condition such as mental illness and/or substance use disorders, many counties are developing and implementing integrated behavioral health continuums of care. Building an effective behavioral health care continuum targets the root causes of behavioral health emergencies by investing in comprehensive and accessible prevention, treatment, and real-time intervention. With almost one in ...
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Cities and counties participating in the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) significantly reduced their jail populations over the past few years – both prior to and following the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite that progress, racial and ethnic disparities in jails persist. Today the SJC has selected four jurisdictions to join a new Racial Equity Cohort based on proposals that explicitly focus on racial and ethnic equity in the criminal justice system; center lived experiences of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color; and emphasize the SJC Community Engagement Pillars of authenticity, accessibility and transparency, respect for diversity, and commitment ...
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Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but the commitment of the Safety and Justice Challenge to improving racial equity in the jail system runs year-round. With that in mind, here are a dozen blogs on racial justice written by members of the effort and featured over the last year. Exploring the Difference Between Racial Equality and Racial Equity. Christopher James with the Haywood Burns Institute defined the terms of the debate: “To start treating, say, the Black community ‘the same as everyone else’ at this point in history will not go far enough in terms of achieving true equality,” he wrote. The Catalyzing Impact of George Floyd’s Death on Criminal ...
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The last two years have been turbulent for all our partners in the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), particularly for the cities and counties that have committed to reducing their jail population and eliminating racial and ethnic inequities as part of the SJC Network. Communities participating in SJC range from the small (Missoula, MT) to the immense (Los Angeles, CA), and they vary demographically, politically, geographically, and in every other way you can imagine. But the COVID-19 pandemic touched all of them. It brought with it death and economic disruption, as it has everywhere. It also brought change and opportunity. By forcing local systems to adopt ...
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A new research paper from the Square One Project at Columbia University offers the first comprehensive review of experimental social policy interventions that can end mass incarceration. The review demonstrates that greater investments in healthcare, education, employment, housing and social services – as well as increased scientific rigor in implementation – are needed to effectively decarcerate. My colleagues Emily Wang, Laura Hawks, Lisa Puglisi, and I reviewed more than 23,000 research articles to produce the paper, “ Towards A New Framework for Achieving Decarceration: A Review of the Research Literature on Social Investments .” We sought to answer the ...
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For decades, the United States has responded to social issues like mental health and substance use crises, chronic homelessness, and ongoing cycles of interpersonal violence with jail incarceration rather than pursuing innovative strategies that are better suited to address the root causes of these issues. Jail incarceration has disrupted the lives of millions of people—disproportionately harming Black, Indigenous, and people of color—without improving public safety. There is a better way. Communities can instead invest in agencies and organizations that address these issues outside the criminal justice system. The proven solutions highlighted in a new report ...
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Historically and up to today, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities, and people residing in neighborhoods of historic divestment, are more likely to be harmed by public safety systems. To truly reimagine public safety, cities must acknowledge these harms and take actionable steps, alongside their residents, toward transformation. In 2020 the names of people lost to police violence became synonymous with the movement toward justice. These tragic losses prompted a long overdue conversation with local leaders. They realized they could no longer treat public safety as solely a function of law enforcement. The recent upticks in violent crime in many cities, ...
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Probation is the most common sentence in the United States. In 2019, one in 73 adults was on probation , and there were almost 1.5 million more people on probation than in jails and prisons combined . Although the problems of “mass supervision,” particularly the way probation violations contribute to state prison populations, have begun to draw greater critical attention, there is very little information about how probation contributes to local jail populations. A new report released by the Vera Institute of Justice, with support from the Safety and Justice Challenge, focuses on the ways probation can affect jail populations and what can be done differently. ...
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Hispanic Heritage month is an important time to reflect on Hispanic Heritage generally, including how far we still have to go to ensure equitable inclusion and access to justice. One aspect of this is to understand the overrepresentation of and disparate outcomes for people of color, including Latino/Latina/Latinx folks involved in the criminal legal system. Accurate data is needed for that. Yet, remarkably, we do not know how many Hispanic and Latino people are arrested or how many are incarcerated in the United States because we are not collecting the data. Research by the Urban Institute shows 40 states report race in arrest records, but only 15 report ethnicities ...
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