Addressing Ableism In Criminal Justice Reform

By: Matt Davis

Community Engagement Disability Justice Human Toll of Jail December 1, 2022

December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. So, we spoke to leaders working in the area involved with the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) about what needs to change, and where there has been progress.

(From left to right: Chris Huff, Supreet Minhas, Candace Coleman and Jalyn Radzminski).

Chris Huff (he/him) is Diversion and Reentry Policy Analyst at Access Living—a center of service, advocacy, and social change for people with all kinds of disabilities, based in Chicago. In this role, Chris leads policy efforts centered on supporting people with disabilities impacted by the criminal justice system.

“I think we’re at an all-time high, right now, in terms of putting people with lived experience of disability and the justice system in the position to advocate for the changes that we need,” he said. “And I’m encouraged by that.”

The most discouraging part of his work is the lack of engagement and support from the law enforcement community to address the issue of working with people with disabilities. Oftentimes contact with law enforcement is a person’s first entry into the criminal justice system.

“To me, the root of these issues is that the system is not designed or intended to support people, but rather punish them,” he said. “Two thirds of survivors of crime say they prefer a system focused on rehabilitation than punishment, but we continue to run the system with that outdated mindset.”

When bringing up the idea of working to make the system more supportive of people with disabilities, Chris says he has been frustrated with responses that do not see that as part of the role of the criminal justice system.

“Even collecting data on people requires a level of clinical or social work-type training to be able to ask the questions in a proper way, to identify disabilities without being invasive or intrusive,” he said. “But to make that happen we need to have a sincere and aggressive interest in making it happen by law enforcement. And we’re not there yet.”

It matters to Chris to focus on more support and rehabilitation for people with disabilities in the criminal justice system because it is about unleashing more potential. Instead of focusing on people as potential risks, we should focus on their potential strengths, Chris said.

“To me this is really about helping America reach its full potential and living up to the high ideals we set forth at the creation of this country,” he said. “Without addressing the inequities created from the criminal justice system, there’s no way we can have a society where folks are fully free and have equal opportunity.”

Supreet Minhas (she/her) is a Senior Program Associate with Activating Change—a national nonprofit working to end victimization and incarceration of people with disabilities and Deaf people in the United States. Activating Change launched in 2022, but its work began in 2005 as a project of the Vera Institute of Justice. Activating Change launched as an independent nonprofit to increase the visibility of the justice issues people with disabilities and Deaf people face and to have a greater impact on ending those injustices. The organization is a Strategic Ally in the Safety and Justice Challenge.

“Criminal justice reform cannot take place equitably without accounting for the millions of people with disabilities ensnared in the system,” Supreet said. “Centering disability justice is essential to understanding and eliminating mass incarceration.”

Supreet helps organizations to understand how ableism and racism intersect. For example, 30-50% of people killed by police are people of color with disabilities. 40% of people in jail have at least one disability.

“The most vexing part of this work is continually being confronted with ableism and its pervasiveness in our society,” she said. “The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed 32 years ago but people with disabilities and Deaf people continue to be routinely denied access to accommodations like sign language interpretation.”

The criminal justice movement is decades behind in addressing ableism, especially in comparison to progress being made toward tackling sexism or racism, Supreet said. The omission of disability in the broader equity framework, has upheld and perpetuated structural barriers. People with disabilities are systematically excluded from having a part in crafting policies or making decisions—from being “at the table.” And there are myriad barriers for someone with a disability to even be at the table, from not being deemed worthy enough to warrant an invitation to the table itself being inaccessible. The impact of these challenges is borne out by the data on disability disparities, which shows that people with disabilities and Deaf people make up disproportionately high percentages of justice-involved individuals.

The “invisibilization” of people with disabilities has always been one of the most formidable challenges facing us, going all the way back to people with disabilities being excluded from ancient societies (e.g., leper colonies), then institutionalization in the modern era, and present-day mass incarceration. Most people do not want to talk or think about disability issues unless they are directly impacted—it’s a ‘problem’ for “others,” Supreet said.

