Safety and Justice Challenge Expands to Add Behavioral Health-Focused Cohort

July 14, 2021

Six communities new to the SJC will join five current sites to maximize learning about how to accelerate behavioral health reform and diversion across the criminal justice system

Chicago, IL, July 14, 2021 – Building on significant momentum for evidence-based reforms to local justice systems, the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) will expand to include a new cohort of communities focusing on reforms that will reduce the number of people with behavioral health needs involved in their local criminal justice system. The SJC, a national initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, will partner with Policy Research, Inc. (PRI) to support this expansion.

The 11 sites participating in the SJC IMPACT Network expansion will utilize a peer-to-peer model to maximize what SJC sites have learned about how to accelerate behavioral health reform and diversion across the criminal justice system, with an emphasis on community interventions that achieve both public health and public safety goals to minimize the involvement of people with behavioral health needs throughout the criminal justice system, with a focus on community-driven race-conscious solutions to reduce harm to populations overrepresented in, or disparately impacted by, the criminal justice system.

The expansion will integrate six communities/organizations new to the Safety and Justice Challenge – Eau Claire County (WI), West Texas Centers/Howard County (TX), San Juan County (NM), Middlesex County (MA), Orange County (CA), and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The six new sites will join five communities already working to reduce over-incarceration of individuals with behavioral health needs in local criminal justice systems – Allegheny County (PA), East Baton Rouge (LA), Charleston County (SC), Milwaukee County (WI), and Pennington County (SD). To date, the Foundation has awarded more than $258 million to support this effort.

More than five years after its launch, the Safety and Justice Challenge Network has grown to 57 sites across 32 states modeling reform. The initiative supports local leaders who are working collaboratively to rethink local justice systems from the ground up. Participating cities and counties are using data to identify key drivers of incarceration and racial inequities, and working with diverse groups of community members, individuals who work in the justice system, and people with lived experience to develop impactful reforms.

The Safety and Justice Challenge brings together many of the nation’s leading criminal justice organizations to provide technical assistance and counsel to the jurisdictions. Policy Research, Inc. will oversee technical assistance to the behavioral health-focused IMPACT Network sites, in collaboration with multiple SJC partners.

“We know that men and women involved in the criminal justice system, and in local jails in particular, have rates of mental illness and other behavioral health needs that are several times that of the general population. PRI is excited to work with IMPACT Network sites to continue the SJC’s vital work around community-based responses to the involvement of people with mental and substance use disorders in the criminal justice system,” said Ashley Krider, Senior Project Associate at PRI.

“Jails were never intended to serve as warehouses for people with behavioral health needs, yet too many people end up there because of a lack of community services and access to care and treatment,” said Laurie Garduque, MacArthur Foundation’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, and we are committed to supporting cities and counties as they reimagine how people with behavioral health challenges can remain in the community.”