It was around this time last year the Ada County Sheriff’s office received a $150,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge to study ways to decrease our jail population and increase social justice.
A team of law enforcement and court officials spent six months working on a detailed plan to do that — and applied for a $3.9 million grant from MacArthur to put that plan in motion.
We got our answer this week — keep working on the plan, keep making progress, and the MacArthur Foundation will consider the ACSO’s grant request in 2017 as part of the second round of Safety and Justice Challenge funding.
The foundation is giving Ada County an additional $150,000 grant this year so we don’t lose momentum on our project.
Nearly 200 law enforcement jurisdictions from across the U.S. applied for the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge last year.
The organization selected 20 finalists, ranging in size from large cities including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Houston to smaller localities like Ada County. The challenge is for all the jurisdictions is to reduce jail population and address racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.
This week the Foundation awarded $25 million in grant money to 11 of those finalists. That list did not include Ada County. But it may in the future.
Foundation officials say they are hopeful the nine jurisdictions who didn’t get the grants in the first round of funding will continue working on their plans so they can be considered in 2017.
It is unclear at this point if Ada County’s plan will change significantly, but we now have an extra year — and an additional $150,000 — to figure out how to make our plan more effective and efficient.
“We are committed to maintaining momentum for reform because this is still something we need and want to address in our community,” Ada County Sheriff Steve Bartlett said. “I have asked everyone involved in the Safety and Justice Challenge to stay engaged in this effort so that we can meet our goal of reducing jail population by 15-19% percent within the next couple of years.”
The biggest piece of our grant request was for the creation of a Community Safety Center that would provide services for people in crisis — like those without homes, or suffering from mental illness or struggling with substance abuse — who now often find themselves in jail for lack of any other options.
The idea is to have a safe place for law enforcement officers to drop off people in crisis where they can get treatment or access to services, instead of emergency room beds and jail cells.
We will continue to develop that idea as we move forward with some structural fixes to the local court system — like options to the traditional cash-based bond system.
If you have access to money, you can pay a bond and be released from jail while a criminal case moves through the court system. That doesn’t really work for people on limited incomes.
So we are proposing an increase in “release on recognizance” (ROR) options – releasing low-risk individuals on violations like failure to appear or probation violation without making them pay a bond.
We are also going to make a concentrated effort on contacting defendants who have upcoming court dates — and doing extensive surveys to figure out why they are missing court dates and develop more effective techniques to get them show up.
We are also working with our judges to do more comprehensive pre-sentence assessments of people charged with crimes, and use data to predict outcomes. That information will allow judges to craft plans — both pre and post conviction — that give people the best chances to succeed and stay out of jail.
Our research revealed some trends we didn’t expect — like how homeless Hispanic and black people stayed in the jail longer than homeless people of other races. We also found a slightly higher rate of arrest versus citations for blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans charged with misdemeanors than white and Asian people.
Ada County law enforcement agencies will work to reduce this rate through education and training — and a renewed focus on community policing in our minority communities.
We will keep you up to date as the year goes on about our progress.
For more information on the Safety and Justice Challenge, visithttp://www.safetyandjusticechallenge.org/