Looking Back, Looking Ahead

It can be easy to lose sight of the things that went well in a year that undoubtedly characterized by extraordinary grief, isolation, and social unrest. As we prepare to put 2020 in the collective rearview mirror, the JSP team is reflecting on some high points that arose in the last year despite the myriad challenges we faced. Our staff recently paused to reflect on the learning and growth that 2020 brought. Here are some of the highlights carrying us into the new year:
  • The work we do begins with relationship building, typically involving on-site process observations and stakeholder dialogues. We learned that JSP’s highly individualized and relational approach translates to virtual platforms. Zach: “After initial struggles and delays I have come to the conclusion that we still can provide a value to those we contract with, even remotely. Relationships can still be built and maintained, and quality technical assistance can still be completed with some ingenuity (and a Zoom account).”
  • We practiced flexibility and embraced new ways of doing things— as did the state and local governments we partner with across the country. Kevin: “Organizations we work with rethought practices, policies, and procedures that might not have been considered were it not for the pandemic. I am hopeful some of these changes will be institutionalized and that we can support this work in the next year.”
  • While examining racial and ethnic disparities has been an element in all of JSP’s work, the murder of George Floyd and demonstrations that followed demanded that we re-center our internal dialogue on racial justice. Kate felt proud of the growth the team experienced by “reflecting on our role— as individuals and collectively— in bringing more equity and racial justice to criminal justice systems, and increasing diversity on our own team.” 
  • As part of our work with the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, we spent much of 2020 supporting the emergent need to reduce jail populations as a result of the pandemic. JSP provided technical assistance to sites who were able to reduce their jail populations by close to 50% in a matter of days– protecting the health of those who would have been jailed as well as the staff who work in those facilities. Lore: “This work continues, but the precipitous decline in jail populations that occurred in the spring of 2020 gives me hope that systems really can turn on a dime when the people who run those systems put their minds to it.”
The JSP team is ready to tackle familiar obstacles and new challenges on the road ahead, energized by the learning and growth that’s taken place in the last year. Here’s what we’re looking forward to in 2021:
  • JSP will welcome a new Research Associate, Dr. Jennifer Lerch, to the team in January. Christina noted that as we continue to expand our research capacity in 2021, we increase our ability to make meaningful change.
  • Brian shared his perspective on the key needs carrying the work of criminal justice reform into the year ahead: “First, an acknowledgement that the system has disparate outcomes for people of color and poor people. For actual reform to happen, we must view our work through an equity and inclusion lens. Second, our focus needs to shift from surveillance to support— specifically, we need to rethink how we develop and use technology to support change and growth in people, not to monitor and catch failure. And third, to move the field forward, we must shift from measuring failure to measuring successes (e.g. successful completion rates, appearance rates, and improved lives/communities). Not until we recognize that we have the potential to improve people’s lives and the communities we live within will we actually achieve the greatest reforms.”
  • And, as Kristen summarized: “In 2020, JSP dedicated itself to finding new ways to support the sites we work with. I expect that 2021 will have its own set of unique challenges— and with each, JSP will continue to rise, innovate, and tackle tough issues through the use of evidence-based practices and research.”
Our staff’s reflections reveal a resilience that is founded in determination to make positive change and hopefulness about justice system transformations to come. Looking ahead, the entire team is eager to further JSP’s mission— transforming justice systems to be more equitable, effective, and humane.