NACo: Grants Can Promote Public Safety and Judicial Equity

The National Association of Counties (NACo) recently released a piece entitled, “Grantmaking: A County Strategy to Address Racial And Ethnic Disparities In The Criminal Legal System,” focusing on county investment approaches to promote equity and community engagement in justice and public safety services.

As a primary driver toward equity, NACo advises counties to fund community-led organizations to eliminate “racial and ethnic disparities present in the criminal legal system.” Citing the overrepresentation of Black, Latinx, and Native American residents in correctional facilities, NACo suggests investments in these organizations can bridge “gaps in services and supports to help individuals, families, and communities thrive.” Underpinning the stated goal of NACo’s article are two definitions:

Equity: A process of identifying and eliminating disparities, shifting of power and removing barriers that perpetuate inequity. It is the intentional practice of change to actualize fair treatment, advancement, access and opportunity for all to thrive.

Community: Those impacted by racial and ethnic disparities and harm, and the organizations or agencies that support them.

NACo outlines eight principles that should guide county investment and provides examples of measures supporting said principles:


  • piloting initiatives
  • hosting meetings focused on relationship building
  • setting clear expectations, roles and responsibilities, and
  • partnering with State Administering Agencies (SAAs), neighboring counties and towns, as well as philanthropic entities, to streamline funding and share best practices.


  • requesting only essential paperwork at the application stage
  • providing comprehensive feedback on unsuccessful applications
  • sharing information regarding the availability of advances and/or cost reimbursement timeframes
  • posting a timeline of key decision points, application steps, scoring criteria, and grant monitoring requirements in user-friendly formats to reduce or eliminate surprises, and
  • sharing outcomes of funded projects publicly.


  • utilizing an equity scorecard to prioritize organizations within certain neighborhoods that may receive an outsized benefit from the resources
  • providing an honorarium to residents who serve on application review panels or task forces
  • reserving a seat on the local criminal justice coordinating council for community members/people with lived experience
  • hosting listening sessions in different communities at different times, including weekends, to accommodate work schedules, and
  • offering support services such as transportation or child care during community meetings.


  • offering bias education and training for employees that focus on the narrative and messaging of equity
  • regularly reviewing the funding process
  • soliciting community and staff input through intentional outreach, online forms, and listening sessions
  • sharing resources and lessons learned among stakeholders to leverage existing work, and
  • rightsizing grant requirements to community needs.

Intentional Access & Inclusion

  • providing advance payments and/or quicker payment
  • awarding multi-year funding and/or general operating resources
  • allowing video submissions or meetings in lieu of a formal written proposal
  • requiring only the materials that are necessary during the proposal stage
  • setting realistic timelines for outcome reporting
  • selecting key data points (outputs and outcomes) that are relevant for funders and organizations
  • tailoring metrics to organizational capability and focus
  • offering tiered funding streams so similarly situated organizations apply within a funding bracket
  • scaling programs, and
  • offering grants that are manageable for an organization’s capacity.


  • offering presentations and workshops before application submission and during implementation, as well as one-on-one technical assistance, and pre-decision site visits
  • partnering with an intermediary, and
  • hiring a grants administrator to help disseminate grant opportunities, provide guidance, and secure outside resources.


  • conducting self-assessments
  • seeking community input on the grantmaking process
  • revisiting invoice procedures to ensure prompt payment, and
  • revising reporting requirements.

Joint Accountability

  • meetings to learn how community-led organizations are directing resources
  • learning about the intermediary impacts of the funding, and
  • taking intentional steps to diversify the grantee pool, open application entry points and focus resources on community needs.

Concerning inclusivity, NACo highlights the work of Harford County’s Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP). Through its Community Grant Program, ODCP offers $5,000 to community organizations providing “programs that are new and creative, or… have been effective in helping reduce crime and/or drug abuse in our communities.” The Program prioritizes organizations that may not be eligible for other funding sources.

Harford is one of many Maryland counties investing in community-led organizations to promote public safety and judicial equity. For example, Baltimore County offers grants for public services projects “that address needs of low-income citizens in the area of employment, child care, health, education, substance abuse, and  welfare.” Anne Arundel offers a similar opportunity for organizations that provide services to underserved populations in the county, address the health and well-being of communities, promote equity and inclusion, or eliminate the opportunity gap. In addition, Frederick County’s Community Partnership Grants program provides funding to non-profit organizations targeting community needs – recent awardees include Lead4Life, Inc. for its Juvenile Entry Diversion Initiative (JEDI).

Regardless of the many grant opportunities afforded by Maryland’s counties, NACo’s eight principles offer a path to even greater community participation and overall progress in tackling public safety and judicial disparities.

Read the full NACo piece.