New Funding from the Kenan Charitable Trust Supports Criminal Justice Innovation Lab’s Work

Seven people stand next to large columns in front of the School of Government building. They are wearing business clothes and smiling.

The UNC School of Government Criminal Justice Innovation Lab (the Lab) has received $250,000 in new funding from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust.

“The William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust is honored to support the work of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Criminal Justice Innovation Lab,” said Dr. Nancy Cable, Executive Director of the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust. “Under the leadership of Professor Jessie Smith, the Lab will provide useful data and innovative solutions that will benefit the entire state of North Carolina.”

The grant will support two Lab projects. First, it will fund the second phase of the Lab’s Alternative Responder Project. In that project’s first phase, the Lab partnered with the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police (NCACP) to learn about alternative responses to crisis calls and their potential to promote public safety, use law enforcement resources more effectively, connect people with services, and reduce reliance on the criminal system to address issues like homelessness and mental health crises. In the new phase of the project, again in partnership with the NCACP, the Lab will empirically evaluate the impact of one or more alternative responder programs. The Lab will examine program resourcing, services provided, and outcomes to provide a synthesized assessment of community return on investment. Results will help jurisdictions understand the resources needed to establish an alternative response program and what its impact may be.

The new funding also will support expansion of the Lab’s innovative Measuring Justice Dashboard, providing policymakers with data visualizations on key criminal justice metrics needed to support a fair and effective system. The Lab created the Dashboard in response to repeated stakeholder requests for clear, accessible data about the system. The Dashboard provides visualizations on key metrics, from criminal charging to citation and warrantless arrest rates to pretrial criminal activity rates. Visualizations are available at the state level and for all 100 North Carolina counties, across multiple years. Dashboard metrics are debunking myths and clarifying misconceptions about the system. For example, a core criminal charging visualization shows—in a single image—that most system charges are for non-violent, low-level crimes—not serious, violent offenses as many expect. Funding will support expansion of the Dashboard with new metrics and updated data.

“We are honored to receive this support from the Kenan Charitable Trust. We are excited to expand our work supporting stakeholders in the policing and responding space and our capacity to provide critical data to inform policy,” said Jessica Smith, William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Government and the Lab’s Director. “The Kenan Charitable Trust has done so much for the University and North Carolina. We’re thrilled that they see value in our work.”

The Lab seeks to promote a fair and effective criminal justice system, public safety, and economic prosperity through an evidence-based approach to criminal justice policy. For more information about the Lab, visit its website.