Pathways to Collective Healing: Law Enforcement and the Communities They Serve

By: Aviva Kurash

Policing Reentry Victims August 19, 2021

In the wake of calls to reevaluate public safety, the challenges of modern policing call for police agencies to build and maintain trust and legitimacy with the communities they serve and to work with community members as essential partners to identify problems and co-produce tangible solutions.

As strategic partners to the Safety and Justice Challenge, the IACP recognizes that promoting community-wide healing in the wake of trauma cannot be detached from the efforts to reduce jail populations and promote alternatives to arrest that uphold community safety. Trust, transparency, accountability, and safety are intertwined.

Policing happens in a dynamic environment. Policies, procedures, supervision, oversight, and accountability systems can help minimize the risk of high-profile events occurring or scandals arising. However, police agencies also need to be prepared to respond in the aftermath of these incidents to promote healing, recovery, and accountability. Police agencies that have trained officers to provide a trauma-informed response and promote comprehensive officer wellness are better able to constructively respond to the trauma of a high-profile incident.

This raises the question: how do we move forward? In 2016, the Office for Victims of Crime in the U.S. Department of Justice sought to explore what a path forward that embraces collective healing might look like, in the process developing a national demonstration initiative: Law Enforcement and the Communities They Serve: Supporting Collective Healing in the Wake of Harm (“Collective Healing”). The IACP was motivated to lead this initiative because we recognized that a strong foundation of understanding and collaboration must be in place between police and the communities they serve, prior to high-profile incidents, to ensure the deployment of effective responses in the wake of such incidents—when barriers, tensions, and stakes are often intensified.

Over the intensive four-year Collective Healing initiative, the IACP provided oversight, management, and national training and technical assistance to five law enforcement agency demonstration sites. Through partnerships with Equal Justice USA, Resilience Works, the Alliance for Safety and Justice and the Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice Initiative, PRO Wellness Services, and a range of other experts with experience in building trauma-informed systems through multi-stakeholder collaborations, the Collective Healing initiative supported law enforcement’s leadership role in adopting a trauma-informed culture and practice.

Themes Across Collective Healing Sites

The initiative’s intersectional approach focused on three interrelated components that are essential to fostering collective healing: 1) improving community-police relations and community wellness, 2) enhancing the access to and quality of victim services, and 3) improving officer and agency wellness and resilience. Specifically, this initiative elevated strategies that address institutional disparities, enhance victim services (with particular attention to reducing barriers to accessing these services in communities that experience a disproportionate burden of victimization), and promote comprehensive officer wellness and resiliency. Our resulting report from this project sheds light on both these preventative and reparative strategies.

Work with demonstration sites included developing, implementing, and assessing the practical tools necessary for building essential relationships and joint strategies to reduce tensions, maximize communication, promote trauma-informed interventions and problem-solving, and facilitate healing between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

The report outlining what we learned is designed to help law enforcement agencies create a victim-centered, trauma-informed, collaborative response, co-created with the communities that they serve. The report emphasizes meeting the needs of the most vulnerable after traumatic events, including communities that are most impacted by the criminal legal system and community violence, the responding officers, their families, and their agencies. These efforts are significant but represent only the early stages of what should be a long-term commitment to addressing complex and deeply rooted challenges.

The intensive work of the Collective Healing initiative over four years focused on creating a victim-centered, trauma-informed, collaborative response that meets the needs of those most vulnerable amid violence and traumatic events. In the wake of calls to reevaluate public safety priorities and strategies, we should bear in mind that working toward collective healing is a continuous process, involving both accountability and transparency, and which includes:

  • Trauma-informed policing
  • Leadership, culture, and operational capacity-building
  • Collaboration and community engagement
  • Victim services
  • Vicarious trauma and officer wellness

We look forward to sharing the lessons learned from this demonstration initiative as we continue to work with and learn from the sites in the Safety and Justice Challenge, and ultimately promote local justice systems that are both safe and just.

You can read the full report here.

