Strengthening Community-Based Service Capacity through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative
Community organizations and service providers can be key partners for addressing public safety challenges and reducing justice system involvement. Through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) process, multiple states have established goals, policy structures, and implementation strategies to provide and enhance community-based services related to safety and well-being, such as behavioral health treatment, violence prevention, victim services, and reentry support. This report focuses on 10 JRI states’ strategies to advance public safety goals by collaboratively building community capacity to provide and enhance vital safety and well-being services. We identify common themes among these approaches and explore lessons learned from the successes and challenges of JRI community collaborations that may inform similar efforts in the future. The appendix contains profiles that provide additional details on these states’ community capacity-building approaches.
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative is a “data-driven approach to managing criminal justice populations and investing savings in strategies to reduce recidivism and improve public safety” (Harvell et al. 2021, iii). Directing funds to advance public safety goals is a core element of the JRI model. The 36 states that have engaged in JRI have approached reinvestment in a variety of ways.1 Most states have invested in strategies administered by justice system agencies, including community corrections, in-prison programming, problem-solving courts, and local corrections (Welsh-Loveman and Harvell 2018). However, a subset of states has also made investments to improve community-based capacity to advance prevention and treatment efforts outside of justice system agencies as part of their JRI reform efforts. This report focuses on 10 JRI states’ capacity-building strategies to provide and enhance services related to safety and well-being that (1) are available in the community (not in a justice system facility or setting) and (2) operate independently from criminal justice system agencies.
These investments in community capacity support a holistic approach that recognizes local organizations and service providers as essential partners in addressing safety challenges and reducing justice system involvement. There is a robust body of literature on the public safety benefits of a strong community service infrastructure (Sakala, Harvell, and Thomson 2018), including evidence of a direct association with reduced violent and property crime rates (Sharkey, Torrats-Espinosa, and Takyar 2017). Simply put, strategies to support communities in meeting their own basic needs can have wide-ranging benefits for public safety and well-being. For example, access to housing supports, employment assistance, substance abuse and mental health treatment, and reentry support are all associated with reduced justice system involvement and improved public safety outcomes.2 Additionally, incorporating community partners in public safety strategy development and implementation and striving to create responsive funding models can lead to more inclusive public safety strategies that are informed by the experiences of providers and community members on the ground (Sakala and La Vigne 2019).
This report describes how 10 states have strengthened community-based capacity to advance public safety goals as part of their JRI processes. It is not a comprehensive record of all community capacity-building work across states that have engaged in JRI or even of any of the 10 states included in this analysis. Rather, it highlights a range of approaches and synthesizes broad takeaways across states (see box 1 for our methodology). In this report, we describe common themes across the 10 JRI states’ policymaking processes and goals, policy structures, and implementation strategies, including how they have evolved or grown. We conclude with lessons learned from the successes and challenges of JRI community collaboration approaches that can inform similar efforts. Stakeholders we interviewed shared multiple takeaways regarding building and sustaining partnerships for community capacity–building efforts:
- Strong and ongoing communication across partnerships is key and involves establishing communication channels across partners early and maintaining transparency throughout the policy development and implementation process.
- Collaborations between government agencies and local organizations can be mutually beneficial but require intentional investment, including building trust and establishing clear roles and responsibilities.
- Traditional and innovative partnerships can both be productive, including by leveraging existing networks and relationships.
This report focuses on the JRI approaches of 10 states selected to illustrate a range of community capacity–building and collaboration strategies: Alaska, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, and Utah. For each state, the Urban Institute conducted a document review of information from state JRI work to identify approaches implemented to enhance community-based capacity. Materials in this review included reports and publications released by JRI working groups and state agencies, materials from community partner organizations, overview and analysis documents released by JRI technical assistance providers, JRI legislation, and media coverage. We also conducted 34 semistructured interviews between May and July 2021 with a variety of stakeholders across all 10 states who participated in these strategies, including justice system leaders, officials from other collaborating government agencies, and community-based service providers. Finally, we consulted technical assistance providers who participated in JRI efforts across the 10 states to understand implementation processes, challenges, and successes.
