The United States holds the world’s highest incarceration rate, contributing to almost 25% of the global imprisoned population despite comprising less than 5% of its total inhabitants. These statistics, compounded by an annual $182 billion in cost and a 68% recidivism rate within the first three years post-release, illustrate the criminal justice system’s profound failure to promote safety and rehabilitation.
Historically, the criminal justice reform movement has successfully directed energy toward ending mass incarceration and changing ineffective and draconian punishment-first policies. However, fewer resources have been directed to organizations forging less punitive models of justice and accountability – a critical piece of the puzzle.
In 2022, we partnered with The Just Trust to develop a bold strategic investment plan that supports the advancement of community-driven, evidence-based solutions that aren’t overdependent on policing and incarceration to keep communities safe. Humane solutions exist and they demonstrate far better outcomes in crime prevention and accountability. By amplifying them, we seek to disrupt the cycle of arrest and incarceration and lift up a new paradigm for community safety that addresses the root causes of violence.
Our process was guided by five field advisors, Rukia Lumumba of Peoples Advocacy Institute , MacArthur Fellow, sujatha baliga, Jac Charlier of PTACC Collaborative, Will Simpson of Equal Justice USA, and Moki Macia of Atlanta Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiative – experts representing the breadth of community-based safety solutions. Together, we examined the current landscape of practices that move people away from prisons and jails and towards safety, healing, and accountability.
In our survey, we explored models used in different regions, each offering valuable insights on innovative approaches to community safety. In Oakland, California, Impact Justice’s Restorative Justice Project provides technical assistance and training in restorative justice practices in schools and communities across the country. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Georgia, Atlanta Policing Alternatives & Diversion Initiatives trains and coordinates community members and law enforcement to divert concerns related to mental health, substance use, or extreme poverty away from police and towards community response. In Newark, New Jersey, a coalition of community organizations, the mayor’s office, and law enforcement has created a coordinated response to address public safety without over-relying on police.
Across the country, humane community safety solutions not only exist, but work. To scale these solutions and catapult them into the forefront, our field advisors helped us identify critical areas for the Just Trust’s to invest that include:
Communities crave more dignified and humane ways to heal, hold each other accountable, and prevent harm from happening, but there isn’t widespread understanding amongst the public, actors within the justice system, and political leaders that alternatives exist and work.
In order to scale existing models, fund new ones, and build support amongst decision-makers, we need data that demonstrates alternatives keep people safe and data practices that help make organizations make better informed decisions.
The saturation of alternatives into the mainstream depends on buy-in from residents, public officials, and lawmakers. Their advocacy, votes, and trust can shift—or preserve—the status quo.
These became the foundational cornerstones shaping how we co-designed an investment strategy for The Just Trust.
From open innovation calls to localized city-based initiatives, our team prototyped a number of potential strategies The Just Trust could implement to uplift the existing landscape of alternatives. Ultimately, we landed on an accelerator focused on a network of established and emerging organizations. At the end of 2022, The Just Trust launched the Safer Communities Accelerator with a $4 million commitment to eight forward-thinking organizations dedicated to innovative crime prevention, harm repair, and community strengthening models. By resourcing these existing models and amplifying their impact, our goal is to inspire other organizations to adopt and scale similar approaches, shifting the narrative over time about what safety and justice can look like in America.
Historically, the criminal justice reform movement has approached its work by defining what it’s against. By applying a design lens and co-designing an investment strategy with our field advisors, we were able to support The Just Trust in taking a fresh take to their philanthropic work. Rooted in an abundance mindset, this strategy offers opportunities for the criminal justice reform movement to define what it’s for.
“Working with IDEO.org created the space for us to think creatively and outside the box.” Jolene Forman, Chief Program Officer at The Just Trust said. “This partnership offered an opportunity for us to brainstorm ideas that were more impactful than what we would have been able to achieve on our own. Without this partnership, our accomplishments with the Safer Communities accelerator would have been more limited.”
“We have to incorporate creative expertise and design thinking from the beginning to end of system change work,” Ana Zamora, CEO of the Just Trust said. “We need to develop a plan that involves incremental change, laddering up to transformative change rather than getting stuck in one or the other. This is where design and creative expertise can help us as advocates and practitioners.”