Catalyst Grant Program

The Urban Institute and the Microsoft Justice Reform Initiative have collaborated to launch the Catalyst Grant Program to support local communities in using data and technology to tackle racial injustice and inequity for communities of color and drive progress toward a more equitable justice system. Local projects will focus on three front-end focus areas: policing, diversion and alternatives to incarceration, and prosecution.

The Problem

The US justice system disproportionately impacts and harms communities of color, especially Black people. Communities of color disproportionately experience vehicle and pedestrian stops and are most likely to be searched by police during these stops. Moreover, people of color, particularly Black people, are arrested and detained at higher rates than white people and incarcerated for longer periods. Even when brief, contact with the justice system carries significant costs to individuals, families, and communities. Just a few days in jail can result in lost employment and housing, burden them with fines and fees, and destabilize family relationships. Justice involvement exacerbates existing challenges for many communities of color and contributes to a compounding cycle that criminalizes people of color.

Our Effort

Using data and technology, communities can inform and improve policy and practice to make the justice system more equitable. But many local organizations lack access to relevant data and technology and lack experience using technology to analyze, visualize, and share data to support community organizing, advocacy, and service provision. The Catalyst Grant Program intends to change that reality.

During a six-month pilot, nine organizations across the country will launch projects using data and technology to advance local justice reform and decrease racial and ethnic disparities in policing, diversion and alternatives to incarceration, and prosecution. Each grantee will receive grant funds to cover project costs; assistance on data, policy, and community engagement from the Urban Institute; access to Microsoft technology and related support; and peer learning opportunities. In using Microsoft's technology to support projects, grantees may analyze and visualize data from law enforcement agencies or community surveys with Power BI; develop tools with Power Apps to improve communication between justice-involved people and those supporting them; and deploy Microsoft Forms to facilitate community outreach and improve the efficiency of those monitoring criminal justice systems.

We encourage you to learn more about our grantees, their projects, and lessons Urban gleans from grantees’ experiences, including through our initial blog post.