Pima County, YWCA Get $500,000 Grant to Help Stop Justice System Inequities

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has awarded a $500,000 grant to the Pima County Justice Services Department and the YWCA Southern Arizona to search for ways to eliminate racial and ethnic inequities in Pima County’s local justice system.

The two-year project is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a $300 million national initiative to reduce overincarceration and address racial and ethnic disparities in local criminal justice systems by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors recently voted to accept the county’s $239,000 portion of the grant.

Pima County was one of four jurisdictions selected to join the SJC’s Racial Equity Cohort, where they will work in partnership with local community partners to focus on racial and ethnic equity in the criminal justice system by examining the experiences of Black, indigenous and Latinx people and other people of color and authentically engaging the community. 

This funding will provide Justice Services and the YWCA with training and technical assistance focused on racial equity and authentic community engagement; peer-to-peer support from other cohort members; and qualitative and quantitative data and analytic support. As co-leads, Justice Services and the YWCA will work to address national and local drivers of racial inequities.

While Justice Services and the YWCA enter into this cohort in partnership, each partner agency will focus on distinct strategies. Justice Services aims to create new data management systems to better understand where disparities occur in the justice system and to implement data-driven decision making and targeted interventions. The YWCA will focus on community engagement, including listening sessions and creating a racial justice center, as well as community investment through youth interventions and microgrants.

The creation of the Racial Equity Cohort is part of the MacArthur Foundation’s commitment to racial equity and listening to the voices of people most impacted by the justice system. The new funding and support is part of that commitment to learning about and investing in more intentional and effective strategies to eliminate institutional and systemic racism within the justice system.

The foundation also acknowledges that the efforts and focus of this cohort on the justice system are only part of what must be a multifaceted and multisystem approach to achieving true racial equity and justice.

“We recognize that it has taken generations to manifest the inequity and biases we see in our society today, and, in turn, it will take a significant amount of time to manifest the changes we wish to see,” said Kate Vesely, director of Pima County Justice Services.

“Pima County has already taken steps toward developing a more equitable justice system, but to truly create the systemic change that will improve our community for generations to come we must begin the most difficult work,” Vesely continued. “We must listen to the stories of those who have been impacted in some way by the justice system and look closely at what stories the data is trying to tell us.”

Magdalena Verdugo, CEO of the YWCA Southern Arizona, said, “We understand that real change takes deep listening, trust-building and figuring out systems that often perpetuate inequality. We are excited to have been selected by the partners of the Safety and Justice Challenge and we appreciate the faith and trust that has been instilled in us.

“Being at the table and having the opportunity to work with Pima County Justice Services is a good and right step toward system change,” Verdugo added. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us to reimagine and plan for change at a local level.”

Laurie Garduque, the MacArthur Foundation’s director of criminal justice, added, “While the Safety and Justice Challenge has been successful in reducing local jail populations, it has also taught us that this alone will not eliminate racial disparities in the criminal justice system. By pairing the leadership of people most impacted by mass incarceration with the expertise of government partners, we hope this cohort of jurisdictions will challenge systemic racism in our justice systems and create policies and practices to sustain long-term change.”

The other three cities or counties selected to participate in the Racial Equity Cohort are Cook County, Ill.; New Orleans and Philadelphia.

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