Mona Mangat has been a core member of LISC’s community safety team for more than a decade and was recently named National Director for Safety and Justice. She now leads our work to support community-law enforcement partnerships in neighborhoods across the country and spearheads LISC’s increased focus on “pre-entry” and “re-entry” programming: that is, strategies to help prevent vulnerable residents from getting caught up in the justice system in the first place, and to support formerly incarcerated people as they rejoin their communities and the workforce.
In the following Q&A, Mona reflects on LISC’s evolving approach to community safety, the impact of mass incarceration on residents, and how we can play a more vital role in promoting wellbeing in the places we serve.
Q: You’ve been working on safety issues for LISC for a long time. Are we approaching this area differently than we used to?
A: Well, for one, our commitment to the work has really deepened over the years. We went from being a two-person shop to, currently, a shop of seven. We expanded from doing technical assistance for community-law enforcement partnerships in a handful of cities to providing TA to as many as 75 cities and rural communities across the country.
As LISC has become more comprehensive in its approach—and has rolled out new health and economic development initiatives—it’s been interesting to be part of a team that’s fairly narrowly focused on safety and crime concerns but at the same time aligns with the larger strategic framework. The realization is that safety is connected to everything we do. If LISC is supporting housing efforts or a financial opportunity center, or placemaking, we see crime reduction as a part of all of that. And it truly is a part of all of that. We are involved, for instance, in doing all of the things that need to be done to help people coming home from prison.
For the past six years, your department has been providing technical assistance for the DOJ’s Community-Based Crime Reduction (CBCR) initiative (formerly known as the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant program). Is that changing?
We are still managing the TA for 25 of the CBCR sites until 2020. But all of the sites awarded grants in 2018 will be managed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police going forward. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to be working jointly with them, which we’ll be doing for the next two years.
Does that mean the team is moving into other kinds of work?
We’re continuing to foster community-law enforcement partnerships, and we’re dedicated to that. But we’re also at a re-set point. For the last couple of months, we’ve been taking stock of each team member’s experience and asking “how can we really shape a program that speaks to our strengths, our relationships and where we are geographically?”
One thing we are doing is deepening our relationships with other national departments and figuring out ways to support each other and the local offices.
In Richmond, we’re working with a group called the RVA League for Safer Streets. The League founders include two formerly incarcerated Richmond men who are using sports—in this case basketball—as a tool to bring together youth and adults who’ve been justice involved—or who are at risk of becoming justice involved—to link them with a wide array of resources and opportunities.
Now we’re partnering with Sports & Rec and AmeriCorps to offer joint support to the League and to place an AmeriCorps member to help build their capacity as a nonprofit. This has been a fantastic way to pool the resources of several national departments to help grow a promising program and inform our own strategy moving forward.
Is this part of why your department is now called “Safety and Justice”?
Moving into the justice reform space is really a response to the field and to what’s happening in the world today. The goals of the cross-sector partnerships we support are to reduce crime, to build trust and to build the capacity of communities to tackle safety issues. We’re realizing more and more that a lot of those issues are centered around racial inequality, violence, criminalization. Also, the neighborhoods and communities where we’re involved are home to many, many residents who are justice-involved and formerly incarcerated and are coming back home.
We used to do re-entry work, sometimes with housing, but our projects were usually one-offs. This work is rooted in everything that LISC has been doing for so long, but we’re being intentional in asking how we are going to be a part of ending mass incarceration and helping to connect to people coming home from prison to resources they need to be successful and to support their families.
So as the work shifts and expands, what does that mean for our local offices and the rest of us?
There’s going to be a learning curve for all of us! For instance, we’ve been working with staff to think about how to apply a safety lens to health-related work, and vice versa. LISC is doing so much around developing partnerships with health entities, so it’s critical that our team know how to share safety outcomes, and the barriers to safety, in a way that health practitioners and funders can understand and relate to.
We’re also offering a kind of Data 101 to local offices and others to better harness data in the work. We’re addressing what data collection is, what it looks like, and how you use it on the ground.
What’s the most exciting aspect of all of this for you?
I “grew up” professionally at a residential child welfare agency where I worked on policy issues but also directly with youth who had criminal charges—and it changed my life. Our biggest challenge was recidivism, and that was largely because nothing was changing in the neighborhoods those kids were going back to. Even if they were healing the ties with their families, they had no opportunities. And that’s what brought me to LISC—realizing that community revitalization, housing, financial opportunity—these were the very things that would have saved those youth.
Some of the kids I worked with are now serving 15-plus years or life sentences in prison. To be involved now with developing national programs that channel the expertise and talent of people coming out of prison after 20 years is just incredible.
Mona Mangat, Senior Director, Safety & Justice Initiatives
Mona directs community safety initiatives at LISC, having served in a leadership role on the national safety team since 2006. Her experience includes providing technical assistance to police departments and community groups nationwide, running a national community-police partnership awards program and producing training curricula for the U.S. Department of Justice on community-police problem-solving. Prior to joining LISC, Mona served as coordinator of youth development policy and programming at a New York-based child welfare agency. Mona holds a bachelor’s degree in Policy Studies from Syracuse University and a Master of Governmental Administration from the University of Pennsylvania.