Identifying and Pursuing JRI Community Capacity–Building Goals through Partnerships
Collaboration with community partners and partnerships across public agencies as part of the JRI process can inform community capacity–building goals, advance policy development, and facilitate implementation.
Creating and strengthening connections with community-based stakeholders early on in the JRI process can help shape a state’s overall JRI goals, including any objectives related to community capacity-building. The experiences of the 10 states in this report reveal that this is particularly relevant for two early steps of the JRI process: establishing a workgroup to facilitate planning and implementation (step 2), and engaging with stakeholders (step 3) (figure 1).3 Interviewees reported that making these early connections was helpful for identifying pressing safety needs in communities across their states, understanding providers’ perspectives on what would enable them to increase access to services, establishing interagency collaboration to support community capacity building, and building support and buy-in for reform efforts across partners.
Figure 1: The Justice Reinvestment Initiative Process
Some states’ formal JRI workgroup membership included community service providers, representatives from key local demographic constituencies, and/or people who have experienced involvement in the justice system. For example, Oregon’s workgroup included members of federally recognized tribes and Utah’s included community-based behavioral health service providers. This approach enabled these participants to directly speak about their experiences and perspectives, including ways that strengthening community-based service provision can advance JRI goals. Interviewees we spoke with generally expressed confidence that the workgroup membership for their states included the right people and mix of perspectives to engage in the collaborative tasks of assessing data and developing JRI recommendations.
Some states also used a variety of engagement strategies to gather input from a broader range of stakeholders beyond workgroup members. The extent and nature of these strategies varied from state to state and included surveys, community meetings, interviews, and focus groups (Harvell et al. 2021). Interviewees reported that this information-gathering stage was critical for understanding how public safety capacity and needs vary across different regions of states and ensuring priorities were informed by the perspectives of key community constituencies. For example, a stakeholder in Alaska indicated that as part of the early engagement process there, community members highlighted the acute need for violence prevention services in rural areas that are culturally responsive to local communities. In addition, interviewees shared that engaging with communities early in the JRI process helped them educate local stakeholders about JRI processes and goals and develop buy-in, which was helpful during the implementation phase.
Many states’ strategies required agencies and stakeholders to engage in new types of collaboration or new levels of collaboration to support and partner with community-based service providers. Common examples of these collaborations include state departments of correction partnering with departments of health/mental health or victims’ services. Interviewees noted that JRI was an opportunity to connect traditional justice system performance metrics (such as recidivism reduction) with broader community safety, health, and well-being goals (such as violence prevention, increased access to behavioral health care, and access to safe and stable housing) to guide strategy development across agencies. States used interagency collaborations to support community capacity–building strategies in several ways, including connecting with provider networks, administering grants, coordinating data collection, and advocating for continued investments and program sustainability. For example, in Missouri, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Mental Health worked together to promote their new behavioral health treatment program conceptualized and implemented through their JRI engagement; this included jointly holding community meetings, training providers, and facilitating collaboration between community-based service providers and supervision officers.
Advancing JRI Strategies to Enhance Community Capacity
As part of their JRI processes, some states have advanced collaborative partnerships across agencies and with community organizations to provide a variety of services, including mental and behavioral health care, housing support, employment assistance, and supports for people who have experienced victimization.
A common thread throughout these 10 states’ JRI community capacity–building strategies (see box 2 for a description of each example) is collaborating with local partners to provide non–justice system services that are critical for advancing public safety efforts. In these examples, community partners contribute to a broad range of strategies designed to prevent and/or address harm and decrease the likelihood of participants’ future justice system involvement. Some community capacity-building efforts associated with JRI focus on a range of services that are broadly available to members of the community, such as Maryland’s reinvestment grants, which were available to a wide range of nonprofit community service providers, including those that aim to serve people who have experienced victimization, prevent justice system involvement, and reduce recidivism. More often, however, JRI community investment and collaboration strategies across the 10 states have aimed to directly support people who are or have been under justice system control. Eligibility for seeking grant support also varies; some states, such as Louisiana, restrict community funding to nonprofit organizations, while others, such as Maryland, offer community capacity funding to both nonprofits and public agencies.
