Philly gets second MacArthur grant to cut prison population in half

The correctional complex on State Road in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The correctional complex on State Road in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia has been awarded an additional $4 Million by the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge with the goal of decreasing the city’s jail population by 50 percent by 2020.

“More than anything, the new award will make Philadelphia a leading national example of criminal justice reform and move us closer to the goal of a truly safe and just Philadelphia for decades to come,” said Mayor Jim Kenney.

The plan to cut the prison population comes after the city surpassed its original target reduction of 34 percent over three years, coming in at a reduction by 36 percent within two years. That effort was funded by a $3.5 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation in 2016.

“I am proud to tell you that this renewed funding will allow us to set a new goal to safely reduce our jail population by 50 percent by 2020. Yes, I did say 50 percent. And given our past history, it can get done,” said Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper, the President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas.

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So far, the Safety and Justice programming was unable to lower the racial disparities in the city’s jail population. City officials plan on doubling down on those efforts by establishing measurable benchmarks to achieve this goal.

“This award will help us address and reduce the racial disparities that plague our system,” said Chief of the Philadelphia Defender Association Keir Bradford-Grey.

“I truly believe that criminal justice reform is a civil rights moment and movement in our city. We have not only our stakeholders working on this but our grassroots communities that are really important in bringing solutions to some of our challenges and I’m glad to hear that we’re going to invite them to the table even more,” Bradford-Grey said.

The new additions to the planning include a Community Engagement Committee, which will collaborate with the Mural Art’s Program’s Art for Justice Project creating public artworks with formerly incarcerated artists. A Community Advisory Committee will also be established to hold the SJC initiatives accountable to community needs. Outreach and communication will enhance transparency with an increased SJC online presence in the form of social media and a website, a storytelling series and restorative justice efforts between incarcerated individuals and crime victims.

Additional strategies include reducing the number of people incarcerated before their trial, creating more efficient methods of case processing and reducing the number of people held on a probation detainer and with mental illness.

“Even as we continue to our combined efforts, the work of Philadelphia’s justice partners via the challenge grant has already led to a system that is fairer and safer, to the benefit of everyone in our city,” said Judge Woods-Skipper.

“We’re proud of the work we’ve done, and this newest round of funding is indicative of a shared commitment to proactive criminal justice reform,” she said.

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