Catalyst Grant Program: Using Data and Technology for an Equitable Justice System

Urban Institute   (NNIP Coordinator)
The Polis Center   (Indianapolis)
Innovate Memphis   (Memphis)
Urban Strategies Council   (Oakland)

December 2021

The Urban Institute and the Microsoft Justice Reform Initiative are collaborating on the Catalyst Grant Program that supports local communities in using data and technology to tackle racial injustice and inequity for communities of color and drive progress toward a more equitable justice system. Three National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) members are participating in the program.

The US justice system disproportionately impacts and harms people of color, especially Black people. They are more likely to experience vehicle and pedestrian stops than white people and to be searched by police during these stops. Moreover, people of color, particularly Black people, are arrested and detained at higher rates and incarcerated for longer periods. Justice involvement exacerbates existing challenges for many communities of color and contributes to a compounding cycle that criminalizes people of color.

As we know from NNIP, communities can use data and technology to inform and improve policy and practice to make the justice system more equitable. The projects of the three NNIP partners are described below. Learn about all nine grantees and their projects at the program website.

Oakland, CA: Using Data and Community Resources to Divert Non–Life Threatening 911 Calls

Police contacts for noncriminal, nonviolent emergency calls often lead to unnecessary incarceration and involuntary hospitalizations, sometimes escalate to violence, and drain emergency response resources. Recognizing this, the City of Oakland Fire Department has designed a community-based pilot program called Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (or MACRO). This program will provide an alternative to police response and incarceration by diverting non–life threatening 911 calls to nearby community resources.

With Catalyst Grant funding, Urban Strategies Council, in partnership with the Department of Violence Prevention, will support the new program by assessing the data needs and recommending the types of data to collect to effectively operate and evaluate the pilot. The team will suggest technologies to collect data, conduct internal analyses, and share aggregate data with the public. Urban Strategies Council will also curate a list of community resources specifically for MACRO program staff from existing lists of community assets. Lastly, to understand the perspectives of people impacted by the 911 emergency system, Urban Strategies Council will survey residents of East Oakland who have used the 911 system to learn about their hopes and expectations for the pilot program, inform its early operations, and provide a baseline for future evaluation.

Memphis TN: Addressing Racial Disparities in Money-Bail and Pretrial Detention by Democratizing Data

Black people are arrested, incarcerated, and sentenced at higher rates than White people because of racially biased practices and overpolicing. Pretrial detention, even for a few days, can have devastating consequences for people, including the loss of jobs, homes, and custody of children. Evidence also suggests that people who spend time in pretrial detention are at greater risk of returning to the criminal justice system, which imposes costs on and harms their communities.

With Catalyst Grant funding, Just City, in partnership with Innovate Memphis, will launch a data stewards program with students from local universities. The team will construct a comprehensive historical dataset using a sustainable process for periodically extracting data on bail amounts, offenses, and demographics from the Shelby County Jail and other data available from the county criminal court website. In addition, Just City will build a public-facing data dashboard using publicly accessible data to democratize data and provide transparency around the racial disparities in Shelby County’s criminal legal system.

Indianapolis: Analyzing Data to Advance Police Reform

Indiana’s jail population has risen dramatically because of policy reforms that have lengthened sentences and transferred incarcerated people from prisons to jails. And with nearly 40 percent of Indiana’s incarcerated population being Black, racial and ethnic disparities in the jail population are stark. In 2020, the Indianapolis City-County Council formed the General Orders Board, which has democratic oversight over local law enforcement. For the first time, the community has a formal voice in overseeing police policy, but the community lacks key data with which to advocate for justice reform.

With Catalyst Grant funding, Faith in Indiana, in partnership with the Polis Center at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, will analyze Marion County Jail data to better understand trends in who is incarcerated in the jail and use those findings to promote jail diversion and decarceration efforts in Indianapolis. In addition, Faith in Indiana and the Polis Center will train grassroots leaders to survey community members about their experiences with law enforcement and the justice system. The grantees will share findings from both activities through interactive dashboards and visualizations during community meetings led by directly impacted leaders and leverage the General Orders Board to spur reform locally.