JRI Community Capacity–Building Strategies in 10 States
The 10 states featured in this report advanced a range of goals through their JRI-related community capacity-building work. The following examples are featured in the appendix:
- Alaska strengthened local multiorganization coalitions dedicated to coordinating and advancing violence prevention efforts.
- Louisiana invested in community-based prison alternatives and victims’ services.
- Maryland invested in local community-based recidivism-reduction strategies.
- Massachusetts invested in supporting justice system–involved young adults and providing behavioral health services and housing supports.
- Missouri created the JRI Treatment Pilot to collaboratively meet the behavioral health needs of people on probation and parole.
- Nebraska established the Transitional Living Initiative to provide stable reentry housing.
- North Dakota created the Free Through Recovery program to address clinical and nonclinical behavioral health needs.
- Oregon established a system to distribute county-level funds to support services to reduce recidivism and meet the needs of people who have experienced victimization.
- South Dakota launched a telehealth program to expand access to behavioral health care in rural and frontier counties.
- Utah invested in expanding access to community-based mental and behavioral health care.
Although the specific service types and modalities vary across community partners that receive support through JRI, a common goal is to support individuals’ stability and well-being and reduce involvement in the justice system. Some states have focused on boosting community capacity to address one specific type of service need, such as South Dakota’s concentration on behavioral health care continuity and access and Nebraska’s efforts related to housing stability. Other states focused on building community capacity in multiple domains in parallel. Louisiana’s efforts have included investments in victims’ services and reentry supports. Massachusetts has pursued a multipronged strategy that has included reentry services for young adults, behavioral health support, and transitional housing access. Some states also provided specialized peer support services to people enrolled in various community-based programs established through their JRI processes, such as Missouri’s JRI Treatment Pilot and North Dakota’s Free Through Recovery program. In addition, some states developed ways to prioritize geographies for service provision to match their investment goals. For example, Louisiana targeted initial investments in jurisdictions with the highest incarceration rates, while South Dakota aimed to increase behavioral health care access in rural areas.
In addition to directly funding service providers to advance these strategies, states used several other approaches to build capacity. These include developing new metrics, building shared data collection systems, and providing in-kind support directly to provider organizations. For example, in North Dakota, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Department of Human Services partnered to provide community grantees trainings and technical assistance. Some states, including Louisiana and Maryland, have also focused on removing barriers that impeded partnerships. These efforts have included making grant application and reporting processes more flexible to enable smaller organizations with limited infrastructure to more easily apply for and monitor grants.
Using JRI Funds to Support Community Capacity
Some JRI states, including the 10 featured in this report, have developed strategies to invest public resources to enhance local service provision capacity. However, the investment mechanisms and recipients vary from state to state. Some states made up-front investments in community capacity as part of their JRI efforts while others waited for JRI savings, or averted costs, to accrue first. Additionally, some implemented grant programs while others used cost reimbursement mechanisms to support community-based providers.
A core component of community capacity building through JRI is investing public resources in local organizations providing services to advance public safety goals. This investment is consistent with the overall goal of using public safety resources more efficiently to reduce crime and recidivism, and reinvestment is a core part of the JRI process illustrated in figure 1.4 Many of the states included in this report established their community investment mechanisms early in their implementation processes, using an up-front investment strategy rather than waiting to realize and reinvest savings and averted corrections costs. Other states, such as Maryland, waited to realize initial savings before beginning their community grant efforts. Some states’ JRI legislation spelled out reinvestment proportions for specific safety priorities, such as victims’ services or recidivism prevention, while others were less prescriptive.
Additionally, the specific investment and funding mechanisms associated with JRI capacity-building strategies vary widely across states. Some states issue grants directly to community-based providers, either up front or using a reimbursement model based on services provided. Additional payment structures, such as performance incentive payments, have also been used, as in Missouri and North Dakota. Oregon designed a collaborative state and local grant program model in which the state issues funds to local coordinating committees, which then distribute grants to local partners. Grant periods of performance have also varied from state to state; for example, Maryland began by issuing one-year grants while Louisiana issues grants in three-year cycles.
