Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mesa County criminal justice system wins $150,000 grant


The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today announced that Mesa County is one of 20 jurisdictions nationwide to receive a $150,000 grant to create a more effective local justice system. The grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, the Foundation’s $75 million initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way jails are used. Mesa County criminal justice entities, law enforcement, judges and others will use the financial support to work toward expanding municipal sentencing options and providing more mental health options.

Mesa County criminal justice partners were chosen following a highly competitive selection process that drew applications from nearly 200 jurisdictions from 45 states. The Safety and Justice Challenge competition supports jurisdictions across the country seeking to create local justice systems that improve public safety, save taxpayer money and yield more effective outcomes for those in the criminal justice system. The 20 jurisdictions selected will work with expert consultants to develop a plan for local justice system improvements. In 2016, as many as 10 of these jurisdictions will receive a second round of funding – between $500,000 to $2 million annually – to implement their plans over two years.

“Nearly 200 diverse jurisdictions responded to our challenge, reflecting nationwide interest in reducing over-incarceration,” said Julia Stasch, MacArthur Foundation president. “Each of the sites selected has demonstrated the motivation, collaboration and commitment needed to make real change in their local justice systems. We hope their local efforts will model effective and safe alternatives to the incarceration status quo for the rest of the country.”

Despite growing national attention to the large number of Americans confined in state and federal prisons, significantly less attention has been paid to local detention and justice systems, where the criminal justice system primarily operates and functions. Jail populations have more than tripled since the 1980s, as have cumulative expenditures related to the building and operation of jails.

"Mesa County is very excited and deeply honored to be chosen by the MacArthur Foundation to participate in the Safety and Justice Challenge," said Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis. "We are fortunate in Mesa County to enjoy quality working relationships across our local justice system and to have members who are committed to affecting positive change.

"We believe that commitment, our collaboration and the support provided by the grant present a real opportunity to make lasting, positive changes. We hope to ensure our local justice system is using our jail in the most just and efficient way possible, while still ensuring the safety of our community."

About 70 percent of Mesa County's jail population is awaiting trial. Municipal judges also are limited in sentencing options. Through the grant, local partners will focus on expanding sentencing options to better fit the nature of the offense. That should allow officials to focus on addressing substance abuse and mental health issues. Jail inmates who have access to quality mental health care following a jail sentence are more likely to remain stable, ultimately reducing recidivism and long-term jail population.

For more information on the Safety and Justice Challenge, visit www.SafetyandJusticeChallenge.org.

Media Contact: Heather Benjamin, Mesa County Sheriff's Office: (970) 244-3929

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