Criminal Law and Justice

The Aspen Justice and Governance Partnership: Initial Lessons from the Field

November 6, 2023  • Equal Measure

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The Aspen Institute’s Criminal Justice Reform Initiative is happy to share The Aspen Justice and Governance Partnership: Initial Lessons from the Field, a new report on progress in our inaugural program, the Justice and Governance Partnership (JGP), from independent evaluators, Equal Measure, with key findings from the first 18 months of JGP.

JGP seeks to reimagine and transform the justice ecosystem within mid-size and micropolitan/rural regions. But rather than focus solely on the criminal justice system, JGP activates and moves within a broader, local ecosystem of justice and public safety in conjunction with other local sectors such as healthcare, education, and housing, all to build sustainable collaborative support of local policies that can improve neighborhood-level outcomes. In 2022, JGP launched a planning phase in Grand Rapids, MI, and our evaluation partners, Equal Measure, have followed this initiative’s progress and results, through its initial phases.

The report focuses on movement towards JGP’s project goals, which are essential to transforming justice:

  • Creating new dispositions toward community-wide collaboration, racial equity, and pluralistic ways of knowing,
  • Creating new practices related to neighborhood-level data and collective governance,
  • Creating new discretionary policies and utilizing braided social purpose budgeting.

Towards these ends, it’s been a busy time for JGP and in Grand Rapids these last 18 month, and key lessons learned in Grand Rapids include:

  • A trusted and adaptive intermediary organization is necessary to support the complexity of hyperlocal criminal justice reform initiatives.
  • Establishing and maintaining a healthy balance between “top-down” and “community-up” design in JGP requires close attention to power dynamics and context, and continuous conversation.
  • The work of developing a representative justice collaborative with a shared vision in JGP is dynamic, recursive, and time-intensive; it is a productive forcing mechanism to promote common purpose and to uncover both challenges and opportunities.

Much more on each of these findings, and much more about how the work has happened in Grand Rapids, can be found in Equal Measure’s detailed report.

Read more in the Executive Summary, or the full report.