New York City Awarded $2 Million MacArthur Award to Continue Safely Reducing Jail Population

April 13, 2016


New York City is one of eleven U.S. jurisdictions to win the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Grant, awarded for innovative and aggressive plans to reduce the use of jail  

Award funding will support City’s ongoing work to tackle the leading causes of unnecessary jail use: case delay and the over-detention of low and mid-risk individuals 


NEW YORK – The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice today announced a $2 million award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to further reduce the City’s jail population while keeping crime at historic lows. This award was made as part of the Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, which recognizes eleven local governments implementing ambitious plans to create fairer, more effective local justice systems that can serve as national models.


“From speeding up trials to expanding supervised release, we are taking aggressive steps to safely reduce the jail population and build a fairer criminal justice system for all New Yorkers. We’re proud that the MacArthur Foundation has recognized the important and innovative strategies we’re using to safely reduce the number of incarcerated people in our city,” said Mayor de Blasio.


“New York City continues to prove that we can have both more safety and a lighter criminal justice touch,” said Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. “Safely reducing the jail population further requires using jail parsimoniously to protect public safety, shortening how long people stay in jail, and reducing the number of people who cycle through jail repeatedly. With the MacArthur award funding, we will continue to work toward solutions that promote trust in the criminal justice system through its fair and efficient administration.”


The MacArthur Foundation selected New York City based on the effective implementation of multiple strategies to drive down the City’s use of jail, and proposed plans to expand these efforts over the next two years. Developed and implemented in partnership with leadership from the State Courts, the five District Attorneys’ offices, defense attorneys, the Department of Correction, and the NYPD, these initiatives include:

  • Reducing case delay. Case delay is the single biggest driver of the City’s use of jail. In April of 2015, the City, in partnership with the state’s Chief Judge, announced Justice Reboot, an initiative that aims to clear the immediate backlog of pending cases and make enduring system improvements to reduce case processing times. To date, over 70% of the backlog that was pending when Justice Reboot was announced has been cleared. To learn more about Justice Reboot, please click here.
  • Expanding alternatives to detention for low- and moderate-risk individuals. Although the majority of inmates in City jails face serious charges or have been deemed a high risk, some are low- or moderate- risk defendants who could be effectively supervised in the community. The Mayor’s Office is spearheading a supervised release program that gives judges the option to release eligible defendants to a provider who will supervise him or her in the community, instead of waiting for trial in jail. This program began citywide on March 1, 2016; in the first month, the program has accepted almost 300 people who would otherwise have been detained in jail.  To learn more about supervised release, please click here.
  • Reforming the bail system. There are approximately 47,000 people detained on bail in New York City every year. The Bail Lab, conducted in partnership with the State Courts, aims to help safely reduce this number for low-risk individuals by testing alternatives to money bail, working with judges to use alternatives, testing payment strategies, and expanding data on defendants’ risks. To learn more about this work, please visit The Bail Lab. To learn more about bail work being led by the Courts, please click here.
  • Reducing cycles of frequent jail use. The 400 highest users of City jails and shelters were in the Department of Correction’s custody an average of 12.42 times, and had an average total length of stay in jail of 374.86 days over a period of 4 years. The City is currently working to rollout permanent supportive housing slots citywide and developing additional solutions to serve this population. This work is part of the Mayor’s Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System; to learn more, please click here.


Additionally, in the winning proposal, the Mayor’s Office also outlined three new strategies:

  • Individualized screening for risk and need. The MacArthur grant will advance the City’s work to develop individualized risk and need profiles for individuals in the criminal justice system as well as matching technology that can connect eligible individuals to appropriate diversion options.
  • A deep dive analysis of racial and ethnic disparities. The MacArthur grant will support a detailed analysis of racial disparities at every system point in the criminal justice system as well as the creation of a regularly updated data feed on racial and ethnic disparities to inform possible next steps.
  • A public website to track progress in reducing case delay. To provide transparency and real-time information on case processing times citywide, the MacArthur grant will support the launch of an online tracking tool that will highlight causes of delay and progress in resolving these issues.


Over the last twenty years, New York City has experienced the sharpest drop in crime anywhere in the nation. Every type of major crime has plummeted, with the number of murders dropping by 83% and grand larceny dropping by 93% between 1993 and 2013. The trend toward greater public safety in New York City over the last decade has continued, with 2015 showing the lowest yearly crime numbers ever in the modern Compstat era. Declines in crime have been matched by similar declines in the use of jail. While jail and prison populations increased 11% between 1996 and 2013 in the rest of the country, New York City’s jail population fell by over half. To see additional regularly updated crime and enforcement data, please visit The Knowledge Project.


“The way we misuse and over-use jails in this country takes an enormous toll on our social fabric and undermines the credibility of government action, with particularly dire consequences for communities of color,” said Julia Stasch, President of the MacArthur Foundation. “The thoughtful plans and demonstrable political will give us confidence that these jurisdictions will show that change is possible in even the most intractable justice-related challenges in cities, counties, and states across the country.”


