Implementing Change and Rethinking Jails with the MacArthur Foundation


We know that most people in jail pretrial are only there because they are unable to afford to pay the money bail required for their release. We also know that people of color are detained pretrial at significantly higher rates than people who are white. It takes technical expertise to develop and implement new strategies for tackling these old challenges; that’s why the MacArthur Foundation asked our team to serve as a site coordinator on the Safety and Justice Challenge, an effort to reduce the overutilization of jails and disparities in the criminal justice system. By helping jurisdictions implement various strategies focused on change at the local level, we’re addressing the astronomically high rate of incarceration in the United States and its negative impact on those who are detained, their families, and communities.


Contributing our staff’s collective experience leading change, our team has worked with the Foundation and local jurisdictions throughout the United States to implement strategies spanning the criminal legal system. JSP began working as a strategic advisor to the MacArthur Foundation in 2014, offering our expertise on what it takes to lead organizations through implementing change. The Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) initiative was formally announced in 2015, and we continue to provide initiative-level coordination, in addition to providing technical assistance directly to SJC sites. Key components of this work include building collaboration across system partners, engaging the community in system change, and focusing on increasing equity. As a site coordinator, we provide direct technical assistance to eight member jurisdictions as we continue to support the MacArthur Foundation’s effort to rethink jails. This service looks different from site to site as we respond to their unique needs and circumstances. For example, we’re facilitating collaborative planning processes in Cook County, Illinois; we’re collecting, analyzing and interpreting system-wide disparities data in Charleston County, South Carolina; we’re supporting pretrial system redesign Multnomah County, Oregon; and we continue to develop and implement new strategies as we build on what we learn alongside all of the jurisdictions we work with.


Our work to rethink the use of jails in these jurisdictions has yielded impressive results, including substantial jail reductions of 30-50%, large scale community engagement, and invaluable changes to system culture in many sites. In one SJC site, our efforts have resulted in ongoing collaboration between elected officials and other leadership, where previously there was very little if any cross-agency dialogue. Recognizing that mid-level managers can serve as drivers of change, we have provided coaching and facilitated weekly conversations with these staff over the last six years. The cross-system learning that has occurred as a result of that work has been disseminated and shared with leadership, and has influenced the willingness of leadership to work more closely together— all for the benefit of those who are justice-involved.


As part of our continued work on the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, JSP is working with the Lake County Equity Team and the Burns Institute to understand the barriers people face in returning to court. The goal is to learn more about why people struggle to get to court and help build programs and services that might help people appear as scheduled. Click here to learn more about participation in this study.


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