About the Competition

About the Competition

The Safety and Justice Challenge will support jurisdictions across the country working to safely reduce over-reliance on jails. At the center of the initiative is a competition through which the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will fund up to 20 jurisdictions to design and implement plans for creating fairer, more effective local justice systems using innovative, collaborative, and evidence-based solutions.

Competition FAQ

The competition application process is now closed. Selected jurisdictions will be announced in May 2015.


What is the Safety and Justice Challenge competition?

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will fund a network of competitively selected local jurisdictions committed to reducing overreliance on jails in their communities. With help from a consortium of national experts and technical assistance providers, participating jurisdictions will make policy, practice, and system changes designed to reduce their use of jail incarceration, with a particular focus on addressing disproportionate impact on low-income individuals and communities of color. Each jurisdiction will determine the changes it will pursue, based upon a data-driven assessment of local problems and opportunities. The overall goal will be to achieve positive public safety returns and improved social outcomes at lower cost.

Why focus on 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 and jails, where over-incarceration begins. While the primary purpose of pretrial holding in jails is to detain those who are a danger to public safety or a flight risk, they have come to hold many who are neither. Jails too often serve as warehouses for low-risk individuals too poor to post bail, or too sick for existing community resources to manage. Many jail detainees are held there far longer than necessary, due to crowded court dockets and chronic backlogs. Additionally, jail sentences are often imposed on people who could be safely held accountable in other ways. All this carries significant costs—to individuals, families, communities, and society at large.

Who is eligible to apply for the Safety and Justice Challenge competition?

The competition is open to any jurisdiction with governing authority over a local jail or jail system that has no fewer than 50 beds. This includes states, cities, counties, judicial districts, and tribes.

How many jurisdictions will be selected to participate and at what level of funding?

Up to 20 jurisdictions will be chosen to receive a grant of $150,000 and expert consulting help during a six-month collaborative planning period, which will take place from May-December 2015. Beginning in 2016, as many as 10 of these jurisdictions will be selected for a substantial second round of funding—between $500,000 and $2 million annually—to support implementation of their plans over two years, with an option to extend if substantial progress is made.

What does a strong RFP application look like?

The Foundation seeks to invest in jurisdictions that are interested in improving public safety, saving money, and promoting stronger, healthier communities. Jurisdictions with current or past involvement in other national criminal justice reform initiatives are encouraged to apply. Strong applications will demonstrate a jurisdiction’s commitment to:

  • Engage relevant stakeholders from all parts of the criminal justice system;
  • Collect and share data among local partners and with the Foundation;
  • Use data to identify priority problems that contribute to the overreliance on jails, and look for achievable solutions that do not compromise public safety; and
  • Surface and address racial and ethnic disparities in the way jail is used, administered, and experienced.

What support (other than grant funding) can participating jurisdictions expect?

The Foundation has engaged four of the nation’s leading criminal justice organizations to serve as site coordinators in Safety and Justice Challenge jurisdictions: the Center for Court Innovation, the Justice Management Institute, Justice System Partners, and the Vera Institute of Justice. The site coordinators will help selected sites rigorously examine how their jails are being used; identify policies and practices that have driven the growth of local jail populations; and craft strategies to reduce the inappropriate use of jail without compromising public safety. The Foundation will also provide support for an ongoing Safety and Justice Challenge Network – 20 jurisdictions working to reduce incarceration and improve the way their local criminal justice systems function. The Challenge Network will stimulate creativity and facilitate the spread of promising innovations in incarceration reduction.

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.

Why is the Safety and Justice Challenge a “can’t miss” opportunity for my jurisdiction?

Criminal justice professionals are constantly asked to do more with less. The Safety and Justice Challenge is a unique and significant opportunity to ease these pressures, allowing practitioners to address how their criminal justice system operates, understand what policies and practices affect jail populations, and identify and implement new strategies to produce better outcomes. As members of the Safety and Justice Challenge Network, participating jurisdictions will be positioned as leaders in the field, and will have the opportunity to influence the future of criminal justice practices in groundbreaking ways.

How do I apply?

More information, including the request for proposals and information on how to apply, is available at www.SafetyAndJusticeChallenge.org. Applications must be submitted through the Foundation’s online platform at www.SafetyAndJustice.fluidreview.com; emailed or mailed applications will not be considered.

When is my application due?

Applications are due by 8:00 p.m. CST on March 31, 2015.

What if I have more questions?

The Foundation held three live webinars to confirm details about the competition and application process as well as answer questions. The content of these webinars was identical, and a recording is available.

Should you have any additional questions about the competition or application, please email SafetyAndJustice@macfound.org.