“Even within the criminal justice reform field, the majority of organizations working to advance equity in the criminal legal system are not even considering disability justice in their approach, much less centering it,” Supreet said. “Disability is perceived as a complex, thorny issue best left to be worked on by disability-specific organizations in silos. However, until we all realize that justice and fairness for all cannot be achieved without intentionally considering people with disabilities and including them at policymaking tables, disability disparities will worsen, and we will have two separate, unequal tiers of justice.”

One of the biggest hurdles to improving outcomes for people with disabilities and Deaf people and achieving an equitable criminal legal system is that these two goals have been disconnected from one another, Supreet said. “The movements and organizations striving for these respective goals have been working in silos. This must change.”

Candace Coleman (she/her) is a Black disabled woman from the South Side of Chicago. As a Racial Justice Organizer at Access Living she works closely with disabled people affected by the justice system to organize around racial justice and disability. Candace’s most notable work involves organizing around mental and behavioral health emergency response. She played an integral in passing the Community Emergency Services and Supports Act in 2021—paving the way for Chicago’s 988 service. She continues to work diligently to implement non-police alternatives to emergency response in these situations.

Candace said a major area of her focus, right now, is the absence of accurate data about people with disabilities in the jail system.

“I’m encouraged by the work we’ve done over recent years to put people with lived experience at the center of decision-making, but if anything that has highlighted how little we did it in the past, and we’re really building the lane for people to participate,” she said. “Meanwhile, we’re doing that with very little data collection about people with disabilities who are in the system. If we don’t even have accurate numbers to reflect the scale of the issue, how can we move forward to help solve it?”

Recent focus on behavioral health and mental health issues has continued to marginalize other disabilities from the criminal justice reform conversation, Candace said.

“We’re not tracking people with cognitive disabilities, we’re not tracking people who are visually impaired, people who are Deaf, people who require physical accommodations and accessibility,” she said. “It’s just not been a priority to track such people. And without it being a priority, we can’t make progress.”

“We need to move towards supporting people as they come out of the system,” she said. “It means we need to identify people with disabilities who come into the system so that we can provide the programs and support they need when they come out of jail, or we fail.”

Jalyn Radzminski (they/she) is a Black and Japanese Disability activist from Indiana. Jalyn is the Communications Manager & Lived Experience Advocate at Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and an Evening Student at Fordham School of Law. Jalyn builds coalitions to support the work of other peers with lived experiences of Jalyn also works on campaigns that promote community-based mental health supports.

“We’re trying to reduce the chances of people going through involuntary commitment and police response to a mental health crisis,” Jalyn said. “A lot of grassroots leaders and legal advocates are starting to understand that the mental health system and the criminal legal system are intertwined. I’m working to keep people out of both.”

“One of the major challenges of the new 988 numbers around the country, is how they can lead to these undesired outcomes. People may call these sort of hotlines in distress, and before they know it, the police might show up at their door. People are scared that if they say the wrong thing, then the police will come,” they said. “It’s surprisingly easy for people to fall into a loophole of a police encounter and then before long, there’s involuntary commitment or incarceration”

Despite community-based models operating successfully since at least the 1970s, the majority of mental health research cites involuntary psychiatric-based treatment and response methods. There are many barriers for people of color with disabilities to have their work funded and published. The data from community-based perspectives is often lacking and this feeds into the lack of published research on community-based models of mental health treatment, Jalyn said.

“I’m working to push academia to bring these alternative models into the research field,” they said. “One of my proudest moments is recently receiving a competitive research grant for a joint-research project between the Bazelon Center, Mental Health America, and the University of Pittsburgh to help study the disparities of that research while uplifting peer voices.” Projects like these are just the start of a larger push to better collect and analyze data on community-based models and compare their success rates to the mainstream involuntary, incarceral responses.

“Investment is a major challenge, too,” they said. “A lot of the time policymakers think simple reform will fix some of the issues but you’ve got to invest in peer-led models. Underinvestment can lead to short-staffing, and there’s a domino effect.”

