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Criminal Justice Services Awarded Additional $1 Million by MacArthur Foundation


gavelMecklenburg County's Criminal Justice Services is the recipient of a $1 million grant by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to continue building on efforts to advance local criminal justice system reform and safely reduce Mecklenburg County's jail population.   

The grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a $217 million national initiative to reduce over-incarceration and address racial and ethnic disparities in local criminal justice systems by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. The award brings the Foundation's total investment in Mecklenburg County to $3 million to date.   

The Safety and Justice Challenge is supporting local leaders in Mecklenburg County and across the country who are determined to address one of the greatest drivers of over-incarceration in America – the misuse and overuse of jails. Mecklenburg County was first selected to join the Safety and Justice Challenge Network in 2017 and has since used the resources and funding provided by the Challenge to implement bold reforms, including enhancing pretrial services, case processing, failure to appear/failure to comply (FTA/FTC) warrants, automating the Public Safety Assessment (PSA), improving the bail policy, working to eliminate ethnic and racial disparities, and improving community engagement. As a result, the Mecklenburg County bail policy was revised in March 2019, pretrial services eligibility was expanded, an expedited arraignment docket was developed by the District Attorney's Office, and an implicit bias training module for criminal justice professionals has been developed. 

Today, Mecklenburg County was one of a five of jurisdictions selected for additional funding based on the promise and progress of work to date. This new round of funding will provide the County's Criminal Justice Services Department and partners with continued support and expert technical assistance to strengthen and expand strategies to address the main drivers of local jail incarceration and racial and ethnic disparities, with the goal of further reducing Mecklenburg County's average daily jail population by 17 percent in 2022.   

"We are extremely excited about the opportunity to continue our efforts to reduce our local jail population and address racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system," said Dena R. Diorio, Mecklenburg County Manager. 

In partnership with the County Manager's Office, Office of District Court Judges, District Attorney's Office, Public Defender's Office, Chief Magistrate's Office, Clerk of Superior Court, Sheriff's Office, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, and law enforcement agencies in the Towns of Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, Pineville, Mint Hill and Matthews, Mecklenburg County's Criminal Justice Services has developed a comprehensive plan for additional reform strategies over the next two years. Key strategies and initiatives to create a safer, more effective system include:  

  • Improvements to First Appearance hearings; 
  • Improvements to case processing efficiency;  
  • Enhanced pretrial services for people with mental illness or substance abuse issues involved with the justice system; 
  • Targeted work to identify and reduce racial and ethnic disproportionality in the criminal justice system, and; 
  • Identifying ways to include and engage community members, particularly those disproportionately affected by and those with lived experience in the criminal justice system, in the work of reducing the local jail population.  

Five years after its public launch, the Challenge Network has grown into a collaborative of 51 jurisdictions in 32 states modeling and inspiring reforms to create fairer, more effective local justice systems across the country.   

"Local jurisdictions are proving it is possible for cities and counties to rethink local justice systems from the ground up, despite challenges and an ever-changing political environment," said Laurie Garduque, MacArthur's Director of Criminal Justice. "MacArthur remains committed to supporting jurisdictions as they set ambitious reform goals and pursue smart solutions that safely reduce jail populations, address disparities, and eliminate ineffective, inefficient and unfair practices."  

"We appreciate the MacArthur Foundation's continued investment in Mecklenburg County.  Their support allows for the development of plans to create a more fair and effective local justice system," said Sonya L. Harper, Director of Criminal Justice Services. 

Several of the nation's leading criminal justice organizations will continue to provide technical assistance and counsel to Criminal Justice Services, Mecklenburg County partners, and the other jurisdictions involved in the Challenge. These include the Center for Court Innovation, Everyday Democracy, Nexus Community Partners, the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York, JFA Institute, the Justice Management Institute, Justice System Partners, the Pretrial Justice Institute, Policy Research, Inc., the Vera Institute of Justice, the W. Haywood Burns Institute, Urban Institute, and Bennett Midland.