JRI states have taken different approaches to creating their community partner grantee pools, such as by leveraging existing grantee relationships, establishing new pools through competitive request for proposal (RFP) processes, or both. In some states, these funding streams have been channeled through existing provider networks. For example, Missouri’s and Utah’s initial strategies involved working with behavioral health providers that had already been contracting with state agencies. Other states, including Alaska, North Dakota, and Oregon, issued RFPs to establish new contracts with service providers and grow their networks of grantees.
Sustaining and Growing Community Capacity-Building Efforts Related to JRI
The experiences of these 10 states illustrate a variety of strategies for measuring and documenting progress toward capacity-building goals associated with JRI, and expanding and adapting investment resources and approaches.
Community capacity-building efforts associated with JRI have evolved as stakeholders have adapted to changing circumstances, incorporated lessons learned, and implemented growth and sustainability strategies. Implementation is a particularly important phase for designing and executing community capacity-building efforts. The examples from states show a variety of ways stakeholders have approached implementing the community capacity-building components of JRI legislation to support programs and services on the ground.
States engaging in JRI community capacity-building work can adopt strategies to incorporate lessons learned as the work unfolds. Stakeholders we interviewed from multiple states emphasized the importance of establishing infrastructure to collect data to document and measure progress and successes and identify opportunities for improvement throughout implementation (step 7 in the JRI process; see figure 1). Some states began by piloting new approaches, which provided helpful learning and feedback that informed full implementation. For example, South Dakota initially launched its telehealth program as a pilot and then expanded it after an implementation workgroup addressed challenges such as issues with technology access. Another strategy states have used is conducting reviews and evaluations to assess capacity-building progress. For example, after creating a local grant program through JRI, Oregon passed legislation to develop an advisory committee to evaluate how JRI funds are allocated to marginalized groups and make recommendations for improvement.5
States have grown and sustained their community capacity-building efforts in a number of ways. Some have developed ways to incorporate and leverage additional funding sources to support community partnerships developed through JRI. For example, Alaska built on the initial JRI investment in violence prevention coalitions by leveraging state cannabis tax revenue and federal grants, and Nebraska used a JRI Maximizing Grant to supplement its other JRI-related investments in housing supports for people involved in the justice system. Some opportunities have come through significant non-JRI policy developments after JRI legislation passed, which have in turn helped advance JRI goals. For example, Utah’s JRI goal to more effectively provide behavioral health services informed its choice to adopt a program called Targeted Adult Medicaid, and service capacity has continued to grow with full Medicaid expansion.
States have also leveraged their JRI-related capacity-building work to understand and meet additional service needs. Through their initial local capacity-building work, states have learned more about other opportunities to fill local service and resource gaps related to safety and well-being, and some have responded by expanding their efforts. One example is Louisiana, which responded to grantees’ challenging experiences finding housing for clients by establishing the Emergency Transitional Housing Program for people in the reentry process. Additionally, some states built on their JRI experiences with community capacity building to advance similar work in other areas. For example, after engaging in JRI, South Dakota took on a Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Initiative that included a similar approach to expanding behavioral health treatment in rural parts of the state for youth.
Lessons Learned and Key Questions
Stakeholders offered a variety of suggestions based on their experiences engaging in community capacity-building work through JRI, focusing on building partnerships and strengthening service provision strategies. This section provides an overview of these suggestions and offers key questions that can guide similar work in other states.
Takeaways on Community Capacity-Building from JRI Stakeholders
Stakeholders from the 10 states featured in this report had a variety of suggestions for their peers in other states who may want to engage in similar community capacity-building work. These recommendations broadly fell into two categories: (1) building and sustaining partnerships, and (2) developing funding streams to support local partners.
Interviewees shared multiple takeaways regarding building and sustaining partnerships for community capacity-building efforts:
- Strong and ongoing communication across partnerships is key. Stakeholders from government agencies in multiple states reported that it was crucial to involve community-based actors early in the JRI engagement process to secure buy-in from different stakeholders and to build consensus on the aims and pace of the reforms. They also highlighted the importance of public agencies being transparent with their community-based partners about how the reform process could be iterative and take time. Other interviewees highlighted that it was important to continue to keep communication channels open as the reform process progressed, including talking to people impacted by the reforms.