Jalyn cited the Kiva Center’s Karaya Peer Respite as a great example of successful peer-led respite program with a mobile team. They also pointed to the Promise Resource Center in North Carolina. “These home-like models give people somewhere to go where they can get rest and reflection when they’re experiencing emotional distress,” Jalyn said. “They support people through crisis to find healing.”

“The more we uplift peer networks and lived-experience-led approaches, and the more we push back in our voices from the policy to on-the-ground level, we’ll start to have better ways of preventing these issues from happening over and over again,” they said. “It’s long overdue to move away from these models and on to something new.”

 

Finding Our Voice to Reduce Native American Incarceration Across SJC Sites

By: Michaela Seiber, MPH

Community Engagement Racial Disparities November 21, 2022

November is Native American Heritage month. It gives a platform for Native people in the United States of America to share our culture, traditions, music, crafts, dance, and ways and concepts of life. It’s also an appropriate time to highlight the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in jails across the country while actively pursuing solutions. Some estimates suggest that Indigenous people are jailed at twice the rate of White people in the U.S. In the past, people in communities participating in the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) have spoken about how to address the disparity.

This blog is about a recent trip I took to Pima County, Arizona, from Minnehaha County in South Dakota to see how Pima County’s SJC initiative is working with the community to reduce incarceration and improve health outcomes.

I’m Executive Director of South Dakota Urban Indian Health (SDUIH), which recently joined Minnehaha County’s SJC team in 2021. We provide support for our Native American relatives impacted by the justice system. SDUIH is one of 41 Urban Indian Health Programs that operate under a Title V contract with the Indian Health Service to provide medical, behavioral health, and cultural health services to Natives living in urban settings throughout the country. We are also a 501c3 non-profit and able to pursue initiatives, grants, and programs specific to the communities we operate within, such as joining Minnehaha County’s SJC work. South Dakota is home to nine tribal nations, which make up part of the larger Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires).

Through my work with SJC, I am also part of the Wičhóyaŋke Network (WN), a convening of Indigenous leaders from both community and criminal justice systems. WN’s mission is to identify Indigenous community-led solutions and strategies that have successfully helped in lowering or eliminating racial disparities in community criminal justice systems related to the incarceration of Indigenous people, with the ultimate goal of disseminating that information for Indigenous communities nationwide to assist in Indigenous-led efforts to eliminate racial disparities.

Last week, I visited Tucson, AZ to see how Pima County’s SJC is working with the community to reduce incarceration and improve health outcomes. I was also able to visit and meet with leaders at the Tucson Indian Center during the same week, giving me the ability to see SJC work from both the systems perspective and from the perspective of the Native community in Pima County.

Tucson has two major tribal nations nearby, the Tohono O’odham and Pascua Yaqui. I visited both communities and met with tribal members to discuss the justice system. I visited the San Xavier Mission Market where local tribal food vendors set up and, of course, sampled some southwest style frybread (yum!) and browsed the jewelry vendors nearby. Both tribal communities have an abundance of programs and services available to Native relatives in the Tucson area.

During my visit, I saw an obvious desire for both the criminal justice systems players and community members to decrease jail populations and improve substance use and mental health services for Native people in their community. However, I also observed that the two groups seemed disconnected in their approaches toward their shared goals. This isn’t unique to Pima County, and it was somewhat comforting to know this problem exists beyond Minnehaha County. The criminal justice system folks were unaware of the existing programs and work within Native communities, and the Native community leaders had several questions about SJC programming. This prompted thoughts examining the root cause behind the prevalence of this problem for so many communities.

People representing and working within the courts, police departments, etc. often don’t understand why Native people aren’t represented in conversations identifying solutions for the Native community. The difficult truth is that the spaces where these conversations are taking place weren’t made for us, and often our thoughts and concerns are dismissed or met with hostility when we try to contribute.

We had a discussion within Wičhóyaŋke Network about the things we’ve all had to give up to be part of this work, and why it’s so hard to continue working with our criminal justice system counterparts. As Native leaders, we have to set aside or ignore so many pieces of ourselves to have a seat at the table of this work: the tears that come to my eyes in these meetings when I think of the hurt caused by these systems and feeling like a traitor; the endless questions I ask myself wondering whether I’m part of the problem because I’m sitting in these rooms. It’s hard to be the only one in these meetings asking, “How does this impact the Native community?” or “What does the data show for the Native community?” And while it is exhausting, I realize that if I’m not there, those questions won’t get asked—no one else will make uncomfortable statements about how we’re failing our Native relatives.

