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​Criminal Justice Services Awarded $2 Million Grant


New Funding Will Help Mecklenburg County Build on Progress Toward
Safely Reducing Local Jail Population


Safety and Justice Challenge logoThe John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today announced a $2 million grant to Mecklenburg County’s Department of Criminal Justice Services to continue building on local efforts to implement criminal justice system reforms and safely reduce Mecklenburg County’s jail population. The grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a more than $100 million national initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.

The Safety and Justice Challenge is supporting local leaders in Mecklenburg County and across the country who are determined to tackle one of the greatest drivers of over-incarceration in America – the misuse and overuse of jails. Mecklenburg County was first selected to join the collaborative Safety and Justice Challenge Network in 2015, after a highly competitive selection process that drew applications from nearly 200 jurisdictions in 45 states and territories. Today, Mecklenburg County was one of eight counties selected for additional funding based on the promise and progress of work to date. The counties join ten other Challenge jurisdictions already receiving deep investment from the Foundation to implement local reform, and 20 sites receiving support for a single innovative project or program. This new round of funding will provide Mecklenburg County’s Department of Criminal Justice Services and partners with additional support and expert technical assistance to implement strategies that address the main drivers of local jail incarceration, including unfair and ineffective practices that take a particularly heavy toll on people of color, low-income communities, and people with mental health and substance abuse issues.

“Over the past few years, Mecklenburg County’s Department of Criminal Justice Services has worked with the Safety and Justice Challenge, surrounding communities, county, and city partners to eliminate the overuse of incarceration,” said Sonya Harper, Criminal Justice Services Director for Mecklenburg County. “The additional financial support provided by the MacArthur Foundation will help ensure that we have the necessary monetary resources to continue what we started.”

In partnership with local law enforcement, corrections officials, prosecutors, judges, community members, and other stakeholders, Mecklenburg County’s Department of Criminal Justice Services has developed a comprehensive plan for local justice system reforms with the goal of reducing the average daily jail population by 13 percent over two years. Key strategies and initiatives to achieve this goal and create a safer, more effective system include:

  • Automation of the existing Public Safety Assessment (PSA) tool.
  • Improving current bail policy to help reduce jail bookings of defendants charged with Class 3 Misdemeanors – low-level offenses that usually do not involved jail time. 
  • Enhancing services provided to defendants pretrial, including expediting and increasing releases to pretrial supervision and exploring additional alternatives to detention.
  • Expediting case processing procedures.
  • Developing and implementing a workforce curriculum on implicit bias and its corresponding impact on disproportionate criminal justice outcomes.
  • Implementing policy and practice changes regarding how warrants for failure to appear and failure to comply will be issued and managed.
  • Enhanced community engagement initiatives including partnering with residents to identify and implement community-led programs and policy interventions to improve Mecklenburg County’s criminal justice system.


Two years after its public launch, the Challenge Network has grown into a collaborative of 40 counties, cities, and states modeling and inspiring reforms to create fairer, more effective local justice systems across the country. The jurisdictions involved with the Challenge are already yielding promising initial results toward reducing jail populations and expanding alternatives to incarceration, and by 2019, the cities, counties, and states supported by the Challenge aim to have reduced local jail populations by 18 to 30 percent.

“We are encouraged by the promise of the Network’s results to date, and the long-term benefits that reforms will yield for individuals, families, and communities,” said Laurie Garduque, Director for Justice Reform for the Foundation. “Leaders from these jurisdictions are proving that everyone benefits when local justice systems are made to be fairer, to responsibly steward taxpayer dollars, and to safely improve outcomes for families and communities. Given the promise of these efforts, other local leaders should take notice of the solutions being piloted by the cities, counties, and states supported by the Challenge and begin rethinking jails in their own jurisdictions.”

Over the past 10 years Mecklenburg County has witnessed a decrease in its daily jail population from 2,674 in 2007 to an average daily jail population of 1,611 in 2017 (to date). Mecklenburg County’s progress may be partially attributed to its ongoing efforts to identify and utilize evidence-based practices, such as using risk-based, rather than charge-based, release decisions. In addition, Mecklenburg County has engaged in a series of policies and practices which have also helped to reduce the jail population between the periods of 2007 and 2017. Currently, Mecklenburg County is actively working with local community leaders, and County and City partners, to improve its overall outcomes by reducing its overall jail population by approximately 13 percent.

“We within Mecklenburg County’s Department of Criminal Justice Services are proud of the progress we’ve made in establishing a more equitable criminal justice system.” said Dena R. Diorio, Mecklenburg County Manager. “However, we also recognize that sustainable change is neither automatic nor inevitable. To the contrary, it is a product of collaboration, diligence, and an unrelenting commitment to respond to the needs of the people we serve; establishing such consistencies is our ultimate goal.”
Several of the nation's leading criminal justice organizations will continue to provide technical assistance and counsel to Mecklenburg County’s Department of Criminal Justice Services, partners, and the other jurisdictions involved in the Challenge: the Center for Court Innovation, the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York, the Justice Management Institute, Justice System Partners, the Pretrial Justice Institute, the Vera Institute of Justice, Policy Research, Inc., and the W. Haywood Burns Institute.

More information about the work underway in Mecklenburg County can be found on, as well as on

About the MacArthur Foundation
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, and significantly increasing financial capital for the social sector. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsible and responsive democracy, as well as the strength and vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago. More information about the Foundation’s criminal justice reform work can be found at