- Collaborations between government agencies and local organizations can be mutually beneficial but require intentional investment. Specifically, the process of sharing JRI funding could result in heightened credibility for state agencies that were involved and community-based organizations, which enabled state agencies to develop more partnerships and enhanced local organizations’ fundraising profiles.
- Traditional and innovative partnerships can both be productive. Some stakeholders explained that relying on existing grantee networks carried a variety of benefits, including the ability to launch new initiatives more quickly. On the other hand, forging new partnerships with hyper-local organizations that are deeply embedded in their communities, such as churches, can leverage critical existing relationships and connections to clients.
Interviewees also shared takeaways on funding processes and goals for strengthening community service provision capacity through JRI reforms:
- Investing in data capacity can help advance goals. Multiple interviewees associated with state agencies highlighted that it was important to invest in data capacity, select metrics that reflect program goals, measure implementation and outcomes, and ultimately adapt programs based on the data. Related strategies include setting up pilot programs to measure outcomes for clients and a comparison group.
- Grantmaking infrastructure is needed for funds to be distributed effectively. Interviewees stressed the importance of investing in regulatory capacity, data sharing infrastructure, and implementation teams in state agencies responsible for channeling public funds to community-based service providers.
- Providing peer reentry support services can be challenging and resource-intensive yet can be a critical piece of comprehensive public safety strategies. Interviewees from multiple community-based grant recipient organizations highlighted the benefits of investing in peer support programs for people leaving incarceration.
Questions to Consider When Pursuing Strategies to Enhance Community Capacity
As the examples of these 10 JRI states show, there are a variety of ways to incorporate community capacity building into broader efforts to improve justice policy and make public safety spending more cost-effective. Their experiences suggest several key questions that can guide similar work in other states:
- Which community capacity-building needs are most pressing for the state as a whole? What process or processes will be used to identify them, and who will participate? Do those needs vary across different regions of the state?
- What opportunities exist to explicitly allocate resources to community capacity building in reform legislation? Which allocation guidelines and oversight mechanisms will help channel resources to the intended goal?
- What opportunities exist to build or strengthen partnerships across stakeholder groups for both policy development and implementation?
- What existing infrastructure in the state (grantee networks, funding streams, collaboratives, etcetera) could support additional capacity-building efforts?
- How can state governments make funding accessible to community organizations providing services and ensure that data-reporting requirements are aligned with overarching goals?
- What structures or processes will support creating and maintaining feedback loops throughout implementation to document progress and successes and identify areas for continued growth?
The experiences of these 10 states offer valuable lessons for other states seeking to expand community public safety capacity as part of their criminal justice reform strategies, whether through engaging in the official JRI process or taking on other independent policy or practice change efforts. As the examples in this report illustrate, forging strong partnerships across sectors, sharing both financial and in-kind resources with community partners, and being willing to identify and incorporate lessons learned along the way can lead to new and more holistic ways of building community safety. Creating more opportunities for stakeholders to share their experiences and learn from one another may offer additional pathways to grow and strengthen community capacity–building work in the future.
- See a 2018 Urban Institute data snapshot of JRI reinvestment strategies at https://www.urban.org/sites /default/files/publication/98361 /justice_reinvestment_initiative_data_snapshot_0.pdf.
- See, for example, DeMatteo et al. (2013), Fontaine et al. 2012, Green (2019), Jacobs and Gottlieb (2020), Travis, Western, and Redburn (2014), and Zarkin et al. (2015).
- These steps are described in The Justice Reinvestment Initiative: A Guide for States, available at https://bja.ojp .gov/library/publications/justice-reinvestment-initiative-guide-states.
- See Urban’s JRI data snapshot at https://www.urban.org/research/publication/justice-reinvestment-initiative-data-snapshot.
- See the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission’s House Bill 3064 (2019) Report at https://www.oregon.gov /cjc/CJC%20Document%20Library/HB3064ReportSept2020.pdf.