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About the Fund

Since the 1980s, jail populations have more than tripled as America relies on local incarceration. In the United States, we have over 3,000 jails that hold 731,000 people on any given day, with nearly 12 million jail admissions annually. Jails form a critical part of our nation's incarceration problem with troubling individual, financial, and social consequences. Although most people booked into jail are released within a few days, being detained can place individuals on a slippery slope with serious consequences: job and housing loss, more punitive sentences, reduced social mobility, future criminal behavior, worsened health, and weakened familial and social bonds. These consequences become more severe for those entering jail already disadvantaged, whether because of mental illness, substance abuse, poverty, or other factors such as race and gender.

Fortunately, there is tremendous local-level innovation occurring across the country aimed at reducing incarceration and making the criminal justice system fairer and more effective at protecting communities. To further support such innovative efforts nationwide, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (MacArthur) partnered with the Urban Institute (Urban) to launch the Innovation Fund in 2016. The purpose of the Innovation Fund is to foster and support innovative ideas from local jurisdictions that are consistent with the goals of MacArthur’s Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) to reduce over-incarceration in America while maintaining or enhancing public safety, with a particular focus on addressing disproportionate justice impact on low-income individuals and communities of color.

To build on the momentum generated by the Innovation Fund work to date, MacArthur and Urban are announcing a second Innovation Fund competition. 

We recognize that innovation and risk-taking can be difficult, especially in the criminal justice space. To this end, the Innovation Fund provides awardees with financial assistance, technical assistance, and a network of support to test bold and innovative ideas from start to finish. The first Innovation Fund competition yielded a cohort of 20 participant jurisdictions, diverse in their sizes, geography and areas of focus. Details on the work of the first round of Innovation Fund sites is available here.

The goals of the Innovation Fund include:
  • Creating a space for jurisdictions to test out new ideas and take risks;
  • Developing a better understanding of the key issues related to reducing the overuse of jail and measures that can be taken to address these issues;
  • Enhancing capacity for coordination among stakeholders and future system change undertakings in Fund participant sites; and
  • Disseminating innovative practices and lessons learned during implementation to shape future initiatives.
Those selected to participate in the Innovation Fund will benefit from:
  • Grant awards of $50,000;
  • Access to expert technical assistance (TA) and feedback from Urban to help make your innovation a reality over a 15-month period (October 2018-December 2019);
  • Virtual peer learning opportunities with Urban and the broader SJC partners;
  • Elevation of your jurisdiction's work through attendance at the Safety and Justice Challenge Network convenings;
  • Mechanisms for sharing innovative ideas about jail reform broadly; and
  • Forming part of a network of jurisdictions at the forefront of a national movement to rethink the use of jail.