Funding Opportunity: Rural Jails Research & Policy Network

The Vera Institute of Justice, with support from Arnold Ventures, is pleased to solicit proposals from U.S.-based universities to participate in a new Rural Jails Research and Policy Network.

Local jail populations in rural jurisdictions across America have grown dramatically over the past 45 years, both in absolute numbers and as a driver of mass incarceration nationally. Data that would shed light on the source of this growth, however, are limited and research rarely focuses on rural justice systems. Further, their small size, large number and geographic dispersal make rural places hard to reach and hard to engage in national justice reform initiatives. To address this problem, Vera will establish a pilot Rural Jails Research and Policy Network through the creation, in two states, of Rural Jails Research and Policy Hubs. Vera will support the work of the Hubs from approximately November 2019 until January 2021.

Important Links

Full Request for Proposals

Project Timeline and Deliverables

Frequently Asked Questions

Budget Template

Outreach Guide

The Project

The Rural Jails Research and Policy Network will be comprised of two Hubs, based in universities with graduate programs. Once selected, each university Hub site will partner with approximately 5-10 rural counties in the state who will commit to providing data on their jails, attending trainings at the university Hub site, and engaging in discussions regarding their local practices. Vera will provide training and guidance to the university Hub site staff on criminal justice policy and conducting research with jail data, serve as faculty for the trainings for the counties, and facilitate outreach to state policymakers to bring the research findings into the policy arena. At the end of the project period, Vera will organize a national convening to amplify the findings to a national audience. If successful, this pilot can be replicated in other states, using the curricula and templates developed, and will ultimately build a national network of experts on rural jail issues, rural reform leaders, and researchers.

Over the course of the project, each university Hub site will be expected to:

  • build a knowledge base about the causes of incarceration in local rural areas that can be used to inform state and national policymakers and drive reform;
  • build capacity in local rural jurisdictions to make data-driven policy decisions about their jails and justice systems and to implement evidence-based practices; and
  • demonstrate and catalyze an approach to data-driven policy reforms in rural justice systems that could be scaled up in other rural parts of the United States.

The Grant

Vera will award up to $200,000 to support each university Hub site’s work as part of the Rural Jails Research and Policy Network. The project work will span a period of approximately 15 months: From November 2019 until January 2021.

The Application

To be considered for participation as a Rural Jails Research and Policy Hub site, applicants will be required to submit the following. Additional details are included in the submissions form.

  • 3-6 page Application Narrative
  • Completed Budget Spreadsheet
  • At least three letters of support signed by stakeholders (e.g. jail administrator, Sheriff, member of County Board of Supervisors, etc.) from nearby rural jurisdictions, indicating their support of the project goals, willingness to provide access to jails and relevant data, and openness to participating in round-table discussions on conclusions drawn from the data. Vera will also consider letters of intent from local advocacy groups in rural areas that pledge support of this project and describe how they will assist in ensuring its success.
  • Bios of proposed university Hub site staff members

Vera hosted a webinar on July 8, 2019 to answer questions about the project and application process. To request a copy of the webinar recording, please email ruraljails@vera.org.

All questions should be directed to ruraljails@vera.org.

    

Important Links

Full Request for Proposals

Project Timeline and Deliverables

Frequently Asked Questions

Budget Spreadsheet Template

Outreach Guide

Overview of Project

Forming the Rural Jails Research and Policy Hubs

The university Hub sites will be located at a university or affiliated research institution. There will be two Hub sites for the pilot project, likely in different regions; they will apply separately. Each Hub site will partner with approximately 5-10 rural jurisdictions in the state where the university is located. These jurisdictions will commit to providing data on their jails and justice systems, and to attending trainings at the Hub site. The university Hub site may also partner with other relevant organizations and actors, such as state or municipal institutions, NGOs, advocacy organizations, community groups (particularly those involving people with lived experience of the justice system), private sector entities, or others. Each university Hub site will work to define the key problems in the rural jurisdictions, identify and secure relevant data, build relationships with relevant actors, analyze data and generate recommendations, and disseminate findings to legislators and officials. Vera will provide support and coordination for all these activities.

Part One: Trainings

Vera will provide training and guidance to the university Hub sites on criminal justice policy issues, conducting research with jail data, and on other issues, methods, and strategies as needed. Vera will also provide separate training for the participating rural jurisdictions as the university Hub sites begin to collect and analyze local data. As part of this training, Vera will facilitate roundtable discussions to engage the university Hub sites and local stakeholders in conversations aimed at understanding local data and examining possible solutions. Vera staff may serve as faculty for the training for the participating jurisdictions, but they may also be led by local or other experts. The focus and content of all sets of trainings will depend on the needs and priorities of the local region and the existing capacity of the Hub university and participating rural jurisdictions. 

