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Safety & Justice Challenge

Buncombe County Government was first selected to join
the Safety and Justice Challenge Network in 2017.


In 2023, Buncombe County was awarded a two-year $1.1 million grant from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of the Safety + Justice Challenge, a national initiative that aims to reduce over-incarceration and eliminate racial inequities in local criminal justice systems. Buncombe County joined the Challenge Network in 2018 when it received an initial award of $1.75 million, followed by a second award of $1.75 million in 2021. This latest grant brings the total investment from The MacArthur Foundation to $4.6 million in Buncombe County. The Challenge Network represents fifty-seven participating cities, counties, and states across the country that are reimagining and rebuilding local justice systems.


By 2018, Buncombe County’s jail population had grown to historically high levels, despite significant efforts at diversion by the county and its partners. The data suggested that the percentage of women in jail would rise so high that by 2020 the jail would be over capacity. The main drivers of the jail population were pretrial detainees and length of stay. Between 2015 and 2018, the pretrial population grew nearly 15%, from just over 300 to 350 people awaiting trial. Detention disrupts people’s lives and negatively impacts families and communities. It leads to higher re-arrest rates and produces worse case outcomes, including future episodes of being jailed. The impact of jail has had a particularly heavy toll on Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color.


Buncombe County has made significant strides since joining the Safety + Justice Challenge. Collaborative initiatives to increase efficiencies and decrease inequities have been implemented between the Sheriff’s Office, Detention Center, Public Defender’s Office, District Attorney’s Office, District Court Judges, the County Clerk’s Office, Justice Services staff, and other court partners. This enhanced collaboration enabled the county to respond quickly during the pandemic, which posed an unprecedented threat to our community. 

Buncombe County kept our community safe by reducing the average monthly jail population by 30% between February 2019 and January 2021, surpassing the original goal of a 15% decrease. During this time, an increased number of people charged with lower-level offenses were released without having to pay bail/bond. Strikingly, these individuals did not have increased recidivism. In 2019, the percentage of people released pretrial who returned to custody for a new charge within 6 months was 23.5%. In 2020 it was 21.4%.

Though the jail population decreased as a response to Covid, it has since been slowly rising and racial inequities in the system persist. In fact, since 2020, there has been an increase in the overrepresentation of the Black population in jail. The percentage of Black population in Buncombe County is 6%. For September 2023, the average daily Black population in the Buncombe County Detention Center was 31.2%. 

These challenges reinforce the importance of Buncombe County’s commitment to reaching our goals of the Safety & Justice Challenge to decrease our local jail population and eliminate racial inequities in the system. 


  • Enhanced coordination and collaboration between justice system partners.
  • Dedicated Racial Equity Workgroup and an Equity and Inclusion Specialist guides work to eliminate disparities and advance racial equity across the justice system.
  • Focused Case Processing Workgroup and Jail Review Team aim to increase efficiencies in case processing to keep jail stays to a minimum.
  • Community-led Community Engagement Workgroup provides listening sessions and outreach within neighborhoods across Buncombe County.
  • A Court Navigator helps people navigate the courthouse and access services.
  • Implemented sign-ups for Buncombe County-specific Court Reminder System developed by Code with Asheville to reduce arrests for failure to appear in court.
  • Increased provision of driver’s license restoration and expungement services.
  • Sophisticated data collection and analysis enables data-driven decision making and comprehension of our local jail population.
  • Community safety and anti-violence work helps keep communities safe from gun violence by providing education, activities, and services to support young people.
  • Sponsored report by the Vera Institute of Justice on women jailed in Buncombe County [Read report here].
  • Assistant District Attorney (ADA) and Assistant Public Defender (APD) positions were added to help efforts to reduce the pretrial jail population. Both positions regularly participate in the Jail Review Team that was created to address bond hearings and case depositions. The APD has helped expand access to defense counsel at first appearance.
  • The Public Safety Assessment (PSA) was implemented to provide judges with an impartial, evidence-based risk assessment to consider, in addition to other data used, to better inform their pretrial decision-making process.
  • Pretrial Screener Positions were added to assist in the implementation of the PSA.
  • Increased Behavioral Health and Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Diversion Services staff available in the detention center.
  • Familiar Faces Task Force was created to help reduce recidivism and improve quality of care for individuals who frequently cycle through the jail.


Goals & Strategies

We are focusing on three strategies to attain goals of reducing the jail population and eliminating racial disparities within the local criminal justice system:

Rethink Jails

Locate & Contact

Justice Resource Advisory Council


Lisa Sousa
Grants Manager
200 College Street, Ground Floor
Asheville, NC 28801
P. (828) 250-6556

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