Creating an Intentional Plan for Meaningful Community Engagement in Criminal Justice Reform
June 26th, 2019 - The Milwaukee Community Justice Council (CJC) was created in 2007 to enhance coordination and collaboration amongst local criminal justice system leaders and their respective agencies. At the point of creation, the founding agencies and Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors purposefully name the Council the Community Justice Council, to ensure inclusivity of community and community priorities rather than creating a silo of government without input from its stakeholders.
Authentic, meaningful community engagement is a long-term process, not a one-time event. It requires intentionality, time, trust and relationship-building. Over the course of time, the CJC has created opportunities for diverse perspectives to be shared and heard, and has worked to ensure collaborative, transparent decision-making processes around criminal justice policy and practice; however, improvements can always be made. Recognizing this, the CJC invested a portion of their MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge grant to add a 10-month Public Ally to the staff in September 2018. Through that added staff support, the CJC reengaged a small community engagement working group to create an intentional community engagement vision and examine new ways or opportunities for community members to be involved. Over the past 10 months, the CJC has laid the necessary groundwork to finalize a formal engagement plan in the near future. With a plan that establishes a clear purpose and goals to support community engagement, the CJC anticipates becoming even more effective in involving the public in its priority setting and decision-making processes.
Historically speaking, one of the most visible showings of the CJC’s community engagement strategy has been hosting bi-monthly Community Meetings of the Whole. Originally designed to pull together the Council’s full membership to receive updates from the CJC Executive Committee, the meetings today are significantly larger and much more community-driven than years’ past. Today’s forums are still hosted by the Executive Committee but are largely driven by community input and focused on current initiatives, happenings, and community priorities in our local justice system. The meeting format can range from national speakers presenting research, to community-rooted justice-system efforts, to crime/system trend reports, to tabletop discussions with community members about CJC priority-setting. The CJC has hosted 63 Community Meetings of the Whole since its creation and has seen a significant increase in attendance since those original meetings.
People have a right to participate in decisions about matters that affect them. Similarly, the CJC has a responsibility to develop and deliver effective policies, plans, programs, and services aligned with what communities need and value. Through the efforts of the CJC community engagement working group and the financial support of the MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge, the CJC will be launching numerous efforts this fall and into 2020 that will create a positive impact and engage more community members in local criminal justice reform efforts.