As the demand for criminal justice reform grows over time, local governments find themselves on the frontlines of these efforts. In response, the state and federal governments are investing historic amounts of discretionary funding into programs that facilitate the adoption of evidence-based practices and the development of new promising practices in the criminal justice space.

In California, grant funding opportunities in the criminal justice space have been supercharged in recent years by Proposition 47, which calculates funds saved from reduced prison populations and distributes them to local government agencies via a competitive grant program, and various budget appropriations by the legislature. At the federal level, the First Step Act of 2018 provided significant investments in criminal justice reform efforts that also take the form of competitive grant programs, building upon the Second Chance Act of 2007.

These various programs and funding sources all share a common theme, emphasizing efforts to reduce recidivism rates and improve justice system outcomes. The intersection between criminal justice and grant writing, therefore, becomes an integral piece of the reform puzzle.

Embracing Recidivism Reduction as a Collaborative Goal

Currently, our criminal justice system is undergoing a paradigm shift that discards a traditionally reactive philosophy and embraces new, proactive approaches to public safety. At the core of this paradigm shift is a transition in success indicators. Whereas historically the number of arrests and conviction rates were viewed as the universal measurements of success, this emerging approach instead refocuses on recidivism reduction as the goal of public safety.

Recidivism reduction can serve as a unifying goal for stakeholders throughout the criminal justice system. For prosecutors, recidivism reduction promotes public safety by reducing the prevalence of crime. Reducing crime in communities also supports a reduction in victimization. Efforts that provide for the sustainable rehabilitation of lower-level offenders also benefits police agencies, allowing for the police to focus efforts on addressing violent crime. Public defenders, meanwhile, can view recidivism reduction as an effort to control caseloads and support the long-term individual success of their clients. One crucial component of this realignment is the inclusion and consideration of social service providers as core stakeholders in the broader criminal justice system. In doing so, we shift the underlying goal of criminal justice interventions. The delivery of punitive measures through the court system is replaced with a collaborative, multi-disciplinary effort that addresses the individual’s underlying risk factors which cause criminal behaviors.

This is known as the risk-need-responsivity (RNR) model, a widely recognized evidence-based approach. Under this model, interventions are tailored to the individual’s needs and level of risk. Law enforcement and social service agencies utilize an objective, validated risk assessment tool as part of the intake process to identify risk factors. Research shows, for example, that applying a high-level intervention to a low-risk offender can increase the long-term risk level of that individual. Likewise, applying a low-level intervention to a high-risk offender will not have a significant impact. Implementing the RNR model at a systems-wide scale requires the development of a continuum of interventions. To accomplish this goal, traditionally siloed justice system stakeholders must work collaboratively.

The Role of Grant-Seeking

Funding opportunities at the state and federal level increasingly prioritize the implementation of recidivism reduction strategies that follow evidence-based practices. The effectiveness of these interventions are measured by data collection and program evaluation, contributing to a growing body of evidence-based and promising practices.

Adopting recidivism reduction as the goal of criminal justice interventions allows traditionally adversarial forces, such as prosecutors and public defenders, to find common ground and jointly contribute to successful initiatives. These collaborations are the key to competing for state and federal funding. Bringing together prosecutors, public defenders, police departments, probation and parole agencies, and social service providers. In the same way that pursuing recidivism reduction can be a unifying force, so can the pursuit of grant opportunities that support mutually beneficial initiatives.

Grant funding opportunities in the criminal justice field are highly competitive with a limited number of awards made each fiscal year, requiring applicants to submit well-designed, thoroughly vetted proposals. However, these grant programs provide opportunities for justice system stakeholders to go beyond typical budgetary restraints and collaborate to pilot and jump-start new approaches to interventions and service delivery. In many ways, these grant programs are intended to serve catalysts for criminal justice reform.

Federal Funding Opportunities

Criminal justice funding at the federal level is typically managed by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) or the Office of Juvenile Justice Program (OJJP), divisions of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program: The JMHC program provides funding for initiatives that increase cooperative efforts between justice officials and mental health service practitioners. Examples of eligible projects include establishing or expanding mental health specialty court programs (or other court-based approaches), operating and enhancing mental health drop-off crisis stabilization treatment centers, embedding mental health professionals within police agencies to support effective first-responses, and providing cross-system training to enhance responses to individuals with mental illnesses or co-occurring disorders.

Adult Drug Court and Veterans Treatment Court Program: Grants are available from BJA to jurisdictions with an operational adult drug court or jurisdictions that are ready to fully implement an adult drug court. Funding may be used to launch a new drug court program, expand an existing program’s capacity, enhance treatment capacity, and improve the quality and/or intensity of services based on needs assessments. Eligible programs must incorporate the 10 Key Components for Drug Courts established by BJA in collaboration with the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. Proposals for veterans treatment courts must support an existing program and cannot be used to establish a new VTC.

Justice Reinvestment Initiative: Funding from the Justice Reinvestment Initiative supports a variety of different projects designed to improve justice system performance. Examples include projects that improve or implement risk-informed pretrial systems, develop and build data-sharing tools (such as arrest alert systems) that break down data-sharing silos, or review court processing data and policies to improve docket management. Funded projects must provide a final report summarizing the changes made and the preliminary outcomes to build the base of evidence for different new types of reform initiatives.

Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program: The BCJI Program invests in jurisdictions with significant crime challenges, incorporating the four elements of an evidence-based crime reduction model. This model includes implementing a place-based strategy, supporting community engagement to sustain crime prevention and revitalization efforts, data-driven efforts to problem solve and guide program strategy, and building partnerships and capacity to promote sustainable collaboration that reduces and prevents crime in identified hotspots.

Smart Policing Initiative: The Smart Policing Initiative provides funding that enables police agencies to effectively use evidence-based practices, data, and technology. Under this funding solicitation, BJA seeks proposals that advance the state of policing practice, enhance accountability, foster effective and consistent collaborations to increase public safety, and enable the policing field to use technology, intelligence, and data in innovative ways.

Innovative Prosecution Solutions Initiative: The IPS Initiative provides, state, local, and tribal prosecutors with funding to help reduce crime and increase public safety. This funding opportunity has a significant level of flexibility. Eligible uses include testing, establishing, and/or expending programming that enhances prosecutors’ ability to effectively prevent and respond to crime; foster effective, formalized, and consistent collaborations with external agencies and communities to increase public safety; use technology, intelligence, and data in innovative ways to focus resources on addressing crime-drivers; updating information technology systems; and hiring analytical or support staff to support office modernization.

Innovations in Supervision: The goal of the Innovations in Supervision Initiative is to develop, implement, and/or test strategies to improve the capacity and effectiveness of probation and parole agencies to increase success rates and reduce the rate of recidivism. Funding supports programs that focus resources on individuals at high risk or recidivating and at higher risk of committing violence, implement effective community supervision practices, develop and deploy continuous quality improvement plans, test innovative tools to predict violent recidivism, and promote increased collaboration between corrections, pretrial, law enforcement, treatment, and reentry stakeholders.

Swift, Certain, and Fair Supervision Program: The federal SCF program funds implementation of the Project HOPE model for community corrections agencies, based on the Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement program. Funds are utilized to implement the core principles of Project HOPE. This model requires prompt responses to behaviors to establish a firm connection between the behavior and the response (swiftness), ensures that sanctions and rewards are applied with consistency and predictability (certainty), and delivers sanctions and rewards that are proportionate to the negative or positive behavior (fairness).

Community-Based Reentry Program: Part of the larger suite of initiatives funded by the Second Chance Act of 2007, this program supports the creation and enhancement of programs that provide comprehensive case management services that assist in the reintegration of individuals into their respective communities after serving a period of incarceration. Successful applicants must establish partnerships that provide prelease access to conduct screening, assessment, and planning. This funding is only available to nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations (excluding institutions of higher education), federally recognized Native American tribal governments, or tribal for-profit organizations.

Justice Assistance Grant (Formula): The Edward Byrne JAG program takes two forms, a formula allocation made by BJA and a competitive funding program managed by states. The formula funding can be used to hire personnel and/or purchase equipment, supplies, contractual support, training, technical assistance, and information systems to support justice system delivery. The JAG program areas include law enforcement programs, prosecution and court programs, prevention and education programs, corrections and community corrections programs, drug treatment and enforcement programs, planning and evaluation activities, technology improvement programs, crime victim and witness programs, and mental health programs (including behavioral programs and crisis intervention teams).

State Funding Opportunities

In California, criminal justice funding opportunities are managed by the Bureau of State and Community Corrections (BSCC).

Proposition 47 Grant Funding: This grant program provides funding for mental health services, substance use disorder treatment, diversion programs for the justice-involved population, or combinations thereof. Priority is given to projects that provide housing-related support, implement a case management service model, promote a regional approach, consider restorative justice practices, use trauma-informed practices, leverage existing resources, and provide other community-based supportive services (such as civil legal services and job skills training). The ability to develop proposals that combine these broader subject areas allows for a significant amount of flexibility in terms of program design. A minimum of 50% of the grant award must be passed through to community-based organizations. Eligible participants for grant-funded programs include adults and/or juveniles who have been arrested, charged with, or convicted of a criminal offense and have a history of mental health issues or substance use disorders.

Justice Assistance Grant (Competitive): The Edward Byrne JAG program is the largest single funding source nation-wide for criminal justice grants. Competitive solicitations are managed by each state’s designated agency. Each county must identify one county agency to serve as the applicant agency, and each county may submit only one proposal. Priority areas of need for California’s most recent funding cycle included gang prevention initiatives, gang violence reduction, substance abuse prevention and education, school violence prevention, juvenile delinquency prevention, violent crime reduction initiatives, drug trafficking enforcement, gun violence reduction, problem solving courts (e.g. mental health, veterans, drug, reentry), gun/gang prosecution, violent crime prosecution and defense, court-based restorative justice initiatives, and innovations in indigent defense. This wide-ranging swath of potential uses make the JAG program funds extremely flexible. Although JAG funds are available for more traditional uses, they can also be deployed to support innovative projects that support broader reform efforts.

