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Safe Communities

Column: Inside Perspectives
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Date Published
May 29, 2024

Supporting communities as co-producers of safety and justice: A mission to meet the moment

Every few years, it’s wise for organizations to step back and reflect on their mission, goals and strategic plan. The Office of Justice Programs is no different. We began that review in 2021 and saw an opportunity to build on our core approach to community safety. 

Since its inception, OJP has made substantial and strategic investments in our criminal and juvenile justice systems – helping to make each part of those systems more fair, more effective, and more efficient in achieving greater safety and justice. This approach remains central, as focusing on systems change is the only way to scale innovation and reform.

At the same time, the historic underinvestment in marginalized communities has exacerbated the effects of crime, violence, and victimization, leaving communities to create interventions, resources, and programs to curb violence and heal trauma often without readily accessible avenues to public or private support.

Community is a critical complement to the justice system and a primary piece of the public safety puzzle. Community residents, as well as the neighborhood organizations that serve and support them, are essential to building protective factors, building trust, building stronger neighborhoods, and building the political will to engage in and sustain violence prevention efforts over the long term. Community stakeholders, by definition, often have deep ties to the neighborhoods they serve. They have first-hand perspective on both the challenges and opportunities facing their community, as well as connections and credibility with local residents and institutions, which makes them perhaps the most effective partners in delivering high-impact interventions.

Community organizations have an invaluable and complementary role to play as partners to the justice system, with the resources and access necessary to fulfill their role and meet their potential. And yet these entities have historically been overlooked and under-resourced by federal funding streams, technical assistance, and other sources of support and engagement. 

Last year, I announced a new OJP Policy Blueprint that widens our lens and articulates a new statement of mission: “To provide resources, leadership and solutions to advance community safety, build community trust, and strengthen the community’s role as co-producer of safety and justice.”

The emphasis on "community" is, and is intended to be, impossible to miss. By embracing the community's role as co-producer of safety and justice, we're expanding the scope of responsibility and possibility for the future of our communities. We're bringing communities disproportionately impacted by crime, violence, and victimization to the forefront and we're broadening our concept of safety, from the mere absence of crime to the presence of thriving neighborhoods and greater opportunity for all.  

“Community as co-producer” means that community-based organizations and community members – young and old – are instrumental partners in the public safety ecosystem. It means that people and institutions with deep roots in the communities hardest hit by violence have a meaningful role in bringing the public safety agenda to life in the neighborhoods they serve. Centering community also eases the outsized burden on police and other justice system professionals, allowing them to focus on their core duties and core skillsets as they work to reduce and solve serious crime. 

We are already well underway in putting this mission into action. We are designing programs that bring federal funding to a deeper bench of community providers, working directly within those communities disproportionately impacted by crime and violence. Over the last two years, OJP’s Community Violence Intervention and Prevention Initiative – a major cross-office effort involving our Bureau of Justice Assistance, National Institute of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and Office for Victims of Crime – has invested almost $200 million in community-driven strategies designed to interrupt patterns of violence, on top of additional investments in these strategies through programs like OVC’s Advancing Hospital Based Victim Services and OJJDP’s Strategies to Support Children Exposed to Violence.

BJA’s Connect and Protect program has awarded more than $50 million to 100 communities nationwide to support co-responder approaches that can reduce the burden on police, avert unnecessary arrests, and deliver better health and mental health outcomes for the community writ large.

BJA’s Reimagining Justice, OVC’s  Pilot Program for Community Based Organizations in Underserved Communities to Build Capacity and Serve Adolescent and Youth Victims of Trafficking and OJJDP’s Building Local Continuums of Care To Support Youth Success initiatives provide other examples centered on new investments in community-led solutions.

We’ve also adopted a microgrant-type strategy through a number of our programs to distribute funding and other support through intermediary organizations. These intermediaries provide subgrants and hands-on assistance to smaller, grassroots organizations that often lack the administrative infrastructure to obtain and maintain federal funding directly. In addition to CVI, programs like BJA’s Second Chance Act Community-Based Reentry Incubator Initiative and OVC’s new Trauma Recovery Center Demonstration Project are helping us carve a new path to funding and strengthening smaller organizations in more communities, enabling them to focus on and expand high-impact interventions that meet the needs of their community.

We’re emphasizing equity and accessibility in solicitations and funding, giving priority consideration under many solicitations to organizations that are designed to serve historically marginalized and underserved populations, and that have the credibility and capacity to deliver uniquely impactful interventions to their communities.  

This community focus carries into our research strategies as well. NIJ is prioritizing inclusive and participatory research models that engage and involve people who are closest to the issues under study. This approach gives us important new perspectives as we expand our evidence base, and it helps community organizations build the case for greater financial investments to support their efforts over the long term.

Finally, we’re enlisting the insights and elevating the voices of people with lived experience. We have brought on to our staff individuals with first-hand knowledge to serve as fellows and colleagues, to help guide our work in the areas of violence intervention, reentry, victim services, juvenile justice and substance use.  We are also soliciting ideas directly from youth, adults, crime survivors and families who have been impacted by the criminal and juvenile justice system and carry important insights into how to make improvements.

Our vision is to build a more robust community infrastructure as a complement to our criminal justice system and to anchor our public safety goals on a foundation of mutual trust and legitimacy. 

Society’s toughest challenges should not rest solely on the shoulders of law enforcement, or on any single set of institutions. 

The Office of Justice Programs stands strong with all our safety and justice allies. In fact, it is out of respect and appreciation for the tremendous weight of responsibility they carry that we aim to build a deeper, stronger, more engaged and supported bench of community partners to share that responsibility and address some of the greatest challenges faced by our country.

We look forward to working with all of our stakeholders in the coming months and years to see this mission through, bringing the promise of safe and just communities closer within our reach.

Date Published: May 29, 2024

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