At the recent SJC convening in Atlanta, I was able to discuss these same things with relatives from San Francisco. I was comforted by the realization that many working on this project face these same feelings and have had to make these same concessions to improve the systems that have torn our communities apart. As Native people, it’s often easy to ignore the invitation or stay silent during the meetings because we don’t know where our voices fit. It’s often the safest thing to do but without our notable presence and hard questions, this work won’t lead to the change we need so our relatives can heal.

The visit to Pima County was incredibly meaningful and gave me insight into how to move forward with the Wičhóyaŋke Network, as well as a clearer vision for SDUIH’s place in Minnehaha County’s SJC work. Wopida tanka (many thanks)!

Meeting the Behavioral Health Needs of Veterans Across the Intercepts

By: Ashley Krider, Terri Hay, Duane France

Human Toll of Jail Jail Populations Veterans November 10, 2022

Many veterans experience substance use disorders, mental health conditions including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and trauma, including traumatic brain injuries, all of which can lead to involvement with the criminal legal system. Fifty-five percent of veterans incarcerated in 2011–2012 reported having a mental health disorder, with mental illness diagnosis twice as high in veterans as in non-veterans. Approximately 65% to 71% of justice-involved Veterans had a reported substance use disorder before arrest.

In recognition of Veterans Day on November 11th, we would like to highlight several relevant resources and opportunities. A focus on specific populations, such as Veterans, aligns with the commitment Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) communities have to diversion and deflection, as well as meeting the behavioral health needs of individuals who are or may become involved with the criminal legal system.

  • Many SJC cities and counties, which receive support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, operate Veterans Treatment Courts, including Harris County, TX, Cook County, IL, Ada County, ID, and Palm Beach County, FL. Unlike traditional criminal courts, the primary purpose of a Veterans Treatment Courts is not to determine whether an individual is guilty of an offense, but rather to ensure that they receive treatment to address unmet clinical needs. There are over 600 Veterans Treatment Courts across the U.S.
  • With the integration of the new three-digit National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (988), people can now dial 988 and press 1 to access the Veterans Crisis Line. There are also options to chat online or text at 838255. Responders are trained in crisis intervention and military culture.
  • One program from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that allow entities to identify whether an individual has prior military service is the Veterans Re-Entry Search Service. This web-based system allows prison, jail, and court staff to identify Veterans quickly and accurately among their populations. The VA makes this service available to facilitate its own direct outreach to these Veterans, and to inform the development of Veteran-specific programs in the criminal legal system.
  • Veterans Justice Outreach specialists provide a range of services to assist justice-involved Veterans, including outreach to Veterans across the possible span of their interactions with the criminal legal system, such as law enforcement encounters, courts, jails, and prisons. The aim of the Veteran Justice Outreach program is to avoid the unnecessary criminalization of mental illness and extended incarceration among Veterans by ensuring that eligible, justice-involved Veterans have timely access to Veterans Health Administration services. Each state has one or more Veteran Justice Outreach specialists who can provide additional information on the program.
  • The Peer Specialist Toolkit helps Veterans Health Administration medical centers hire and deploy peer specialists who help other Veterans get treatment for mental and substance use disorders.
  • The Rural Veteran Outreach Toolkitassists VA personnel in collaborating with community partners to reach rural Veterans through education and outreach.
  • The National Institute of Corrections’ Veterans Reentry Programming: Supporting Transition to Civilian Life Across the Sequential Intercept Model outlines Veteran-specific reentry approaches.

