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Only 1 percent of those served in Colorado Springs between last fall and this summer were reincarcerated.

After failing to receive $1 million of its $3 million budget last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Transforming Safety Initiative has resumed fully funding nonprofits in Southeast Colorado Springs. 

On Sept. 30 the Pikes Peak Community Foundation announced that it has distributed $1.2 million in grant funding to 12 nonprofits serving Southeast Colorado Springs.

“Transforming Safety was created to identify ways to improve safety and reduce crime,” explained Mina Liebert, the director of community impact for the Pikes Peak Community Foundation. “It was a bipartisan bill that was initiated in 2017 by a couple of our local representatives and senators. Sen. Bob Gardner (R-SD12) and [then] Rep. Pete Lee (D-HD18) were some of the primary sponsors. With [Lee’s] restorative justice background he was really a big driver for this.” 

The success rate so far is impressive. Only 1 percent of those served in Colorado Springs between last fall and this summer returned to prison, while more than 70 percent had found jobs.

“North Aurora and Southeast Colorado Springs were selected essentially because of the higher numbers of incarceration rates in our counties. It was a way to introduce innovation and really look at prevention and identify and support prevention-based efforts — instead of after somebody has already been involved with the criminal justice system,” she said.

The aim was to support direct services that would cut crime, reduce the risk of recidivism, support small business, and promote “new ways of building economic development for individuals after they have been impacted by the criminal justice system,” Liebert said.

The nonprofits receiving funds are Colorado Springs Works, Colorado Springs Conservatory, Educating Children of Color, Inside Out Youth Services, Kidpower of Colorado, Kingdom Builders Family Life Center, Relevant Word Ministries, Second Chance Through Faith, The Thrive Network, Trust for Public Land - Colorado, Voces Unidas for Justice and the Youth Transformation Center.

The grant recipients work within four distinct priority areas: supporting adults and youth who are or have been involved in the criminal justice system to reduce recidivism or reoffending; helping youth (up to 25 years old) develop the skills and resilience to avoid, reduce or stop high-risk behavior; improving community-based supports to halt violence and neglect in families; and addressing systemic causes of economic, racial and academic disparities.

“Each organization submitted their own program design within a priority area and then we developed performance measures across all priority areas,” explains Richard Morales, deputy executive director for the Latino Coalition for Community Leadership. The Latino Coalition collects data and evaluates the grant recipients with the Denver Foundation, which oversees the Transforming Safety Initiative across Colorado. 

“As you can imagine, when you see some of the priority areas, some of the groups may be working in community safety, but some are enhancing parks, and some are working with domestic violence and some are working with kids,” said Morales. “They’re kind of all over the place in terms of their program design. They have data systems where they track the data — so all the individual people they bring, they’re tracking demographics, the types of services and activities, the support services they may be receiving, and they track the various outcomes across the people that they’re serving. We pull in all of the data and we aggregate the common measure across all the priority areas.”

Liebert noted that more than 6,000 individuals in Southeast Colorado Springs and Aurora have received services from organizations funded by the Transforming Safety Initiative. Of those, according to data provided by Morales, 457 individuals were served in Colorado Springs from Sept. 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. The results: 99 percent of adult program participants have not been reincarcerated since; 71 percent of adult program participants have secured paid employment or started a business or completed a recognized occupational training/apprenticeship program; and 85 percent of youth program participants have avoided or mitigated involvement with the criminal justice system.

The reduction in funding last year had a devastating impact on the Youth Transformation Center, according to Jeanette Holtham, president and founder. The center works primarily with Harrison School District 2 to teach students restorative justice practices and keep them out of the criminal justice system. 

“Like many small nonprofits, when we did not receive the Transforming Safety grant in year three as hoped for, we came very close to having to close our doors,” said Holtham, who has hired two additional employees with the funding. “It was a time of chaos, uncertainty and devastating loss. Each of our team members had to find other sources of income and personal support. Understandably, funding was diverted to critical COVID mitigation. School budgets were cut drastically and revised to include unexpected and very expensive COVID-related line items. So, it was a double whammy for nonprofits like ours who rely on grants and contracts for our income.”

The increased funding will allow the Youth Transformation Center to expand its offerings to D2 students. 

“Fortunately, prior to the pandemic, we had carefully laid the groundwork in years one and two by providing both of our in-person training programs, Restorative Justice Conference facilitation and Classroom Connection Circles, to all D2 schools inside the Southeast boundaries of the Transforming Safety initiative,” says Holtham. “We are now ready to move to phase three. In addition to returning to in-person monthly restorative practices training for school staff. We will provide our signature program, Boomerang, a workshop that motivates and inspires youth to reach for their full potential. It enrolls 75 carefully targeted youth. The students call it ‘real talk,’ because they say it is relevant to real life.”

The Transforming Safety Initiative recently expanded to communities in Trinidad and Grand Junction. “The other thing that’s been great about this [is that] while we are more urban, we had some representatives that were more interested in doing this on the rural level,” said Liebert. “It’s a demonstration that there is positive forward momentum and positive impact through programs like this.”

Due to the expansion, the Transforming Safety Initiative will be providing funding to nonprofits through 2027. “Because we’ve added these communities, we won’t see a sunset for another six years,” Liebert explained. “Now we have even more time to demonstrate impact.”

Heidi Beedle is a former soldier, educator, activist, and animal welfare worker. She received a Bachelor’s in English from UCCS. She has worked as a freelance writer covering LGBTQ issues, nuclear disasters, cattle mutilations, and social movements.