In 2015, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced a major initiative to change the way America thinks about and uses jails. Forbes Magazine has described this effort one of the top ten philanthropic initiatives directed toward social change.
JSP has been a proud partner of the Safety and Justice Challenge since 2014. The firm served as a strategic advisor when the initiative was originally being developed and, along with the Center for Court Innovation, Justice Management Institute and Vera Institute of Justice, has provided technical assistance since 2015.
The MacArthur Foundation has invested $148 million in the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) to address over-incarceration. Most of these funds are focused on local criminal justice systems across the country that want to improve public safety, save money and promote stronger, healthier communities. The SJC assists criminal justice systems to safely reduce jail incarceration, with a focus on addressing the disproportionate incarceration of low-income individuals and people of color.
Jurisdictions that participate in the SJC develop and model effective ways to keep people out of jail who don’t belong there, more effectively reintegrate those who are confined back into the community upon release and help them stay out of jail in the future. To enhance social and public safety outcomes, selected sites develop new and better ways of targeting resources and implement more effective risk assessments to determine whether confinement is really necessary.
The Challenge Network now represents 52 sites across 32 states. JSP is the primary technical assistance coordinator for seven of these sites, including Ada County, ID; Cook County, IL; Lake County, IL; Mecklenburg County, NC; Multnomah County, OR; Pima County, AZ; and San Francisco, CA. JSP has also provided SJC related technical assistance to Lucas County, OH; New Orleans, LA; and Spokane County, WA.
This work has yielded measurable results: For example, since joining the SJC in 2015, Cook County has reduced its jail population by over 26 percent, representing more than 2,000 fewer people held in the county jail. Multnomah County was able to improve its practices for pretrial defendants for whom competency to stand trial is at question, as detailed in this case study. Additionally, JSP has helped sites develop mental health diversion policies, eliminate prosecution of low-level crimes associated with high levels of racial and ethnic disparities, and implement comprehensive bond reform.
The Foundation has complemented its funding of jurisdictions with investments in research, data analytics and communications to explore the use of jail in the United States and to document the experience of local jurisdictions that succeed in building safer, more efficient and more just criminal justice systems.