Collaborating to break the cycle of incarceration

Name: Alma Castro

Title: Justice Lab Project Manager

City: Long Beach, Calif.

When you see the name “Justice Lab,” you might think superheroes are at work in Long Beach. And you wouldn’t be wrong. Launched earlier this year as a collaboration — between the city’s i-team, its police, fire, and health departments, the city prosecutor’s office, and a community group — the Lab is undertaking the heroic work of breaking the cycle of incarceration for residents who frequently come into contact with the criminal justice system.

“We see the same people cycle through our public safety services, most of the time for low-level offenses,” Mayor Robert Garcia said earlier this year. “The Justice Lab will use a data-driven approach to re-design how we work together to better serve these community members.”

Alma Castro, who runs the lab out of the police department, described her work as a chance “to disrupt the criminal justice system.” That starts by sharing data between departments. “We needed to work as a team beyond just coming to the table to chat,” she said. “Combining all of these datasets helped us learn a lot more and identify new areas of opportunity that we didn’t know about before.”

The Lab’s newest intervention identifies repeat offenders and, with their consent, empowers team or department members to coordinate social services on their behalf. They recently helped one client stay in stable housing by eliminating three bench warrants that would have compromised his rental voucher. “Caseworkers may not know about things like bench warrants on their client’s records,” Castro said. “But because we are sharing data, we see it and we can do something proactive about it.”

“Don’t underestimate the value of starting small.”

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