Our Work

Our municipal-focused campaign work drives state-based reform. Additionally, we provide training and technical assistance to partners around the country and world.

Katal is focused on three big, inter-related goals.

  1. Ending mass criminalization, mass incarceration, and the war on drugs.
  2. Advancing evidence-based solutions to achieve healthier, safer, more equitable communities.
  3. Building leadership and organizing capacity of community groups, organizers, and advocates to effectively drive and shape changes in systems, policies, and practices.

Our Municipal Work


Reducing Jail Populations

There are approximately 731,000 individuals held daily in local jails across the country. Local jails have 19 times the annual admissions compared to state and federal prisons. Local cities and counties are where the gears of mass incarceration grind on -- over 11 million people go to jail each year in the United States, referred to as a “churn rate.” Most people in jails are individuals who are detained pretrial and are therefore legally presumed innocent. Katal is working in Connecticut and New York for pretrial justice and, reduce the number of people churning through jails every year, and achieve systemic reform to end the drug war and mass incarceration at the local level.


Closing Rikers Island Jail Complex

As a co-founder of #CLOSErikers campaign, Katal directed the field organizing and led the behind-the-scenes strategy to pressure Mayor Bill de Blasio finally agreeing to shut down the facility. Today, closing Rikers the official policy of New York City – and the task ahead is to make closure happen as swiftly as possible.This won’t be easy. For instance, the most exhaustive report yet about how to close Rikers was published by the Independent Commission on Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, in April 2017.  It details dozens of reforms necessary to make closure possible. Read that report here.

Mayor de Blasio has also issued a report about closing Rikers – read that here.

To truly close Rikers, we must transform the criminal justice system as a whole and redefine safety and justice in New York. In the summer of 2017, to pursue the numerous reforms necessary to secure wide-scale reform, Katal stepped down from our leadership role in the more narrowly defined #CLOSErikers campaign, and concluded our partnership with JLUSA.Because reducing pretrial detention populations are an essential step to make closure possible, Katal is leading efforts in Albany for bail and speedy trial reform, while working at the City level to expedite the closure process.


Pre-Arrest Diversion

Across Connecticut and New York, Katal is working with municipalities and counties to develop approaches to diversion rooted in community leadership and racial equity, and focused on improving public safety and health. One such approach to this is through arrest diversion programs, like LEAD ® -- Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. Katal serves as the program manager for the innovative Albany LEAD program. The Albany program is diverting people away from jail and into non-punitive, harm reduction oriented services. Albany LEAD is widely recognized as a national model because of its innovative use of Medicaid funding to support case management. Check out the background of Albany’s program here, and be sure to read our first year anniversary report about Albany LEAD, here. Interested in developing a pre-arrest diversion program in your area? Please contact Keith Brown at Keith [at] Katalcenter.org.

Our State Level Work


Decarceration and Movement Building in Connecticut and New York

Over the last 20 years, advocates (including Katal founders and staff) have advanced impressive criminal justice and drug policy reforms in in Connecticut and New York. In both states, crime rates and prison populations are down, and both states have closed prisons and are frequently cited as models for reform. Yet mass incarceration and the drug war still continue, jail and prison populations remain stubbornly high and more far reaching reforms are still needed. To truly end mass incarceration and the drug war, Katal works on systemic change, building a decarceration agenda in CT and NY to secure health, equity, and justice for everyone.  


Pretrial Justice - Speedy Trial Reform

New York’s speedy trial law is broken. In New York City alone, nearly 80% of the people in jail are detained pre-trial – they are not yet convicted of any crime. Yet severe court delays and a lack of speedy trial reform leads to people spending months or years in jail, just waiting for their day in court.

Katal is working to fix speedy trial in New York by supporting “Kalief’s Law,” named after Kalief Browder. Kalief, charged with allegedly stealing a backpack, spent three years in jail awaiting his day in court. By passing Kalief’s Law, we can take steps to fix New York’s broken speedy trial process.  For more information: 


Pretrial Justice - Bail Reform

There is an urgent need for bail reform in New York. Thousands of New Yorkers are detained each year simply because they can’t afford to pay bail. This wealth-based detention is unjust, inhumane, and discriminatory. Yet unlike other states, New York’s bail statute and bail practices make reform particularly complicated. Differences in how bail works between New York City and Upstate New York are so extreme that while New York has one bail statute, in practice there are two distinct bail systems in the state. Additionally, New York’s statute has features which make it different than other states, and provide unique opportunities for sensible fixes. Katal is working with advocates around New York to develop effective bail reform plans that account for the complexity of bail in the Empire State and ensure that those directly impacted by bail practices are part of the process to devise smart solutions.


Harm Reduction Approaches To Improve Safety & Health

In the wake of the opioid overdose and addiction crisis, communities are demanding new approaches to drug addiction, overdose prevention, and access to treatment. Katal is working with local communities in Connecticut and New York to develop harm reduction oriented interventions to improve safety and health. This includes training police and public health departments in harm reduction, developing Community Leadership Teams, and supporting access to healthcare.


Training: Building Leadership and Organizing Capacity – BLOC

Our Building Leadership and Organizing Capacity (BLOC) model is our flagship training and leadership development program. Through BLOC, we train people in models of social change; the how-to’s of community organizing and advocacy; leadership development; strategic planning; issue cuts; and more. We coach and mentor new and veteran organizers and advocacy organizations. BLOC was developed in collaboration with the Perrin Family Foundation, which supports Katal’s work with youth organizers in Connecticut.


Women and Girls Justice Project

There is a growing realization that our society criminalizes race, poverty, homelessness and gender. All too often, incarceration has become the strategy in which gender-based violence is tackled and dealt with. This project  works to bring awareness to the often over-looked dehumanization and criminalization of women who have been and continue to be victims of gender-based violence. This project in no way intends to undermine or negate the existence of violence and criminalization against men; yet, it is the goal of this project to focus on and address, and empower those women society deems worthless and insignificant.

Simply put, if we are to move forward and affect change, we must be honest in our analysis of the many problems women face in the criminal justice system and speak truth to power to those who have allowed violence to be perpetuated against women.


Technical Assistance

Katal provides technical assistance to select groups. Our technical assistance options include developing strategic plans, creating lean and effective campaigns, developing policy reform agendas, connecting harm reduction and public safety, advocacy communication strategies, developing front-end diversion programs, and more. If you’re interested in our TA services, please contact Melody Lee - Melody [at] Katalcenter.org.

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