The Safety and Justice Challenge establishes a network of jurisdictions to model and inspire effective local criminal justice reforms across the country. Last May, New York City was one of the 20 jurisdictions chosen by the Foundation for initial grants and expert counsel to develop plans for reform after a highly competitive selection process that drew applications from nearly 200 jurisdictions in 45 states and territories. Several of the nation’s leading criminal justice organizations will provide technical assistance and counsel to New York City and other jurisdictions: the Center for Court Innovation, the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York, the Justice Management Institute, Justice System Partners, the Vera Institute of Justice, Pretrial Justice Institute, and W. Haywood Burns Institute.


“New York City is moving forward both inside and outside our jails to reform criminal justice, and each of those reforms adds a piece to the culture of safety we are building at the Department of Correction,” said New York City Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte. “Whether it is reducing case delay, diverting low-risk individuals from detention, or creating therapeutic alternatives to punitive segregation, the City is pursuing solutions that will benefit individuals in custody, former offenders, and our communities alike. The MacArthur award will help New York build on these initiatives and create fairer and safer jails.”


“We know that the incarceration rates in some neighborhoods across the city are staggering, and that young Black and Latino men and those with health and mental health issues make up a disproportionate number of those affected,” said New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “This award from the MacArthur Foundation will further support and enhance the de Blasio Administration’s reforms to reduce the city’s reliance on the jail system and, ultimately, help those who need it most.”


“We congratulate MOCJ on being awarded the prestigious MacArthur Grant,” said New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “For far too long, too many New Yorkers have languished in our City’s jails in pre-trial detention, which are disproportionately populated by young men of color. The City Council commends MOCJ’s efforts to address these issues, and is proud to continue to work with MOCJ to address these and other systemic issues in our City’s criminal justice system.”


“I thank the MacArthur Foundation for recognizing the City’s efforts to reduce our jail population while ensuring we keep New Yorkers safe and supported,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “I look forward to continued collaboration with Director Glazer and her team at MOCJ in advancing criminal justice locally and nationally.”


Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., said: “Our jails are currently overcrowded, overburdened, and overused. From our Project Reset pilot program, which aims to divert 16- and 17-year-old first-time, non-violent offenders through counseling and community service, to our Clean Slate warrant forgiveness event – I have long supported a variety of programs that aim to successfully reduce the jail population without sacrificing public safety. We are incredibly proud to work with the Mayor’s Office and our partners in law enforcement to continue to develop successful alternatives to incarceration, while keeping our City safe, and congratulate the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice on this impressive award.”


Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark said, “The MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge grant will help in our crucial effort to reform Rikers Island, which includes reducing case delays and ultimately decreasing the number of inmates to improve safety and security. We are pleased to share this with our partners in the criminal justice system, as we are all working toward the same goal of fairness and efficiency.”


“I congratulate the Mayor Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) on their receipt of the auspicious MacArthur Grant,” said New York City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the Public Safety Committee. “Addressing the culture of violence on Rikers Island is a top priority of this City and requires careful attention and an innovative multifaceted approach. Thanks to the generous gift of the MacArthur foundation MOCJ will be able to continue its important work in depopulating Rikers Island and de-escalating the violence that prevents meaningful rehabilitation.”


“The MacArthur grant announced today recognizes that New York City is making substantial progress to reform and improve our criminal justice system,” said New York City Council Member Rory I. Lancman, chair of the Courts & Legal Services Committee. “It’s great to see external organizations recognizing and investing in the reduction of our jail population.”


“We are glad to hear the great news that NYC has been selected as one of the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice sites,” said Justine Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice, The Legal Aid. “This national campaign raises awareness of the need to reform this country’s over reliance on pretrial detention and seeks to bring change a history of unjust and unfair policies that disproportionately impacted poor communities of color. Here in NYC, we can, and should, lead the way in this effort. As this City’s oldest and largest public defender, we look forward to playing a key role in this initiative and are pleased to have been a member of the City’s interdisciplinary team that worked so hard to secure this wonderful opportunity.”


“The MacArthur Foundation grant will provide a meaningful opportunity to end the harmful impact of pre-trial detention, such as loss of housing, separation from families and children, and lifelong criminal convictions that result from pleas due our clients’ desperation to get out of jail, as well as the negative psychological effects of even short term incarcerations,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director, Brooklyn Defender Services.


About the MacArthur Foundation
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including over-incarceration, global climate change, nuclear risk, and significantly increasing capital for the social sector. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsible and responsive democracy; the strength and vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago; and generating new knowledge about critical issues.
More information about the Safety and Justice Challenge is available at


Inquiries about the MacArthur grant and strategies to reduce the jail population in New York City can be sent to: [email protected].