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DOJ to invest $57M in the criminal justice system to support ‘reform and advance racial equity’

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Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The Justice Department announced on Wednesday that it will invest nearly $57 million in the criminal justice system to support reform efforts and “advance racial equity.” The department hopes the awards will promote fairness in the corrections systems and “align criminal justice practices with the latest science.”

The grants will be distributed by the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs and are designed to support the state, territory, local, and tribal levels. A portion of the awards will be used to address wrongful convictions and protect the constitutional rights of defendants and incarcerated individuals, the Justice Department noted.

The Office of Justice Programs stated that in compliance with Executive Order 13985, when making award decisions, it will “give priority consideration to applications that include project(s) that will promote racial equity and the removal of barriers to access and opportunity for communities that have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by inequality.”

“Equal justice is not a self-executing proposition — it takes work to make it real — and it will take a collective commitment from all of us at the federal, state and local levels to bring that ideal to life,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “These investments make good on a pledge by the Justice Department to promote public safety and realize the promise of a just society that recognizes the dignity and humanity of everyone.”

The announcement listed a summary of 12 grants that the DOJ hopes will impact reform and equity efforts.

The Justice Counts Implementation Program will receive $9.8 million, the largest award announced by the Justice Department this week. The funds will help “states adopt a core set of criminal justice metrics so that policymakers have access to actionable data to make policy and budgetary decisions.” The program stated that it would enable state governments to improve their goal-setting capacity, measure progress, and make data-driven policy changes.

Eight million will be awarded to the Field Initiated: Encouraging Innovation program to research and implement innovative approaches to reducing crime and building trust between the justice system and the community. The program is also focused on preventing and responding to overdoses.

The Reimagining Justice: Testing a New Model of Community Safety initiative hopes to use its $3 million grant to find innovative solutions to reducing crime in high-crime neighborhoods experiencing low-level offenses.

“Four of this year’s Field Initiated awards are focused on the pretrial phase of case processing, and include innovations like text message reminders for upcoming court dates — we’ve come to expect such things from our doctor’s office, why not the court system?” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta in Wednesday statement. “These programs — in New York, Texas and New Jersey — will help address underlying conditions and untreated needs of those coming into the system. And they’ll expand deflection and diversion opportunities.”

The Upholding the Rule of Law and Preventing Wrongful Convictions Program will receive $7.6 million to support individuals with post-conviction claims of innocence. Another $6.5 million will be granted to the Postconviction Testing of DNA Evidence program to cover costs associated with post-conviction case reviews that might prove innocence.

Almost $800,000 will be awarded to Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Justice System: A Study of Existing Evidence and Public Policy Implications program to “conduct a comprehensive evidence-based analysis of existing evidence to examine how observed racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system might be reduced through public policy.”

The DOJ announced that approximately $12.2 million would be awarded to four programs focused on aiding victims by increasing access to legal services and providing additional resources to victim-serving organizations.

Gupta stated that “for the first time, our Office for Victims of Crime is issuing a grant award to better understand the service needs of persons harmed by their interactions with the criminal justice system, determine whether existing services can meet the needs of this population and offer recommendations for appropriate service delivery, resources, partnerships and tools.”

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