Milwaukee County, WI

Change in Jail Population 20%

Action Areas Courts Data Analysis Diversion Mental Health Reentry

Last Updated


In 2015, Milwaukee County had 33,500 jail bookings per year. Most county jail bookings were tied to misdemeanors arrests. People with mental health issues and substance use disorders also cycled through the justice system.

Both community members and system personnel were exposed to trauma in the justice system. This was particularly true of people of color, who were and continue to be disproportionately involved in the justice system. In 2015, Black and Hispanic people made up less than half (41%) of the population of Milwaukee County and yet comprised almost 70% of the local jail population.


Milwaukee County advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all.



A new, countywide Crisis Assessment Response Team helped people across the county get help while in a mental health crisis, rather than being jailed. A new mental health diversion program placed a behavioral health liaison in the jail to conduct assessments and connect people to community resources. Peer support specialists, people with lived experience with the justice and behavioral health systems, were trained on helping people manage their mental health conditions.



An analyst began dedicated work monitoring jail population data and system bottlenecks. A new jail population review team worked to identify trends at the system level and cases that could be eligible for faster resolution and alternatives to incarceration. A court reminder program was also established.



The county expanded the capacity for diversions and deferred prosecution agreements; re-examined practices around unpaid fines and fees; expanded mental health resources; connected people to community-based behavioral health services; created mental health diversion processes; and increased availability of peer support. The expansion included developing a deferred prosecution program for domestic violence cases.



Milwaukee County expanded the services that helped people return to the community. The Home to Stay Resource Fairs helped connect people with supportive resources. For returning citizens with medical needs, they could find the help they needed at the Midwest’s first Transitions Clinic.



New staff focused on reentry and community engagement. The Community Justice Council (CJC) created a process to release community subgrants. The county hosted open dialogues with community members and helped build connections between the community and criminal justice systems to work together to advance change.


As a result of the strategies above, Milwaukee County has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system.

Quartery ADP for Milwaukee County (2016-2023)

20.1% from baseline

More Results

Milwaukee County has far exceeded its original goal, which was to reduce the overall jail population by 19%, thanks to a partnership among system and community stakeholders working hand-in-hand to build a more fair, efficient, and effective justice system.

As a result of the county’s efforts to center racial equity, county departments are now required to use an equity budget tool across multiple domains, including workforce inclusivity and diversity, people-focused design, employee perspective, and improved performance/equity practice.

The county’s emphasis on trauma-informed practices resulted in a better understanding of trauma among system stakeholders. Over 500 county employees were trained in how trauma impacts people throughout the justice system.

Remaining Challenges

Milwaukee County is focused on addressing its remaining challenges in its local justice system.

Racial disparities continue to persist in the local justice system. Going forward, the Race, Equity, and Procedural Justice workgroup outlined a six-point Racial Equity strategy. Under this strategy, the CJC will hire a racial equity coordinator, engage in analyses to address disparities at system decision points, develop a criminal justice strategic plan with system and community partners, re-launch a criminal justice learning series, and invite community members and people with lived experience to join criminal justice workgroups.

Lastly, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of the county’s local justice system and continues to uniquely affect those incarcerated in the local jail. However, the foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies supported by the Safety and Justice Challenge, including the necessary structures and collaboration from local stakeholders that are in place to support these strategies, has set the county up well to respond to the pandemic effectively.

Lead Agency

Milwaukee Community Justice Council (CJC)

Contact Information

Mandy Potapenko
CJC Director

Erin Perkins
SJC Project Manager


Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee County Circuit Court, Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division, Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, Milwaukee County Executive, Milwaukee County House of Correction, Milwaukee Police Department, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office

Follow @MKECJC

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

By: Ashley Krider

Community Engagement Diversion Reentry July 14, 2021

More than half of our national jail population is living with behavioral health challenges, many of which may have led directly, or indirectly, to their contact with the criminal justice system. This is one of the major reasons Policy Research, Inc. (PRI) provides technical assistance to the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), and why we’re excited to facilitate a behavioral-health focused expansion of the Network: the IMPACT Network.

