Our Strategy

The Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge seeks to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.


Despite growing national attention to the large number of Americans confined in state and federal prisons, significantly less attention has been paid to local justice systems, where the criminal justice system primarily operates and where over-incarceration begins.

  • According to a report by the Vera Institute of Justice, there are nearly 12 million local jail admissions every year – almost 20 times the number of prison admissions, and equivalent to the populations of Los Angeles and New York combined.
  • Nearly 75 percent of the population of both sentenced offenders and pretrial detainees are in jail for nonviolent offenses like traffic, property, drug, or public order violations.
  • From 1982 to 2011, cumulative expenditures related to building and running jails increased nearly 235 percent. Local jurisdictions now spend $22.2 billion annually on correctional institutions.

In thinking about the problem of over-incarceration, it is critical that we begin to focus on the contribution made by local jails and the systems that fill them. Solving the problem of over-incarceration in America requires tackling the overuse of jails.

There are solutions that can increase public safety, establish a fairer system, and ensure that people in jail are only those who must be there because they pose a risk to others. Further, reducing the number of people in jails would save taxpayers billions of dollars each year and allow jurisdictions to reinvest in critical services like education, mental health care, and workforce development to strengthen families and communities and help keep people out of jail.

Our Strategic Approach

Through the Safety and Justice Challenge, MacArthur will engage in a long-term strategy of investment in local reform, research, experimentation, and communications intended to create national demand for local justice reform as a means of reducing over-incarceration in America

The Challenge will support jurisdictions across the country working to safely reduce over-reliance on jails, with a particular focus on addressing disproportionate impact on low-income individuals and communities of color. Core to the initiative is a competition through which the Foundation is funding 20 jurisdictions to design and implement plans for creating fairer, more effective local justice systems using innovative, collaborative, and evidence-based solutions. From this group, 10 jurisdictions will be selected in 2016 to receive a second round of funding – between $500,000 and $2 million annually, depending on the size of the jurisdiction – to implement their plans for reform.

The work of these sites will raise the profile of the problem of overuse of jails and demonstrate alternatives to incarceration as usual. Their efforts will reveal new and better ways of targeting resources, more effective risk assessment to determine if confinement is really necessary, and better public safety returns and social outcomes.

To advance our knowledge and understanding about the use of jail in America, and to document the experience of local jurisdictions that succeed in building safer, less costly, and more just criminal justice systems, the Foundation will complement the grants it makes to local jurisdictions with investments in research and data analytics. The Foundation will also invest in a robust communications campaign aimed at elevating jail overuse into an urgent national issue, and generating national demand for a more balanced set of approaches to crime and disorder that use incarceration only where necessary, and as part of a flexible range of effective alternatives.

The Challenge will engage a diverse range of organizations and individuals – law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, defenders, policymakers, academia, advocates, and funders – to lend their insights and participation to this effort. Four of the nation's leading criminal justice organizations will provide technical assistance and counsel to Safety and Justice Challenge jurisdictions: the Center for Court Innovation, the Justice Management Institute, Justice System Partners, and the Vera Institute of Justice.


Updated May 2015


Portrait of Valerie Chang

Valerie Chang

Managing Director, Programs
Portrait of Maurice Classen

Maurice Classen

Program Officer
Portrait of Patrick Griffin

Patrick Griffin

Program Officer
Portrait of Soledad McGrath

Soledad McGrath

Program Officer

Erica Twyman

Team Administrator
Portrait of Mary McClanahan Thiel

Mary McClanahan Thiel

Team Coordinator

Media Contact

Portrait of Meredith Klein

Meredith Klein

Senior Communications Officer

Evaluation Contact

Portrait of Maurice Samuels

Maurice Samuels

Program Officer, Evaluation