Part Two: Data Collection and Analysis

The university Hub sites will obtain administrative data on the local jail population and other relevant local criminal justice system data from the participating rural jurisdictions. There may also be opportunities to do additional qualitative data collection and research with participating rural jurisdictions (e.g., court watching, interviews with other stakeholders or people who have lived experienced with the local justice system), and the university Hub site is encouraged to explore this further. The university Hub site, with support from Vera, will negotiate data-sharing agreements and research ethics approvals, collect, clean, and analyze data, and share findings. Vera expects that the most pressing questions will relate to pathways into jail (such as pretrial detention and sentencing decisions), trends and experiences in jail detention, and pathways out of jail (such as alternatives to detention and early release). Other local factors, such as economic concerns, crime patterns, agreements on facility use with other jurisdictions, particular populations (e.g. women, Native Americans, migrants), among others, may also be relevant. 

Part Three: Research in Action 

Based on the conclusions drawn in each rural jurisdiction, the university Hub sites will translate findings into ideas for local and state policymakers (e.g., legislative proposals, resource allocation, policy proposals, public communication). Vera will provide support and training on all aspects of developing and disseminating findings and engaging policy actors.

National Convening 

At the end of the project period, in January 2021, Vera will organize a national convening to amplify the project findings to a national audience. If successful, jurisdictions in other states can replicate this pilot, using the curricula and templates developed. This project will ultimately build a national network of experts on rural jail issues, rural justice reform leaders, and researchers. To ensure the sustainability of the project goals, Vera will provide support to the university Hub sites and local jurisdictions in exploring outside sources for continued funding for research and/or policy initiatives at the end of the project period.

Who Can Apply

The principal applicant must be a university-based research program or institution with significant research capacity.  This can be any of the following:

  • A university or college, preferably with graduate programs
  • A research center housed within a university
  • A department or faculty member within a university
  • A team of faculty members or researchers affiliated with a university

We encourage applications from institutions that have not previously received external research funding above $50,000, and from departments or disciplines that are not explicitly tied to crime or justice issues.

The applicant institution/program/faculty must be engaged or interested in issues affecting nearby rural counties. The applicant may have expertise in justice issues (e.g., law or criminal justice programs) but this is not mandatory; we also welcome applicants with expertise in other issues affecting local rural areas combined with the capacity to learn about justice issues and data (e.g., rural studies, public policy programs). Institutions must apply to work in only one state.

The applicant institution/program/faculty must have the capacity to build partnerships – for coordination, data, and policy work – with local government entities relevant to jail and criminal justice. These may include county commissioners or leaders, social services agencies, sheriffs, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, courts, community supervision services, health providers, educators, etc. While we expect there will also be partnerships with non-governmental entities (see below), the government partnerships are mandatory.

Application Components 

The application consists of the following components. Each of these components is described in greater detail in the application form below.

1.  Application Narrative

2.  Budget Spreadsheet

3.  Letters of Support

4.  Bios of Proposed Staff 

Selection Process

Application Scoring: Vera will review and score all of the proposals. Applications will be scored based on the following criteria:

  • Commitment to addressing local criminal justice issues and challenges (such as jail overcrowding, use of money bail, practices driving over-incarceration) in ways that are data-driven and equitable
  • Commitment to learn and/or ability to conduct clear, data-based analysis of factors that shape jail incarceration trends in rural jurisdictions
  • Institutional capacity to conduct data collection, analysis, and dissemination of findings (faculty with relevant expertise, availability of graduate students, existing relevant institutional work, capacity to offer space for trainings, mixed methods research capacity)
  • Demonstrated support from rural jurisdictions to participate in the project and to share relevant data/access to institutions, and/or from local non-governmental organizations who work with people affected by the criminal justice system (strongly encouraged)

Finalist Interviews: Vera will conduct phone calls and site visits with finalists before making final decisions.

Key dates

July 1, 2019:  Application period formally opens

July 8, 2019, 1:00 - 2:00 p.m. EDT:  Webinar to address questions about the application process. Please email ruraljails@vera.org if you would like to receive a recording.

August 9, 2019, 11:59 p.m. EDT:  Deadline for submission of proposals

September 2019:  Phone interviews and site visits with finalists

October 2019:  Anticipated signing of contracts with selected Hub sites


Rural Jails Research & Policy Network