The Safety and Justice Challenge

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 made a five-year, $75 million investment in the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) to address over-incarceration. The Foundation is investing in 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. Central to the SJC is a competition that funds selected jurisdictions to design and implement a plan for using innovative, collaborative and evidence-based solutions to create fairer, more effective justice systems.

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.

In May 2015, 20 jurisdictions received a grant to support an intensive six-month planning process, during which they rigorously examined how their jails are being used and what strategies could reduce the use of jail without compromising public safety. Each site produced a plan for implementing these reforms. The 20 sites—designated as core sites or partner sites based on the level of their second grant award—were selected out of an original applicant pool of 191 jurisdictions and represent a leading body of criminal justice reformers in the United States. In February 2017, 20 more sites were added through the SJC’s Innovation Fund, making for a total of 40 sites testing bold, innovative ideas for safely reducing both jail usage and racial and ethnic disparities in their jurisdictions.

Sites JSP has worked with through the initiative include:

JSP Planning Sites (2015)
Cook County, Illinois
Mesa County, Colorado
Multnomah County, Oregon
Palm Beach County, Florida
Pima County, Arizona

Implementation Sites (2016-present)
Ada County, Idaho
City & County of San Francisco, California
Cook County, Illinois
Lake County, Illinois
Lucas County, Ohio
Multnomah County, Oregon
Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
Pima County, Arizona

This work has yielded measurable results: For example, since joining the SJC in 2015, Cook County has reduced its jail population by 29 percent, representing 2,491 fewer people held in the county jail. Mutlnomah County was able to improve its court practices for pretrial defendants with mental illness, 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. The SJC initiative also has produced a variety of resources and written materials to assist sites in making sustainable change.  For an example of the type of contribution JSP has made to these resources, see Ten Steps to System Change.

For updates on the Safety and Justice Challenge, please follow them on and .


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