PROJECTThe Safety and Justice Challenge

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  • Jail populations have tripled since the 1980s as the United States has increasingly used local incarceration: more than 3,000 jails hold more than 700,000 people on a given day. Jails are a critical part of our nation's incarceration problem and have troubling social, financial, and individual consequences. And jail incarceration reflects and reinforces inequities related to poverty, race, and gender identity.

    These projects received support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, which seeks to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. As an SJC partner, the Urban Institute has undertaken various projects to support and document efforts to improve local criminal justice systems across the country that are working to safely reduce over-reliance on jails, with a particular focus on addressing disproportionate impact on low-income individuals and communities of color.

    SJC Innovation Fund

    The Urban Institute hosted the Innovation Fund, a microgrant program intended to enable jurisdictions to test bold and innovative ideas for safely reducing jail populations while maintaining or enhancing public safety. Thirty-two Innovation Fund awardees received funding and expert technical assistance from the Urban Institute and continue to participate in a peer-support network to bring their innovative ideas to life.

    SJC Case Studies

    Urban has documented SJC sites’ strategies for reducing jail populations and advancing equity. Combining information from stakeholder interviews with analysis by the Institute for State and Local Governance of jail population trends, these case studies share SJC jurisdictions’ lessons, challenges, and successes for other jurisdictions facing similar issues.

    Just Home Project

    In May 2022, the MacArthur Foundation and the Urban Institute launched the Just Home Project, a national program intended to advance community-driven efforts to break the links between housing instability and incarceration. Through this program, four communities receive grant funding from the Foundation and technical assistance and coordination from Urban to create plans to address this crisis. These communities are Charleston County, South Carolina; the City and County of San Francisco; Minnehaha County, South Dakota; and Tulsa County, Oklahoma. When they complete that planning, they will be eligible to receive investments from the MacArthur Foundation from a $15 million pool of impact-investment funding to implement their plans and acquire or develop housing for people not served by housing resources.

    SJC Research Consortium

    The SJC Research Consortium, administered by the Institute for State and Local Governance, supports research and evaluation projects that delve further into the impacts of targeted reforms on jail, racial equity, and public safety trends. These projects produce research findings relevant to changing the use of jails from the Safety and Justice Challenge and disseminate them to reform-minded jurisdictions across the country. They explore system decisionmaking and the impacts of strategies such as diversion and probation-violation policies. Through the consortium, Urban has undertaken multiple projects on several critical topics in local criminal legal system reform.

    Safety & Justice Challenge project logo
    Research Areas Crime, justice, and safety
    Tags Alternatives to incarceration Behavioral health and justice Community-based care Corrections Courts and sentencing Homelessness Mass incarceration
    Policy Centers Justice Policy Center