Twenty Jurisdictions Win MacArthur Foundation Grants to Reduce Incarceration
Date:  05-29-2015

MacArthur Foundation plans to create more funding under its Safety and Justice Challenge in the future
On May 27 the MacArthur Foundation released the following document concerning the awarding of grants to 12 jurisdictions across the U.S., which also included the state of Connecticut. The grants were part of the Foundations’ Safety and Justice Challenge competition which was created to reduce incarceration, increase public safety and save taxpayer money, while providing a justice system that is fair to all.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy. whose state was awarded a MacArthur Foundation grant, released a statement in which he gave some insight to his “Second Chance Society” initiative which was recognized by the Foundation:

“In Connecticut, we have proven you can be both tough on crime while being smart about it. We have seen our crime rates drop to a 40-year low while we have reduced our prison population to an all-time low. We are also working to give our non-violent offenders a second chance at a better job, better housing and better opportunities for their family to break the cycle of poverty and crime. We are proud to receive this award because it highlights that Connecticut is on the leading edge for criminal justice reform.”

MacArthur Announces 20 Jurisdictions to Receive Funding to Reduce Jail Use Press release After a highly competitive selection process that drew applications from nearly 200 jurisdictions in 45 states and territories, MacArthur today announced it is awarding 20 jurisdictions $150,000 grants and expert counsel to create plans that will lead to fairer, more effective local justice systems. The grants are a part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, the Foundation’s $75 million initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. From this group, 10 jurisdictions will be selected in 2016 to receive a second round of funding – between $500,000 and $2 million annually, depending on the size of the jurisdiction – to implement their plans for reform.

The 20 jurisdictions range from large cities including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Houston to small localities like Mesa County, CO, and Pennington County, SD, as well as the State of Connecticut. Together, the selected jurisdictions represent 11% of the nation’s jails capacity. Therefore, the initiative has the opportunity to impact a large proportion of today’s jails population, as well as pioneer evidence-based alternatives to incarceration that other jurisdictions can successfully adopt and implement. “Nearly 200 diverse jurisdictions responded to our challenge, reflecting nationwide interest in reducing over-incarceration,” said Julia Stasch, President of the MacArthur Foundation. “Each of the sites selected has demonstrated the motivation, collaboration, and commitment needed to make real change in their local justice systems. The aim is that local efforts will model effective and safe alternatives to the incarceration status quo for the rest of the country.”

Despite growing national attention to the large number of Americans confined in state and federal prisons, significantly less attention has been paid to local justice systems, where the criminal justice system primarily operates and where over-incarceration begins. Jail populations have more than tripled since the 1980s, as have cumulative expenditures related to building and running them. According to recent research from the Vera Institute of Justice, nearly 75 percent of the population of both sentenced offenders and pretrial detainees are in jail for nonviolent offenses such as traffic, property, drug, or public order violations. Further, low-income individuals and communities of color disproportionately experience the negative consequences of incarceration.

MacArthur created the Safety and Justice Challenge competition to support jurisdictions across the country seeking to build more just and effective local justice systems that improve public safety, save taxpayer money, and yield more fair outcomes. In light of the large-scale response received to the Challenge competition and in an effort to build a broad network of jurisdictions that are engaged in local justice reform, the Foundation plans to create new opportunities – open to jurisdictions across the country – for funding to support training, technical assistance, and promising local innovations that seek to reduce the misuse and overuse of jails.

As part of the initiative, the Vera Institute of Justice recently released a new report, The Price of Jails: Measuring the Taxpayer Cost of Local Incarceration, showing that hidden costs make jails far more expensive than previously understood. The report finds that because other government agencies bear significant costs not reflected in jail budgets, taxpayers are spending more to incarcerate people than official statistics show.

Several of the nation's leading criminal justice organizations will provide technical assistance and counsel to the 20 jurisdictions as they prepare their comprehensive plans for local reform: the Center for Court Innovation, the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York, the Justice Management Institute, Justice System Partners, the Pretrial Justice Institute, and the Vera Institute of Justice.

In alphabetical order, the 20 jurisdictions are:

  • Ada County, ID

  • Charleston County, SC

  • Cook County, IL

  • Harris County, TX

  • Los Angeles County, CA

  • Lucas County, OH

  • Mecklenburg County, NC

  • Mesa County, CO

  • Milwaukee County, WI

  • Multnomah County, OR

  • New Orleans, LA

  • New York City, NY

  • Palm Beach County, FL

  • Pennington County, SD

  • Philadelphia, PA

  • Pima County, AZ

  • St. Louis County, MO

  • Shelby County, TN

  • Spokane County, WA

  • State of Connecticut

    Still, others are hoping that the MacArthur Foundation will reach outside the scope of cities, counties, sheriffs and jails when they disperse more grants to help reduce incarceration. When asked for a comment on the grants, Lois Ahrens, Director of The Real Cost of Prison Project told Reentry Central, “Because there are 12 million jail admissions a year, it's good that the MacArthur Foundation decided to focus attention on jails which are often overlooked by funders and even people working against mass criminalization. However, the problem I see is that from the get-go when MacArthur issued requests for proposals it was counties, cities and sheriffs who submitted proposals.

    With perhaps a rare exception, jails and people who run them are not organizing for fewer jails and less incarceration. Challenges to horrendous conditions of confinement in jails come from people who are incarcerated, formerly incarcerated people and their allies. Sixty percent of the men and women in jails are being held pretrial...that is, they have been convicted of nothing...many are held for months or years only because they can't afford bail. It is activists who are working to end money bail and organizing to stop new bail-jails from being built. It is activists who are advocating for community-based, community run alternatives to incarcerating people with mental illness and the millions of others who are criminalized for being poor. Are judges, prosecutors, court administrators, police and sheriffs the ones who are invested in changing systems that are fundamentally flawed or would the MacArthur Foundation's money be better spent on the organizers and activists already working for change?”