Site Snapshot: How Five Communities Are Working to Advance Racial Equity

November 13, 2023

Across the U.S., many cities and counties have committed to advancing racial equity in their justice, crisis, and behavioral health systems.  

The CSG Justice Center is highlighting five of these communities: Dane County, Wisconsin; Durham County, North Carolina; Franklin County, Ohio; Mecklenburg County, North Carolina; and St. Louis, Missouri. To understand their progress and their challenges, we will check in with these counties over the course of the next two years. Each of these jurisdictions is both a Stepping Up county and a MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge site. 

We spoke to representatives from these five places about recent efforts to launch racial equity work and how local leaders and key system stakeholders support them.  


How Their Recent Efforts Began 

In 2014, Dane County, Wisconsin, formalized a committee on its Community Justice Council to carry out the work of the previously established Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System. 

Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, received a MacArthur Foundation grant in 2015 through the Safety and Justice Challenge to support its efforts in bail reform, enhanced pretrial services, community engagement, and centering racial equity. 

In 2019, an interdepartmental team in Durham County, North Carolina, participated in a two-day training by the Government Alliance on Racial Equity. That group then became the county’s official Racial Equity Team to identify policies to address racial and ethnic disparities. The City of Durham, North Carolina, released its Racial Equity Task Force Report in 2020, which identified disparities across multiple systems and recommended how to narrow these disparities. 

In 2020, commissioners in Franklin County, Ohio, passed a resolution acknowledging racism as a public health crisis in America. Beginning that year, they also created the county Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to begin to address systemic inequities and disparities throughout the county.  

The Center for Policing Equity conducted an evaluation of St. Louis, Missouri, in 2022, which found that among arrests for mental health-related incidents, the majority of people arrested are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community members.  


Actions Leaders Have Taken 

Leaders in these five communities have demonstrated their commitment to advancing racial equity in a variety of ways. The chart below shows what local leaders have done to show their commitment and the commonalities among the featured counties. 

County Leadership Action  Dane County  Durham County  Franklin County  Mecklenburg County  St. Louis  
Issued or responded to a report of racial disparities  x x x x
Created a racial equity subcommittee, council, or task force  x x x x
Held or instituted racial equity training for county staff  x x x
Created or funded the creation of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion department, office, or position  x x x x
Established or funded justice system alternatives to reduce system inequities  x x x


As these counties have shown, there are multiple ways for local leaders to establish their commitment to racial equity and kick off related initiatives. The next snapshot in this series will take a deeper dive into the projects these counties are working on. 


Photo by Christina @ via Unsplash.

About the author

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Deputy Program Director, Behavioral Health
Mark oversees the delivery of broad-based technical assistance products and tools to assist counties in their Stepping Up efforts. Mark has also provided technical assistance to Second Chance Act and Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program grantees that serve people
with co-occurring substance use disorders and mental illness, and he has coordinated additional projects designed to advance practices at the intersection of the criminal justice and behavioral health. Before joining the CSG Justice Center, Mark worked for the Partnership to End Addiction in New York City where he developed educational tools for state decisionmakers on improving addiction prevention and treatment through health policy. He also worked for Families USA in Washington, DC and for Hunger Free Vermont as part of the Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellowship. Mark earned his BA in political science and sociology from Ohio University and his MPA at Baruch College.
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