Cook County Awarded $500,000 by MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge to Increase Racial Equity in Justice System

Office of the Chief Judge, the Justice Advisory Council and Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism Will Work Together to Identify Drivers of Racial Disparities in Local Justice System and Engage People Most Impacted by Mass Incarceration

[Chicago, Illinois, January 24, 2022] – Last week, Cook County was announced as the recipient of a $500,000 grant by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to build upon existing efforts to address racial and ethnic inequities in the county’s local justice system. The grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), a $300 million national initiative to reduce over-incarceration and address racial and ethnic disparities in local criminal justice systems by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. Cook County has participated in the Safety and Justice Challenge since 2015.  

Cook County is one of only four jurisdictions nationwide selected for the award and participation in the SJC’s Racial Equity Cohort. Each Equity Cohort member is charged with promoting racial and ethnic equity in the criminal justice system by authentically engaging community and centering the lived experiences of those most impacted by the justice system. Cook County Government, specifically the Office of the Chief Judge and the Justice Advisory Council, will work alongside Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism (Chicago ROAR) to lead this racial equity work. Funding from the grant will provide training and technical assistance, peer-to-peer support from other cohort members, and qualitative and quantitative data and analytic support.  

Cook County’s work in the Racial Equity Cohort will center on direct and meaningful connection between internal actors in the justice system and community members, trained as Equity Cohort fellows. Fellows will be residents from Cook County communities most impacted by violence and crime and disproportionately represented in local courts, jails and prisons. Recruited with the assistance the Justice Advisory Council’s network of community based-provider organizations, the fellows will work alongside designees from the county’s criminal justice agencies. Chicago ROAR will provide customized technical training on institutional antiracism and anti-oppression to the Fellows who will, in turn, lead facilitated discussions to engage in the work of addressing persistent racial disparities within the system. The goal of this work is to develop and normalize a more human-centered and equitable system of justice.  

"Our analysis and responsive training will equip Equity Cohort fellows to actively engage with system partners on the issues that impact their communities." said Derrick Dawson, program Coordinator for Chicago ROAR. "To bring about authentic and effective change, we need to start with a shared language and understanding of the nature of systemic racism." 

“Bringing more equity and representation into our justice system has been long awaited by our communities, especially our most disinvested and impacted communities,” said Kim Ambrose-Davis, Community Engagement Coordinator for the Justice Advisory Council. “The Equity Cohort is an unprecedented initiative that has the potential to be transformative for our residents and communities. We’re excited to help lead this work and to see where it takes us.”  

The Racial Equity Cohort is part of the MacArthur Foundation’s ongoing commitment to invest in intentional and effective strategies to eliminate systemic racism in justice systems and center the voices of people most impacted by the system. This commitment ties directly to the mission of the Cook County Justice Advisory Council which works to promote equitable, human-centered, community-driven justice system innovation and practice.  

“While the Safety and Justice Challenge has been successful in reducing local jail populations, it has also taught us that this alone will not eliminate racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” said Laurie Garduque, the MacArthur Foundation’s Director of Criminal Justice. “By pairing the leadership of people most impacted by mass incarceration with the expertise of government partners, we hope this cohort of jurisdictions will challenge systemic racism in our justice systems and create policies and practices to sustain long-term change.” 

The four sites selected to participate in the Racial Equity Cohort are Cook County (IL), New Orleans (LA), Philadelphia (PA), and Pima County (AZ). These jurisdictions will receive logistical and administrative support from The Center for Court Innovation as well as technical support and counsel from the Safety & Justice Challenge’s many criminal justice policy and research partners.  

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