City awarded $2.275 million grant to advance criminal justice reform, racial equity 

West prison wall
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The City of Philadelphia announced that it is the recipient of a $2.275 million grant by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to continue building on efforts to rethink the local criminal justice system, safely reduce Philadelphia’s jail population, and eliminate racial inequities.

This grant brings the Foundation’s total investment in Philadelphia—one of 15 jurisdictions awarded—to $9.9 million over the last five years. The Safety and Justice Challenge is a $246 million national initiative to reduce over-incarceration and advance racial equity in local criminal justice systems.

Philadelphia was first selected to join the Safety and Justice Challenge Network in 2015 and has since used the resources and funding provided by the initiative to advance racial equity in the criminal justice system through collaborative reforms that will safely reduce the local jail population by 58 percent in seven years (from 2015-2022).

Philadelphia’s reform plan includes the following strategies: reduce the number of people incarcerated pretrial; create efficiencies in case processing that reduce the length of stay; reduce the number of people held in jail on a probation detainer; reduce racial and ethnic disparities across the criminal justice system; reduce the number of people in jail with mental illness; increase cross-system data capacity;  and foster meaningful community engagement.

Since the start of the Safety and Justice Challenge, the local jail population has gone down by 43 percent since 2015. The jail population reduction has allowed the city to close the House of Corrections and avoid the construction of a new jail as well.

“Building on Philadelphia’s progress is especially critical as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustices against Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color reinforce the need to transform how systems operate,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “This continued financial support is critical to improving public safety and racial equity while reducing the local jail population. Our continued partnership with the MacArthur Foundation will advance our overall goal of eliminating unnecessary incarceration, which directly impacts the health, safety, and recovery of our communities.”

Philadelphia’s new reform plan centers on addressing racial injustice as its primary goal. It contains a number of initiatives, including reforms to Philadelphia’s bail system, a community assessment on the drivers of racial disparities, and alternative responder teams for people who call 911 in behavioral health crises. These initiatives speak to the concerns elevated last year during the civil unrest in the wake of high profile police killings around the country as well as in Philadelphia.

“Philly’s partnership with the MacArthur Foundation recognizes the historic progress we have made in safely reducing the jail population and right-sizing sentencing and supervision. We can and will make even more progress toward shrinking the footprint of the criminal legal system on Black communities, communities of color, and low-wealth communities,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said. “Confronting racism within the criminal legal system requires further investigation of institutional definitions of danger, crime, and safety.”

One strategy of the Safety and Justice Challenge was the creation of a Community Advisory Committee (CAC). The role of the CAC is to support and contribute to Philadelphia’s reform plan. Volunteer committee members work together with the criminal justice partners to reduce the size of the local jail population; reduce racial, ethnic, and economic disparities in the criminal justice system; and enhance community safety.

CAC members host public meetings and community events throughout the year. Individuals interested in serving on the CAC can apply now through April 1.

“The perspective of the community is needed now more than ever before, as Philadelphia moves to implement systemic changes to it’s criminal justice system,” says Devren Washington, Chair of the Community Advisory Committee. “The CAC is ready to do its part to elevate the lived experiences of those most impacted by the criminal justice system, and we look forward to working with the justice partners to implement policies that will protect the most vulnerable while also redefining the meaning of community safety.”

More than five years after its public launch, the Safety and Justice Challenge has grown into a collaborative of 51 jurisdictions in 32 states modeling and inspiring reforms to create more fair, just, and equitable local justice systems across the country.

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