Chicago Community-Based Needs Assessment

Project Funded by The Joyce Foundation

This project, Reimagining Public Safety: Community Listening Sessions with Black Community and Black Defenders, introduces a model for public defenders to work in partnership with grassroots organizations to ask the most directly impacted Black communities “What does safety mean to you?”. In this two-year project, the Center for Justice Research (CJR) has partnered with the Black Public Defender Association (BPDA) and grassroots organizations to plan, document, and execute a pilot “public safety” needs assessment project in Chicago, IL using community-based participatory research (CPBR) methods to gather expressed and felt needs, perceptions of causes and solutions, and insights critical to the future of public and community safety.


Project Goals

Over the next two years, CJR is shaping the discussion on public safety through the Reimagining Public Safety project by centering the perspectives of Black defenders and Black communities to define “public safety” from a Black perspective.The Reimagining Public Safety project has three overarching goals:

Designing and piloting a model for expanding public defenders’ engagement with their surrounding community.
Public defenders are attorneys and other professionals who work in public defense offices, policy organizations, immigration, family defense, civil legal aid organizations, and academic institutions. For many of them, their work is with individuals, which builds their intimate understanding of the way individuals’ sense of safety and well-being is impacted by a multitude of systems – such as housing, food access, policing, schools, child welfare, transportation, and employment. This community-based participatory research project is an opportunity to leverage BPDA members’ individual relationships and nuanced expertise of multiple systems, to generate broader community-level insights.

Elevating the voices of Black defenders and Black communities in the national dialogue about public safety.
CJR is promoting the importance of elevating the voices of directly impacted communities in the national conversation on public safety. While there are many expert voices on criminal reform, the voice of the Black public defenders and the Black community is often missing. Black defenders are uniquely positioned to help in the fight to reform policing alongside community organizers and those who are directly impacted. CJR is using a comprehensive communications strategy to promote and amplify this project in both social and traditional media.

Gathering and publishing actionable insights about public safety from the perspective of Black communities most impacted by crime in Chicago, Illinois.
The results of our pilot study includes needs assessment data on:

  • Community members’ expressed needs, or demands for service, based on neighborhood-specific data on police calls, public defender interactions, and other data relevant to questions of public safety.
  • Community members’ felt needs, or perceptions of need as reported by community members. Felt need data is critically important because it underlies the unconscious and sometimes conscious concerns of the community.
  • Perceptions of causes and potential solutions to felt needs (i.e., specific public safety concerns).
  • Information to improve future research design.


Our Partners

To achieve these goals, the Center for Justice Research is partnering with BPDA (to help design, execute, and oversee our community-based participatory research activities), the Law Office of Cook County Public Defender (which designed and piloted this model for community engagement), Black Roots Alliance (a community capacity-building network that works with several grassroots organizations in directly impacted Black communities in Chicago, including South siders Organized for Unity and Liberation, Ujimaa Medics, Equity and Transformation, and Grow Greater Englewood). With this coalition, we are building new models for community-based relationships, elevating the perspectives of impacted Black communities, and publishing research on public safety from a grassroots perspective. We are building trust and long-term partnerships necessary to reimagine the criminal legal system.

We are advancing a new vision for public safety and the blueprint towards policy reforms.