PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Office of Criminal Justice (OCJ) is the recipient of a $975,000 three year grant, following a seven-year investment in criminal justice reform by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The grant is in recognition of 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. The grant marks a total of $10,750,000 invested in Philadelphia as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a $323 million national initiative to reduce over-incarceration and eliminate racial inequity in local criminal justice systems.
Since being selected to join the Safety and Justice Challenge Network in 2016, Philadelphia has remained committed to addressing the factors that contribute to over-incarceration in America. Through the implementation of evidence-based strategies and policies at a local level, Philadelphia successfully and safely reduced the jail population by 46.8% as of the end of 2022 compared to July 2015. These strategies include 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.
Over the last seven years, Philadelphia developed a robust reform plan of seven strategies, each of which includes multiple new initiatives (39 initiatives total):
- Reduce the number of people incarcerated pretrial.
- Create efficiencies in case processing that reduce 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.
In addition, Philadelphia was one of four jurisdictions awarded a Racial Equity cohort grant in January 2022 to come up with innovative solutions in partnership with community partners to address racial disparities in the system.
Some key successes over the past seven years include Robust and collaborative implementation of an Early Bail Review Process, Expansion of Police Assisted Diversion Pilot into a citywide initiative, closure of the House of Corrections, launched a Reentry housing program that made 25 supportive housing slots available to individuals with a SMI diagnosis transitioning from local custody; Publicly facing monthly prison population dashboards, development of Community Advisory Committee distribution of approximately $400,000 in microgrants to organizations in community supporting the SJC goals.
Looking to the future, Philadelphia will maintain key practices at the county level to carry forward the successes achieved during the Safety and Justice Challenge. Philadelphia will continue to invest in sustainable reform strategies, including investment in initiatives that are proven to work and the expansion of staff needed to implement our programs.
“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.”
This round of funding will 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.
More than seven years since its public launch, the Safety and Justice Challenge has grown into a collaborative network of 74 sites in 33 states modeling and inspiring reforms to create more fair, just, and equitable local justice systems across the country.
“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.”
A number of organizations will continue to provide technical assistance and counsel to the Office of Criminal Justice’s Philadelphia partners, and the other jurisdictions involved in the Safety and Justice Challenge. These include Activating Change, the Alliance for Safety and Justice, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for American Progress, the Council on Criminal Justice, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the Center for Court Innovation, Everyday Democracy, the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, JFA Institute, JustLeadershipUSA, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, the Leadership Conference Education Fund, the National Association of Counties, the National Center for State Courts, the National Center for Victims of Crime, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National League of Cities, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, the Pretrial Justice Institute, Policy Research, Inc., Prison Policy Initiative, R Street Institute, Race Forward, Shriver Center on Poverty Law, The Justice Management Institute, the Vera Institute of Justice, the W. Haywood Burns Institute, Urban Institute, and Bennett Midland.