Rethinking How We Define Public Safety and Justice

Justice Innovation Lab
3 min readFeb 28, 2024
JIL Founder and Executive Director Jared Fishman speaking to 100 prosecutors from the Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office in Memphis, TN.

As recent surveys have shown, large swaths of America have no or very little confidence in the current criminal legal system. Communities across the country are struggling to address concerns over both public safety and just law enforcement. While it is easy to point fingers, it is often difficult to build consensus around how to fix what is broken.

At Justice Innovation Lab, we believe there is a more effective way to build safe and equitable communities. JIL helps communities use data and systems-thinking to set public safety priorities around community needs and values.

In 2023, Justice Innovation Lab partnered with the Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office to help their office operate more efficiently, fairly, and effectively. This past November, JIL staff convened over 100 prosecutors and community members in Memphis for a four-day workshop to discuss challenges facing their community.

As District Attorney Steve Mulroy stated at the outset of our workshop, “If you want to improve something, measure it… In the past we have been using data, but imperfectly and incompletely, and we need to do a much better job, which is why I’ve embarked us on this cooperation, this partnership with JIL.”

Prosecutors offices — often filled with lawyers who hate math — can be resistant to using data to improve their outcomes. But as we explain to our participants, “data = counting,” and what is most important is that communities “count the right things,” and that they do it with reliable information.

In Shelby County, prosecutors and community members wanted to count the things that mattered most to them. Are the needs of victims being served? Are prosecutorial decisions making the community safer? Are limited government resources being used effectively?

After learning new skills — such as systems-thinking, statistics, and human-centered design, prosecutors worked in teams with community representatives to imagine solutions to problems they have identified. One team focused on how to better serve victims. Another team focused on more efficiently resolving cases. A third team focused on developing alternatives to better address mental health and addiction challenges.

As one prosecutor noted after the training: “I’ve worked at the District Attorney’s office for 40 years, actually breaking out and talking to defendants has never happened before in this office. It’s wonderful to have that happening, because it has opened my eyes so much.”

One participating community member agreed, “If we can start taking the data and information and start applying it to some of the solutions, I think we’re on the edge of really what could be a revolution in the way we look at the justice system.”

The actionable, common-sense solutions developed through the workshop are now being implemented. JIL will continue to help the office measure results, identify where policies are working as intended, and where improvements can be made.

As the Shelby County workshop demonstrated, public safety and fairness are not mutually exclusive. To the contrary, JIL knows how focusing on fairness and effective problem solving can improve community trust and make communities safer.

JIL is grateful for the support of Arnold Ventures, Microsoft, The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and Stand Together Trust, who enabled this workshop to take place.

View a highlight video from the JIL training in Memphis here.

By: Jared Fishman, Justice Innovation Lab Founder and Executive Director

For more information about Justice Innovation Lab, visit www.JusticeInnovationLab.org.

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Justice Innovation Lab

Justice Innovation Lab builds data-informed, community-rooted solutions for a more equitable, effective, and fair justice system.