Adams County Joins MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge to Create More Effective Justice System

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today announced that the Adams County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) is one of 20 jurisdictions joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national $100 million initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. Adams County and the other jurisdictions will design and test innovative local justice reforms designed to safely drive down jail usage and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in their local justice systems.

The Adams County CJCC was chosen following a highly competitive selection process that drew applications from across the country and is the only site in Colorado selected to join the program.

“Local jurisdictions are leading the way on justice reform,” said MacArthur President Julia Stasch. “Demand for reform at the local level is considerable and growing, as evidenced by the number, diversity, and creativity of the applications we received. This momentum is encouraging, particularly as the federal justice reform landscape evolves and shifts.”

Through the Challenge’s Innovation Fund, the CJCC will receive support and expert technical assistance in designing and implementing local reforms. CJCC’s innovations will focus on establishing a secure data linking system that connects Thornton Police Department and the Community Reach Center to better understand the volume of critical incident response calls related to mental health crises and how these relate to service intake and diversion from arrest.

“Unfortunately, individuals diagnosed with a mental illness make up a significant percentage of defendants in the criminal justice system,” said the Honorable Dave Young, District Attorney for the 17th Judicial District and Chairman of the CJCC. “This support from the Safety and Justice Challenge Innovation Fund creates an opportunity to improve how we deliver community-based mental health services to these individuals and manage them starting with their initial contact with a law enforcement officer.”

The CJCC and the other Innovation Fund jurisdictions will receive short-term support of $50,000 each, are eligible for future funding opportunities, and have access to the resources, peer learning opportunities, and expertise of the Safety and Justice Challenge Network. The Urban Institute, which is managing the Innovation Fund in partnership with the Foundation, will provide expert technical assistance to the jurisdictions as they implement their plans.

“As in most jurisdictions, over 60 percent of individuals housed in the Adams County jail have been assessed with some form of mental illness,” said Sheriff Michael McIntosh. “Our collective goal is for effecting positive, system-wide changes, with the goal to divert this target population from custody into community-based treatment and to provide humane and effective treatment for those who must remain in jail.”

The CJCC will continue to place an emphasis on community engagement and collaboration among local law enforcement, corrections officials, prosecutors, defenders, judges, and other stakeholders in this work to test, innovate, and drive reform.

“To address this public health crisis in our local justice system, the CJCC will develop a dashboard and analytical tool to monitor progress on diverting people with mental illness from incarceration to treatment,” said Debbie Allen, chief justice planning officer for the CJCC. “This project is a fine example of collaborative criminal justice strategic systems planning with a commitment to address both the human toll of this crisis, and also the toll on families and our communities.”

The Adams County CJCC is working closely with the Community Reach Center and the City of Thornton Police Department on this project.

“We are humbled that the local criminal justice community is equally dedicated to our own values and vision to see an end to the use of first responders and jails as a means to access behavioral health treatment,” said Dr. Abigail Tucker, clinical director for the Community Reach Center. “The Innovation Fund from MacArthur Foundation has given us the opportunity to actualize change from those shared values and our loyal partnership toward true reform.”

“The challenge in working in a collaborative partnership is to make wise and thoughtful decisions that are data driven, having measurable outcomes to decrease the escalating calls for service to people experiencing a mental health crisis,” added Chief Randy Nelson of the Thornton Police Department. “The collaboration between the Community Reach Center and the Thornton Police Department is developing the first phase to move towards effective outcome measurements combined with effective initiatives supportive of this work.”