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Los Angeles Receives MacArthur Grant for Jail Reform

Last week, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation named Los Angeles County one of 20 jurisdictions to receive a grant to be used for jail reform.  Each county awarded the grant will receive $150,000 in funds to develop ways to reduce jail overcrowding and restructure incarceration policies and practices.

The grant is part of the MacArthur Foundation’s $75-million Safety and Justice Challenge, which aims to address systemic issues in the U.S. criminal justice system. This initiative attracted many applicants– the foundation selected 20 out of around 200 applicants for the jail reform grants. The recipients range from the largest jurisdictions in the country such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Philidelphia to small counties that are also addressing a myriad of jail and policy issues. For example, St. Louis County, Missouri and Charleston County, South Carolina, two jurisdictions that have been at the center of national controversies involving the deaths of black men by police officers are among those to receive the grant.  The Foundation reports that the counties awarded the grant constitute 11% of the U.S. jail capacity.

Some of the key issues the Safety and Justice Challenge hopes to address relate to what they deem a flawed and inefficient system for detaining citizens. It reports that three out of five jail inmates are still presumed innocent and are awaiting a trial or hearing.  Many are held for extended periods for misdemeanor non-violent crimes because they can’t afford to make bail. A significant portion of those in jail suffer from mental health issues or drug addiction– one of the intended uses for the grant money is to find alternative methods for these inmates other than keeping them jailed in overcrowded county jails.  The Foundation reports that jail populations have tripled in the last thirty years and that 75% of inmates (both sentenced and pretrial) are detained for nonviolent crimes.

In Los Angeles, where the jail population has begun to drop since the passage of Prop. 47, some of the funds from the grant will be used to build a new women’s jail and renovate the men’s jail downtown.