Youth Reinvestment Grant: The YRG program provides funding to divert youth from initial or subsequent contact with the juvenile justice system using approaches that are evidence-based, culturally relevant, trauma-informed, and developmentally appropriate. Examples of eligible projects include establishing or enhancing pre-arrest diversion programs, community-based referral programs, and pre-/post-filing restorative justice diversion programs. All YRG grantees must pass through at least 90% of their grant award to nonprofit organizations.

Adult Reentry Grant: The ARG program provides funding for community-based organizations to deliver reentry services for people formerly incarcerated in state prison. Programs are required to adopt Housing First policies as part of the service delivery model. Examples of potential program components include reach-in services, case management services, housing navigation, transportation, food, emergency services, employment assistance/vocational training, social services, behavioral health care, mentorship programs, transitional services, system navigation, and 24-hour crisis response.

Case Study: Yolo County’s Criminal Justice Grant Writing Team

In the Spring of 2018, the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office decided to take a more aggressive stance in seeking competitive grant funding. The District Attorney’s Office had recently sent several members of its staff through a professional grant writing training to build internal capacity. Criminal justice stakeholders in Yolo County had previously collaborated to receive funding from the Proposition 47 Grant Program first cohort, supporting a diversion program called Steps to Success (S2S) that focused on individuals with mental health and/or substance use disorders. The diversion component was modeled after the Yolo County District Attorney’s Neighborhood Court (NHC), an adult restorative justice diversion program that utilizes a facilitated conference format. NHC itself received a competitive JAG award in 2015.

One of the top priorities for the County Administrator’s Office was securing funding to support adult reentry programming, a significant service gap identified in Yolo County’s systems mapping initiative. Although this is something that one might traditionally view as “outside” of the District Attorney’s scope of work, the office decided to assign personnel to work on a collaborative proposal for the Second Chance Act Community-Based Reentry Program. Because local government agencies were ineligible to apply for this funding directly, staff members from the DA’s office ended up serving as ghost-writers to support an application from a local community-based organization.

These initial efforts resulted in the creation of the Criminal Justice Grant Writing Team (CJGWT), which was staffed by personnel from the District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Probation Department, Health and Human Services Agency, and County Administrator’s Office. The CJGWT submitted three applications during the first “wave,” which included the Community-Based Reentry Program, the Swift, Certain, and Fair Supervision Program, and the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program. This initial blitz resulted in Yolo County Probation Department securing funding to implement the Project HOPE model with the support of an SCF grant award. Unfortunately, the other two applications were unsuccessful. But the collaborative grant writing model showed promise all the same.

Building on this positive momentum, the CJGWT began meeting monthly to review and discuss upcoming grant funding opportunities at the state and federal levels—diligently preparing for the 2019-2020 fiscal cycle. During this period, the CJGWT was brought under the purview of Yolo County’s Community Corrections Partnership (CCP). The focus of the group expanded beyond its initial charge of securing funding for reentry programming, pursuing any and every opportunity to bring in additional resources to support Yolo County’s criminal justice system.

Yolo County’s CJGWT secured a grant award from the BJA’s Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program to expand an existing Mental Health Court program, a second attempt that incorporated feedback from the federal government to strengthen the original unsuccessful application. Yolo County was then awarded funding from BSCC’s Youth Reinvestment Grant program to establish a new juvenile restorative justice diversion program, which was coauthored by staff assigned by the District Attorney and Public Defender. Another grant award came from the Department of State Hospitals, further expanding Yolo County’s Mental Health Court to provide treatment for individuals deemed incompetent to stand trial. An award from the Community Services Infrastructure Program funded the acquisition of two houses by the county that would serve as transitional housing to support individuals enrolled in the existing diversion and specialty court programs. The CJGWT also supported a successful ghost-writing effort on behalf of a local homeless shelter, working with them to secure a large Transitional Housing (XH) Program award from CalOES.

The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office also secured a second round of JAG funding to expand its successful Neighborhood Court program (now known as the Restorative Justice Partnership), building upon the increased levels of collaboration among the county’s criminal justice stakeholders to design interventions with the goal of serving higher-risk populations. Simultaneously, the CJGWT pursued a second award from the Proposition 47 funds to further expand the county’s diversion infrastructure and came extremely close to succeeding in another highly competitive funding cycle.

The CJGWT’s efforts transformed the criminal justice system in Yolo County with a large infusion of outside funding, supporting new/expanded programming and service capacity. The total dollar amount of funding secured by this initiative clocked in at $7.65 million, with grant applications submitted over a period of two fiscal years.

If you would like to discuss potential funding opportunities further with a professional grant writer, please feel free to reach out to RPPG at (916) 974-9270 or contact the Manager of Grant Writing and Research directly via email at

Jake Whitaker is the Manager of Grant Writing and Research for Renne Public Policy Group. Partnering with dozens of cities, counties, community college districts, school districts, and nonprofits Jake has helped secure millions in state and federal resources. These include awards from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the Board of State and Community Corrections, the Economic Development Administration, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the California Community Foundation.