We also operate SAMHSA’s Service Members, Veterans, and their Families Technical Assistance (SMVF TA) Center, which serves as a national resource to support states, territories, and local communities in strengthening their capacity to address the behavioral health needs of military-connected individuals and families. The SMVF TA Center supports specific initiatives like the VA/SAMHSA Governor’s and Mayor’s Challenges to Prevent Suicide among SMVF as well as the public at large through a variety of technical assistance efforts including needs assessments, virtual and onsite consultation, Policy and Implementation Academies, interagency collaboration and support, and dissemination of educational resources including a monthly e-newsletter.

One offering from the SMVF TA Center is the Crisis Intercept Mapping (CIM) for SMVF Suicide Prevention. The Crisis Intercept Mapping is a tool that helps community stakeholders visualize how SMVF flow through the crisis care system. The Crisis Intercept Mapping has some parallels to our Sequential Intercept Model and is designed to help communities strengthen the delivery of evidence-based suicide prevention policies and practices for SMVF before, during, and after a time of crisis.

As identified on the model below, within a community crisis system there are four key “intercept points” that provide opportunities for diverting at-risk SMVF to appropriate and effective prevention and support services:

  1. First Contact
  2. Acute Care
  3. Care Transitions
  4. Ongoing Treatment and Recovery Support

In 2022, the White House released a report, Reducing Military and Veteran Suicide: Advancing a Comprehensive, Cross-Sector, Evidence-Informed Public Health Strategy, directly calling for the “expansion of SAMHSA’s crisis mapping initiative to assist cities and counties in identifying gaps and incorporating best practices in suicide prevention for veterans interacting with community crisis systems” (Priority Goal 2 on page 13). Crisis Intercept Mapping is designed to bring together an interagency group of key stakeholders from the community to identify barriers and gaps in the community’s crisis system serving SMVF and discuss ways in which best practices and partnerships can be implemented to close those gaps and reduce service member and Veteran suicide through the development of integrated local strategic action plans.

A Q&A On Hispanic Heritage Month With 70 Million Creator Juleyka Lantigua

By: Juleyka Lantigua

Human Toll of Jail Jail Populations Racial Disparities September 27, 2022

Q: What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?

A: It means that we’re trying to squeeze too much into a single month. As with any designated month or week to celebrate a huge swath of history and the contributions of a broad range of people, the notion falls absurdly short. But the month-long bookmark does have its utility inasmuch as it focuses the limelight on the rising-majority population of the country, thereby surfacing updated information, demographic trends, and political forecasts that, in the hands of people who want to shape the future of the US, can be very helpful

Q: 70 Million, LWC Studios’ podcast about criminal justice reform, was nominated for a Peabody Award and won several others. What prompted the idea? 

A: I created the show to bridge the gap between practitioners and the public, to provide an accessible tool for educators, supporters, and policymakers that could imbue their work with real-world stories about the disastrous consequences of the matrix of “criminal injustice” systems at work in the United States. It’s, at its core, a public service.

Q: Why is it so important to tell the story of the local impact of jail through the voices of people impacted by jail?

A: Jails are the gateway to life-long entanglements with the legal system; they are the progenitors of generational cycles of poverty and disenfranchisement; they are almost entirely useless given that 97% of defendants never go to trial to get their “day in court,” and they simply warehouse people who actually need help. They are the depositories of social ills (not people) we care very little about curing: mental health, domestic violence, drug addiction, homelessness, military PTSD, chronic poverty, and inhumane immigration policies. So they are ideal for unpacking how ignoring, miscategorizing and relegating our collective responsibility for our fellow citizens diminishes who we are and makes becoming who we pretend to be impossible.

Q: Which episode of the podcast has had the most impact on listeners, do you think? 

A: Based on listens, episode 10 in season four reached the most people.

When a State Treats Drug Addiction Like a Health Issue, Not a Crime

A year ago, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize drug possession. The goal is to reverse some of the negative impacts of the War on Drugs by approaching drug use from a health-centered basis. We visit an addiction and recovery center in Portland that’s gearing up for what they hope will be an influx of people seeking treatment. Reported by Cecilia Brown.

Q: Racial equity is a huge part of jail reform, isn’t it? 

A: Racial equity is the only axis on which true reform can be achieved. A system built on monetizing the capture of formerly enslaved people cannot be reformed without addressing the institutional DNA that created it.

