Philadelphia City Hall (Adobe Stock/The Philadelphia Gay News)
By Alec Larson
PHILADELPHIA — The city’s Office of Criminal Justice (OCJ) has received a three-year capstone grant totaling $975,000 from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that the city says will go towards supporting the city’s “ongoing public safety and racial equity initiatives at the local level.”
The grant, which marks a total of $10.75 million invested in the city as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, has been given to the OCJ as a sign of recognition for two years of progress “toward safely reducing the local jail population and addressing inequities in the justice system in collaboration with local leaders and community members,” according to a news release.
The MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, which Philadelphia was selected to join in 2016, is a $323 million national initiative aimed at reducing “over-incarceration and eliminate(ing) racial inequity in local criminal justice systems.”
“The Safety and Justice Challenge has allowed us to bring the voices of community members to the forefront to rethink criminal justice in Philadelphia,” said Office of Criminal Justice Executive Director Kurtis August. “Through this partnership, we’ve developed a long-term framework to continually uplift the experiences of people most impacted by the failures of our justice system. Moving forward, we will sustain our efforts to reduce jail populations and produce more equitable outcomes, all while ensuring that our work is reflective of the community’s needs.”
Over the course of the more than seven years since the public launch of the Safety and Justice Challenge, Philadelphia has developed a reform plan that involves seven strategies, each of which with their own initiatives: creating efficiencies in case processing that reduce length of stay, reducing the number of people incarcerated pretrial, reducing the number of people held in jail on a probation detainer, reducing racial and ethnic disparities across the criminal justice system, reducing the number of people in jail with mental illness, increasing cross-system data capacity, and fostering meaningful community engagement.
These strategies have involved “participation in a citywide community listening tour in partnership with local law enforcement and community leaders, the launch of new initiatives such as a police assisted diversion program, and the hiring of new staff including a racial equity strategist.”
Following the implementation of these strategies on a local level, the city said that as of the end of 2022 it has reduced the overall jail population by 46.8% when compared to July 2015.
“I am proud to celebrate and reflect on the progress made by the Safety and Justice Challenge cities and counties over the past seven years. This initiative shows that communities can bridge their differences in pursuit of a more equitable and just response to people in conflict with the law,” said Laurie Garduque, MacArthur Foundation’s Director of Criminal Justice. “With innovative and evidence-based solutions now in place, these communities have the framework to sustain their progress and the tools to respond to the challenges that lay ahead.”
The current round of funding is expected to “solidify the Office of Criminal Justice’s ability to sustain long-term public safety initiatives and will also promote continuity of the strategies Philadelphia developed throughout its participation in the Safety and Justice Challenge.”
Alec Larson is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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