The Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today announced a $75 million “long-term strategy of investment in local reform, research, experimentation, and communications aimed at addressing over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.” The foundation said that much attention has been paid to the large numbers of Americans confined in prisons, but “significantly less attention has been paid to local justice systems, where the criminal justice system primarily operates and where mass incarceration begins.” MacArthur says that more than 11 million people enter jail every year, almost 20 times as many people as enter prisons. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics says that after a peak in the jail inmate population in 2008 of 785,533, the national count was down to 731,208 by midyear 2013. A new report from the Vera Institute of Justice describes how jails have become warehouses for poor people with mental problems.
It may take months or years to resolve jail inmates’ cases. Making an argument similar to the one made by advocates of “justice reinvestment” to cut prison populations, MacArthur says that “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.” Today, a MacArthur program called the Safety and Justice Challenge will offer grants to 20 local governments and others that propose reforms in jails. Partners in the project include the Pretrial Justice Institute and the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York.