The Power of Community
January 18, 2023 | Perspectives | Criminal Justice

Laurie Garduque, Director of Criminal Justice, shares the way community has shaped reforms to reduce the use of jails and included multiple perspectives.


After nearly three years of virtual convening, participants in the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) gathered in September in Atlanta, Georgia. It was a valuable reminder of the importance of community and the many contributions from this community to safely reduce the national jail population and tackle some of the hardest challenges in the U.S. criminal justice system, including racial and ethnic disparities.

When we first launched the SJC in 2015, it was made up of just 20 local jurisdictions committed to addressing the misuse and overuse of jails, along with a small group of national experts to serve as technical assistance providers. While we had an ambitious goal to change the way America thinks about and uses jails, we did not have any idea how this diverse array of justice system stakeholders, crime survivors, community members, people with justice involvement, formerly incarcerated people, and professional organizations would become a network and a community with national impact. We did, however, know that relationships, shared values and principles, and common goals would be key. Since then, the SJC network has tripled in size, and we continue to develop both our definition of community and the way we use the power of community to make transformative change to the criminal justice system.

These networks are taking a holistic approach to effect change.

Over the last 18 months, we expanded the SJC by launching a set of new networks within the initiative, each consisting of individuals or multidisciplinary teams invested in local systems reform. They operate as smaller cohorts within the larger SJC community, bringing groups of people together to collaborate and learn from each other. These networks each have a different area of focus, including reforming case processing to move people through and out of the justice system more efficiently and effectively, addressing inequities in probation to reduce the use of jails as a response to probation violations, and focusing on strategies to provide more fairness in the pretrial process. We also launched new networks in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina to build on the success of our California network to push for policy change across multiple counties and at the state level.

Together we are tackling a variety of challenges in the criminal justice system. We are using impact investments and flexible funding sources to help break the cycle of housing instability for justice involved populations through the Just Home project. We are working to understand the history of racism in the justice system and in SJC communities and identifying innovative solutions to advance racial and ethnic equity through the Racial Equity cohort. We are accelerating promising practices in systemic behavioral health reform and diversion across the justice system to better address the mental health and substance use disorders through the Impact Network. And Indigenous communities in the SJC and partners are identifying Indigenous-led solutions to eliminate disparities in local justice systems through the Wičhóyaŋke Network.

Collectively, these networks are taking a holistic approach to effect change. We are striving to lead with empathy and compassion with the work we do, the populations we help and serve, and the reform efforts we push forward. We aim to:

We aim to lead with humility by centering the experiences of people and communities directly impacted by the system.
  • lead with humility by centering the experiences of people and communities directly impacted by the system;
  • understand the diverse populations of people who are experiencing the system and the communities to which they belong, including the disability, the LGBTQIA+, the immigrant, or other communities;
  • appreciate the individuals working inside the system—in our courts, corrections facilities, and our city and county governments—who are using their resources and power to make change, despite workforce shortages across those agencies; and
  • value the knowledge, expertise, and experiences of local communities that are the driving force for change and are carrying the momentum forward.

As we reflect on 2022 and begin this new year, we are both appreciative and mindful of the continued contributions of the SJC community, especially during these challenging times. We are proud of what we are building together, our resiliency and commitment to racial justice and equity, and the opportunity for the SJC to make lasting changes to the criminal justice system in the U.S.


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