Q: I understand that you’re Dominican, and that you’ve also traced your ancestry back to multiple parts of Africa. How does that play into your view of jail issues? 

A: I am an Afro-Descendent Latina woman raising two Black boys in the United States today. Every day I spend on this work extends my sons’ safety, further secures their well being, and contributes to the security of my family’s longevity. This work is vital to me.

Q: What are some of the major issues facing Latinx people in American jails?

A: The same issues that plague everyone else: unreasonable pre-trial detention periods, an exploitative bail system, lack of mental health services, overwhelmed public defenders, understaffed courts, physical hazards in dilapidated facilities, organized crime, etc. But increasingly, a subset of the country’s Latino population has been targeted and trapped by ICE and its private jail and prison contractors. The most revolting of these has been the children separated from their families and held in ice-cold warehouses for months as they sought asylum. So, in many ways, the local jail has become mobile and can pop up anywhere a dragnet needs to be formed for political theater.

Q: Why does it matter that stories about people of color in American jails are told by and for people of color?

A: Because we are the experts in our own experiences. 

Counties Enhancing Racial Equity in the Criminal Justice System through Grantmaking

By: Chelsea Thomson

Community Engagement Racial Disparities September 12, 2022

The National Association of Counties, in partnership with the National Criminal Justice Association and with support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, has released a toolkit for counties interested in addressing racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal legal system through grantmaking. The toolkit outlines eight principles, developed by a working group of county stakeholders, state administering agency representatives, and community-led organization leaders, to help enhance equity in the criminal legal system. It features several communities participating in the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) that are undertaking initiatives such as grants to community-led organizations.

More information about the toolkit is found here.

County governments play an important role in funding programs and services that support the well-being of community members. With this budget authority, county governments have a unique opportunity to invest in community-led organizations that often provide critical services and supports to communities underserved by social service systems and overrepresented in the justice system. By strategically investing in and partnering with such organizations, counties are also working to close these gaps to correct for historic disinvestment that has led to racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal legal system. To achieve this goal, counties can help ensure equitable access to funding opportunities and minimize barriers to implementation of grant-funded programs and services.

When deploying resources and managing implementation of programs or policies, county leaders pursuing equity in procurement and grantmaking may choose to guide their decision making with the following guiding principles in mind: Trust, Transparency, Community, Fairness, Intentional Access & Inclusion, Support, Creativity, and Joint Accountability.

These guiding principles are supported by several strategies and practices counties can implement to bring them to life and demonstrate a commitment to equity in our communities. Some examples of SJC communities, drawn from the toolkit, include:

Building Trust in Lucas County, Ohio

Trusting partnerships can open lines of communication, encourage a willingness to innovate, and create opportunities for mutual respect. To help build trust with community-led organizations, counties can invest in the capacity and expertise of community leadership, anchor the relationship in a common goal, reject the funder/recipient power dynamic that can stifle relationships, and learn from and listen to one another as partners.

In Lucas County, Ohio, commissioners dedicated $200,000 to community-led organizations engaging in criminal justice reform efforts and addressing racial disparities. The grant fund provides awards of up to $10,000 to grassroot organizations working in four zip codes. The county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) also administers federal criminal and juvenile justice funds on behalf of the state, to allow for greater flexibility while continuing to provide oversight and technical assistance.

Advancing Joint Accountability in Cook County, Illinois

As stewards of public dollars, government funders and community-led organizations play a critical role in responding to and serving community members’ needs. Prioritizing intentional investments in communities traditionally left out of the funding process, communicating funder expectations, committing to sharing data, and building a working relationship with continued communication and support can help counties work towards joint accountability.

Cook County, Illinois launched a 50-member taskforce to advise on the county’s strategic investments. One of the grant programs invests in community-led organizations that serve areas with disproportionately high rates of gun violence. Tiered funding tracks with staggered deadlines provide organizations that may have smaller budgets and/or grant writing capacity with time to submit strong applications and be evaluated among similarly situated organizations. The grant funding is provided on a quarterly basis, rather than a reimbursement, and grantees may request a funding advance. Organizations that are led by, support, or employ community members with criminal convictions are not barred from applying on that basis.

