Criminal Justice Reform: Restoring Equity to a Broken System MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge
The first year of the Mayor’s term, 2016, brought a landmark announcement: Philadelphia became the largest grant award recipient of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge, receiving $3.5 million to reduce Philadelphia’s jail population by 34 percent over three years. The funding helped jumpstart transformational change in the City’s criminal justice system.
The Kenney administration and its partners — the First Judicial District, District Attorney, Defender Association, Police Department, Department of Prisons, and Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services — designed and began implementing a data-driven and collaborative reform plan centered around six key goals:
Reducing racial and ethnic disparities across the criminal justice system
Reducing the number of people incarcerated pretrial
Creating efficiencies in case processing that reduce length of stay
Reducing the number of people held in jail on a probation detainer
Reducing the number of people in jail with mental illness
Increasing cross-system data capacity
The progress was rapid. By 2018, Philadelphia had not only met its original 34 percent reduction goal, but exceeded it an entire year ahead of schedule. This allowed the City to close the aging House of Correction, and spare taxpayers the enormous expense of having to build a new jail to replace it. The population decline continues: as of November 2019, the jail population was below 4,900, about a 40 percent decline over the 2015 baseline of 8,082.
The Kenney administration’s reform efforts go beyond those funded by the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge. In August 2019, the Mayor announced the creation of the Office of Reentry Partnerships. The Office will develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to improve services and supports available to Philadelphians returning home from incarceration. It will close existing gaps in Philadelphia’s reentry services and align fragmented and siloed efforts by stakeholders across the city.
The Philadelphia Reentry Coalition, which was given increased dedicated staff by the Kenney administration, has grown to over 100 partner organizations. In addition to building capacity and creating space for collaboration amongst Philadelphia’s many reentry stakeholders, the Coalition produced two comprehensive reports. The first on measuring reentry and recidivism locally and the second on the landscape of reentry services in Philadelphia have created a foundation from which the Office of Reentry Partnerships will grow.
To read the Kenney Administration's full reflection on the past four years, click here.