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)!


Data Analysis Jail Populations Racial Disparities November 18, 2022

Measuring Progress: Declining Populations, Rising Disparities

Cecilia Low-Weiner, Kailey Spencer, Benjamin Estep, CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance

Exploring Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Safety and Justice Challenge Communities

Attempts to reform the criminal legal system are often driven by calls to fix the pervasive racial and ethnic disparities within it. However, these reforms, despite their intentions, can fail to improve or even exacerbate the same disparities they sought to fix.

Since 2015, cities and counties across the country have joined the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) to develop and implement data-driven initiatives to reduce jail populations and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities within these jails. While prior analyses by the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance (ISLG) highlight major strides toward the first goal of reducing overall jail populations, the findings were less encouraging regarding reducing disparities: in many SJC communities, despite often dramatic reductions in bookings and/or jail populations across all racial and ethnic groups, disparities have persisted or even in- creased among these groups.

Reducing these disparities continues to be a challenge within SJC communities, indicating that the benefits of SJC’s strategies aren’t being felt equally among all racial and ethnic groups. This brief seeks to further explore the disparities highlighted in Measuring Progress—an online tool developed by ISLG that measures jail trends since SJC implementation—and set a course for further analyses.


Data Analysis Racial Disparities November 15, 2022

Race and Prosecution in Broward County, Florida

R.R. Dunlea, Besiki Luka Kutateladze, Melba Pearson, Don Stemen, Lin Liu

This report measures the scope and magnitude of racial and ethnic disparities in prosecutorial outcomes in the Broward State Attorney’s Office, Florida, during 2021.

The data suggest that, compared to Hispanic and White defendants, Black defendants are:

  • Least likely to have their case filed for prosecution, especially for felony charges;
  • Most likely to have their top charge reduced in severity at filing, as well as increased in severity;
  • Most likely to have their case dismissed, whether charged with a felony or a misdemeanor;
  • Least likely to have their felony charge reduced after filing; and
  • Most likely to receive custodial and time-served-only sentences upon conviction, as compared to non-custodial sentences.
  • Especially more likely to receive custodial sentences than White defendants in negotiated pleas, as compared to open pleas.

Compared to similarly situated Black and White defendants, Hispanic defendants are:

  • Least likely to experience charge changes at filing;
  • Most likely to have their case pursued for prosecution;
  • Most likely to have their felony charges reduced at disposition; and
  • Least likely to receive jail and prison sentences upon conviction.

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.