It is vitally important that people can access the behavioral health treatment and services they need to avoid cycling in and out of the jail system—particularly on non-violent misdemeanor charges.

The SJC supports local leaders who are working collaboratively to rethink local justice systems from the ground up, including its interaction with behavioral health services and systems. 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.

Since 2016, PRI has witnessed the efforts of local SJC sites to address the diversion, care, and, as required, adjudication of persons more effectively with behavioral health conditions. Locally driven SJC strategies focused on people with behavioral health needs to date extend through various aspects of the criminal justice system and include:

  • implementing pre-arrest and pre-trial diversion in coordination with law enforcement;
  • improving case processing efficiency;
  • enhancing in-jail services and reentry planning; and
  • providing probation alternatives to violation.

The IMPACT Network expansion will engage both current SJC sites and communities not receiving SJC funding to maximize what SJC sites have learned about how to reduce the over-incarceration of persons with behavioral health conditions, as well as to expand the membership of the SJC and spread best and promising practices to other jurisdictions across the U.S.

Some of the specific behavioral health strategies over the course of the SJC have included law enforcement diversion initiatives such as pre-booking Police-Assisted Diversion in Philadelphia (PA), crisis stabilization centers such as the Care Campus in Pennington County (SD), enhanced pretrial supervision with behavioral health screening in Pima County (AZ), and outreach to the familiar face population in Lake County (IL).

Accordingly, the IMPACT Network will be dedicated to accelerating best and promising practices in behavioral health reform and diversion, with an emphasis on local jails, and with a commitment to pursue community-driven race-conscious solutions to reduce harm to populations overrepresented in, or disparately impacted by, the criminal justice system—ؘBlack, Latinx, and Indigenous communities.

The sites will emphasize 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.

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 current SJC communities that have demonstrated progress in reducing the 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).

Building and enhancing cross-system collaboration will also be a main focus of the IMPACT Network, including facilitating warm handoffs from law enforcement and first responders to community-based treatment. The network will focus on data collection and evaluation with an eye toward sustainability and helping successful initiatives scale up.

Our team at 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.

State of Delaware

Action Areas Community Engagement Mental Health Reentry

Last Updated

Background & Approach

The State of Delaware aimed to better support people with mental illness preparing to leave Delaware Department of Correction (DDOC) facilities. Three events were held to reach stakeholders including the Delaware Department of Correction, Delaware State Agencies, community providers, and community members. These events helped community members and providers understand the behavioral health intake and assessment process and clinical care provided in prison. The events also helped equip community providers to work with justice-involved people who have behavioral health conditions, and enhanced collaboration between community services providers, contracted DOC reentry staff, and Probation and Parole officers.

The State of Delaware continues to engage with the Safety and Justice Challenge Network to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all.

*Delaware has a unified correctional system, with no distinction between prisons and jails, and no county or city jails.

Lead Agency

Delaware Criminal Justice Council

Contact Information


Delaware Department of Correction, Delaware Department of Human Services (DHSS, DSAMH), Partnership in Reentry Coalition of Delaware

Follow @DECorrection

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Gwinnett County, GA

Action Areas Reentry

Last Updated

Background & Approach

Gwinnett County is located in the north-central part of the state and is the second-most populous county in Georgia. The county implemented a virtual case management platform, Pokket, as part of the Gwinnett Reentry Intervention Program (GRIP). The county promoted Pokket through informational posters in jails and trainings for service providers. The county ensured participants could use Pokket by providing tablets in county jail for that particular use. Two therapeutic communities—one for veterans, one for reentry—were established in jail, and more pre-release programming was implemented for GRIP participants. The county also hired a clinician, case manager, and deputy to work directly with GRIP. All of these measures ensured that the 350 individuals enrolled in Pokket were supported throughout their reentry journey. Gwinnett County continues to engage with the Safety and Justice Challenge Network to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all.

Lead Agency

Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office

Contact Information

Jacob Baird


Georgia Department of Community Supervision, United Way of Greater Atlanta, Viewpoint Health, First Step Staffing, Life Empowerment Enterprises, Acivilate, Kennesaw State University Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice

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