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The Safety and Justice Challenge’s over-arching goal is to safely reduce the misuse and overuse of jails and decrease racial and ethnic disparities to create a more fair, just, and equitable criminal justice system. We do this by investing in a nation-wide network of local jurisdictions that are diverse in size, location, and population. Through the Challenge Network, we support cross-system and community collaboration between local leaders and partners to pursue data-driven reforms to improve local justice practices.

People enter and return to jails as a result of decisions dispersed at various points in the criminal justice system—from the initial point of arrest to decisions made at pretrial to the final disposition of a case. At the pretrial stage, many Challenge Network jurisdictions are using or are considering using pretrial risk assessment instruments as an input in the decision-making process, along with a broader set of comprehensive reform strategies. The MacArthur Foundation neither promotes nor discourages the use of pretrial risk assessment instruments. We believe that decisions about which reform strategies to pursue should be made by local jurisdictions, in consultation with system stakeholders and members of communities most impacted by the justice system, and the decisions should be informed by research and evidence.

To that end, MacArthur continues to closely monitor the evolving debate on the use of pretrial risk assessment instruments in practice, including the concern that these tools may increase racial bias in a system that historically perpetuates these disparities. As disagreements about pretrial risk assessment instruments emerge, we are working to ensure Challenge Network sites are informed about the limitations and problems of their use and are aware of alternative strategies that safely reduce jail populations and promote racial equity. We are doing this in a variety of ways.

First, we are supporting research to study the use, impact, and evaluation of these tools, with a particular focus on whether they exacerbate racial bias. Second, for Challenge Network jurisdictions that decide to use a pretrial risk assessment instrument, we provide support for technical assistance to help sites adhere to best practices in the adoption, implementation, and evaluation of these tools. The technical assistance also advises on alternative strategies to pretrial risk assessment instruments to safely reduce jail use and racial and ethnic disparities. Third, we continue to facilitate peer learning both within and outside of the Safety and Justice Challenge. These engagement opportunities allow our diverse grantees to learn about the impacts of various policies, practices, and programs on the individuals making up the jail populations, and racial and ethnic disparities. Fourth, as the landscape continues to evolve, we are working with MacArthur’s Technology in the Public Interest Program to comprehensively address the effects of new and emerging technologies in the criminal justice field.

Our hope and expectation is that these activities will help Challenge Network sites and the criminal justice field determine the best ways to both address the drivers of overincarceration and disparities in their local justice systems.

Source of original article:John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (
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