Residents Invited to Support Reform Efforts by Joining a Community Advisory Committee
PHILADELPHIA – The City of Philadelphia announced today 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 by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.
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 seven main 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.
- 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, which would have come at tremendous expense to taxpayers.
This updated reform plan funded by the MacArthur Foundation contains 39 initiatives across the seven strategies, including two expansions and seven new projects. It includes a greater focus on racial and ethnic disparities and community-driven reform. So far, Philadelphia’s criminal justice partners have rolled out 32 of the 39 reform initiatives, including:
- Providing an early bail review hearing for people held in jail on low amounts of bail.
- Increasing early diversion opportunities through the Police-Assisted Diversion Program.
- Improving connections to treatment and services for people on community supervision with a mental illness.
- Increasing investments in community-driven reforms through a criminal justice microgrant fund.
A collaborative group of stakeholders from the First Judicial District, the Defender’s Association, District Attorney’s Office, the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Criminal Justice and Public Safety, Philadelphia Department of Prisons, the Philadelphia Police Department, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbilities Services, and the Community Advisory Committee has developed a comprehensive plan for additional strategies and initiatives over the next two years to invest in a safer, more effective, and more equitable system.
“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.”
While Philadelphia has made great strides in reducing the local jail population over the past five years, people of color remain drastically over-incarcerated. Philadelphia’s new reform plan centers on addressing racial injustice as its primary goal. It contains a number of new initiatives, including greater investments in microgrants and community supports for people in the justice system, 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 unprecedented civil unrest in the wake of high profile police killings around the country and also right here in our city.
“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. The District Attorney’s Office looks forward to working with our city partners toward further decriminalization of poverty and eliminating racism, and greater investment in community-based solutions to public health and safety.”
“We are looking forward to continuing our efforts to reduce unnecessary detention. The work the stakeholders have been doing with the resources provided by MacArthur help us move closer to our goals of a justice system that makes effective use of taxpayer dollars, is fundamentally fair regardless of race or economic status, and truly promotes public safety,” said the Defender Association’s Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey. “We’ve made considerable progress toward these goals, and I look forward to continuing this quest for a truly equitable justice system.”
“Creating a fairer and more equitable system requires continual effort and a commitment to shared goals. The reforms achieved to date via the Safety and Justice Challenge, as well as the continued support of the MacArthur Foundation, demonstrate the value and impact of successful collaboration between all stakeholders,” said Judge Lisette Shirdan-Harris, Administrative Judge of the Court of Common Pleas – Trial Division.
One successful 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 in order to:
- Advise government agencies on what’s most important to people impacted by the criminal justice system directly.
- Provide criminal justice partners with concrete ways to further the reform effort and actively respond to feedback.
- Include diverse perspectives on criminal justice reform by drawing on community experience and knowledge.
- Encourage transparency and accountability regarding reform efforts within criminal justice partner agencies.
Individuals interested in serving on the CAC can apply now through April 1, 2021.
“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.
“We must confront the devastating impacts of mass incarceration by a system that over-polices and over-incarcerates Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people,” said Laurie Garduque, MacArthur’s Director of Criminal Justice. “Over the past five years, the Safety and Justice Challenge has safely reduced the ineffective and harmful use of jails, while learning that jail population reduction alone does not undo the racial inequities perpetuated by an unjust system and our nation’s history of systemic racism. We are committed to supporting cities and counties as they reimagine a definition of safety that is inclusive of all communities and makes meaningful progress towards our goal of ending racial and ethnic disparities in jails.”
About the MacArthur Foundation
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including advancing global climate solutions, decreasing nuclear risk, promoting local justice reform in the U.S., and reducing corruption in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program and the global 100&Change competition, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsive democracy as well as the vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago. More information about the Foundation’s criminal justice reform work can be found at macfound.org/criminaljustice.