Due to the fragmented nature of local criminal legal systems, decarceration efforts will be most effective when people from multiple parts of the system and community are working together for change. Although the process for establishing collaborations and partnerships will vary based on your specific goal, your own role in the community, and the politics of your jurisdiction, taking one or more of the following steps will give others the opportunity to engage with your work.

  • Identify others in the community who are already engaged in decarceration work. At the outset of your work, reach out to others in the community and learn who is already working on these issues locally—even if “jail” or “criminal justice” isn’t explicitly in their description. Who are the key experts, leaders, or organizers working in the space? Share your motivations for learning more about the limitations of the local system and pushing for policy changes and ask how you can support their work. Identify shared priorities and offer opportunities for alignment or collaboration. Take special care to ensure that you are reaching community members who have personally been impacted by the local system.
  • Commit to sharing what you learn. Make clear from the beginning that you will share any data analysis and policy conclusions that come out of your process with other interested people or agencies within your jurisdiction. Presenting your work as a potential resource for other system actors can help negate any skepticism that might arise out of concerns related to funding or efficacy of alternatives.
  • Identify local champions for change. Especially in places where some system actors may be politically opposed to reforms, it is helpful to have a motivating change agent driving the process who possesses both political capital and the ability to unify other stakeholders under a common purpose. Champions might be system actors such as a prosecutor who was recently elected on a reform platform, a sympathetic judge, a passionate community leader, or a well-connected philanthropist.
  • Seek out missing perspectives. Prioritize obtaining perspectives that may be different from yours. Not only will doing so make collaboration more likely, it will also help you identify potential concerns that you may need to be sensitive to as you form policy proposals.
  • Convene a working group or coalition if there isn’t one already. Communities that convene an engaged group of diverse system actors and community members under a well-defined and documented shared vision are better positioned to successfully implement meaningful and lasting change. When political tensions arise, the group can refer back to their shared commitment to reducing the jail population. There is also power in numbers; working as a coalition can generate pressure and motivation to overcome challenges and continue working for change. Invite other system actors, impacted people, community advocates, journalists, local researchers or academics, service providers, and local government representatives—the more participation, the better. Create shared goals and clear benchmarks for change.