Enhancing Fairness in Multnomah County, Oregon

Implementing new processes to enhance fairness in the types of organizations funded and how these funds are administered will help improve access and equity. Strategies to advance fairness include training staff to recognize and address personal and organizational biases, promote practices that allow grantees to contribute to the grantmaking process, raise up champions, and not lower the bar but raise the platform.

Leaders in Multnomah County, Oregon evaluated county investments to fund programs that address the underlying drivers of harmful behavior and uplift communities of color.  The county expanded the Community Healing Initiative that invests resources in community-based partnerships to support youth and families. The program deploys culturally specific services and provides direct relief such as rent, utilities, and internet access. To support smaller and emerging organizations, the county is piloting an initiative to provide 13 months of funding for year-long projects to jumpstart their programming with resources.

Promoting Intentional Access and Inclusion in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Aligning resources with equity goals and removing barriers to participation and use of funding will expand and diversify grantee opportunities and potential relationships. By considering the structure and level of funding, allowing for various entry points, evaluating needed changes in the application process and components, and measuring and broadening success, counties can support access and inclusion for all potential grantees.

The Criminal Justice Microgrant Fund in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania provides resources to community-led organizations engaged in innovative criminal justice reform efforts. Funding can be used to support communities disproportionately impacted by the criminal legal system or provide services to residents who are involved in the system. Organizations led by people of color may also seek general operating support.

Honoring and Uplifting Creativity in Los Angeles County, California

While working within the confines of funding rules and requirements may pose challenges, it can be beneficial to evaluate and revise processes. Honoring and uplifting creativity and innovation, through learning, sharing, and evolving beyond the status quo and utilizing the tools, discretion, and flexibility available to counties, can help to challenge and expand standard practices to work for both sides of the grantmaking equation more effectively.

Residents of Los Angeles County, California approved Measure J in 2020 to dedicate no less than 10 percent of the county’s locally generated, unrestricted funding to community investments that address the disproportionate impact of racial injustice. The county established a 24-member committee that can garner community input and project recommendations through an online form, in both English and Spanish. A community-based, third-party administrator and a community engagement consultant ensure diverse community voices are elevated and incorporated into the decision-making process.

Offering Support in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin

Providing an infrastructure of support and resources for community-led organizations, particularly those new to applying for and/or receiving government funding, can help successfully manage funds. To expand support, counties can provide culturally and socially responsive training, technical assistance, and coaching, invest in funder internal capacity, and engage in intermediaries.

Milwaukee County, Wisconsin’s Community Justice Council is providing grants of $34,500 to each of four grassroots organizations working to reduce or prevent criminal legal system involvement, promote racial equity and engage the community. To support applications, the Community Justice Council sponsored a community grant writing training, hosted an optional information session prior to the submission deadline and published the scoring rubric. During the grant period, grantees are required to attend a new grantee orientation and meetings to discuss expectations, support grant administration and offer connections among the group. A local university serves as the fiscal agent to help grantees meet reporting requirements and disperse funds more quickly.

Improving Transparency in Dane County, Wisconsin

Publishing and sharing materials and decisions often contributes to increased buy-in, accountability and mutual understanding. By prioritizing an open and ongoing commitment to share information in a timely and helpful manner, announcing the process surrounding decision making and personnel/advisors involved, and communicating the purpose of data-collection efforts and results, counties can improve transparency.

Via working group recommendations in Dane County, Wisconsin, county leaders developed the Partners in Equity Grant Program to fund grassroots organizations that aim to reduce legal system involvement and address systemic racial inequities. Organizations can apply for up to $15,000 in funding. Additionally, the county requested an external evaluation of grantmaking policies and practices to enhance racial and social equity across departments.

The Opportunity for Counties

This equity toolkit, and the principles and strategies outlined within, can assist counties to reflect on grantmaking processes to administer funds more equitably and for greater impact. Capitalizing on national momentum to address and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal legal system, counties can find critical partners and trustees in community-led organizations.