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FY 2017 BJA Sentinel Events Initiative Demonstration Project: Technical Assistance Provider

Grant to a USA Nonprofit, For-Profit, Agency, IHE, or Individual
for Technical Assistance to Enhance the Justice System

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U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) in partnership with the National Institute of Justice (NIJ)

Deadline Date:

07/27/17 11:59 PM ET


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Grant to a USA or territories nonprofit, for-profit, government agency, IHE, or qualified individual to provide technical assistance to enhance the administration of justice. The selected grantee will work with demonstration sites nationwide as part of a larger effort to evaluate and enhance the justice system.


BJA provides leadership and services in grant administration and criminal justice policy development for local, state, and tribal justice entities. With this solicitation, BJA seeks applications for a Technical Assistance Provider (“TA Provider”) to assist in the establishment and facilitation of national-level technical assistance to approximately 20 to 25 demonstration sites in furtherance of the Sentinel Events Initiative (SEI). SEI is an effort led by the National Institute of Justice— the US Department of Justice’s research, development, and evaluation agency—to explore whether an all-stakeholder, forward-looking, non-blaming review of unanticipated events that signal an underlying system weakness in criminal justice can be used to understand areas of system risk and weaknesses, reduce the occurrence of these outcomes, increase safety, and augment the criminal justice system’s ability to fulfill its mission.

Drawing heavily from similar successful efforts in the fields of medicine and transportation, this scientific inquiry aims to determine a) whether sentinel event reviews (SERs) can be implemented and routinized in a criminal justice context, b) whether these reviews can inform policy and practice improvements to mitigate the risk of analogous errors or weaknesses in the future, c) whether changes in policy and practice maximize the criminal justice system’s ability to meet its mission of reducing crime, protecting the public, and advancing the administration of justice, and d) whether these reviews are sustainable over time.

The nationwide SEI demonstration project will result in the development, implementation, and routinization of non-blaming, forward-looking, multi-stakeholder reviews at the jurisdictional level. The purpose of these reviews is to identify systemic weaknesses that contributed to an unanticipated event that signals an underlying system weakness outcome, and to generate solutions that will prevent this outcome from reoccurring, with the ultimate goal of maximizing the criminal justice system’s ability to fulfill its mission By identifying and strengthening latent weaknesses, it is anticipated that these reviews will support system improvements in such crucial areas as law enforcement, criminal justice practitioner safety, effective prosecution, and the fair administration of justice across the U.S.

The TA Provider will assist in the establishment and facilitation of these multi-stakeholder review panels, and provide ad hoc support for such processes as interviews of relevant parties and negotiation of information-sharing agreements. In addition, the provider will complete a process evaluation to identify promising practices and common challenges to implementation. The TA Provider will be instrumental in establishing and facilitating the reviews at the local level, building on this work to identify promising practices and shared challenges across sites. This effort will build on several years of program development and inquiry at NIJ, including the completion of three pilot efforts in 2014. More details about this work is outlined below.

BJA and NIJ seek applications from applicants with demonstrated experience developing, facilitating, and supporting through technical assistance the negotiation and implementation of multi-stakeholder partnerships at the local level (to include community partners) and sustaining partner participation throughout, preferably working with criminal justice and research partners. BJA and NIJ are also interested in proposals from applicants who have worked in other complex social systems such as public health. All applicants should demonstrate: a working knowledge of learning from error concepts; experience negotiating multi-stakeholder partnerships and sustaining partner participation throughout (including navigation of such issues as confidentiality and information-sharing); experience providing technical assistance as part of research and demonstrations of models; and experience facilitating multi-stakeholder reviews of complex and occasionally adversarial issues.

Project-Specific Information:

Currently, criminal justice agencies in the United States lack consistent mechanisms by which to learn from error and prevent their reoccurrence. Often times, inquiries into unanticipated events that signal an underlying system weakness focus on whether there is an identifiable individual who can be blamed and subsequently punished for the error or failure. Little to no effort is made to understand why an individual chose specific courses of action or failed to catch and correct an error when positioned to do so. The context in which these decisions were made and the impact of other elements and actors in the system on these decisions are similarly ignored or not well understood.

NIJ’s SEI is built on the belief that when adverse events occur in a complex social system, it is rarely the result of one person’s mistake. Rather, multiple small errors—which include both intentional action and failure to identify and correct an error when possible—combine and are exacerbated by underlying weaknesses in the system such as system policies and procedures. In order to truly understand the causes of an unanticipated event that signals an underlying system weakness, the criminal justice system must shift its focus from blame to continuous risk assessment and system improvement, where all individuals who contributed to an event are empowered to share information across silos with the goal of forward-looking understanding and prevention rather than retrospective liability. NIJ anticipates that this program, which will enhance our understanding of how adverse events occur within the justice system, will highlight system improvements that could, for example, support effective prosecution or reduce the potential for harm to law enforcement officers. While the impacts of these reviews in criminal justice must still be studied, if the effects on the criminal justice system mirror the effects experienced in other industries, we expect to see an increase in system safety, and an improvement in the system’s ability to fulfill its mission of reducing crime, protecting the public, and advancing the administration of justice in the U.S.

Examples of such sentinel events in criminal justice include, but are not limited to:
-The premature release from prison of a person who subsequently reoffends and/or commits a violent crime
-Ambush shootings of police officers
-Suicide by police, i.e., suicide method in which a suicidal individual intentionally provokes a lethal response from a public safety or law enforcement officer
-A violent crime committed by a person who should have been detained or deported for immigration violations
-In-custody deaths, self-harm, and suicide in prisons
-Incidents such as physical encounters with individuals suffering from mental illness
-Suicides by individuals working in the criminal justice system
-Violations of an individual’s right to a speedy trial
-Ineffective assistance of counsel and/or lack of access to sufficient legal assistance
-The wrongful arrest or conviction of an innocent person, or the unsuccessful prosecution of an individual for a violent criminal offense which had all the witness and evidentiary elements to be successful but did not result in a conviction; and the subsequent need for Conviction Integrity reviews of Prosecutors’ offices
-Unreasonable delays in forensic evidence processing
-A police-citizen encounter that unexpectedly turns violent and other use-of-force
-Forensic lab misconduct or failures of forensic evidence (e.g., laboratory error or failure to correctly use forensic evidence in court to detriment of a successful prosecution).

This includes actual and “near miss” events where an unanticipated event that signals an underlying system weakness may have occurred but for extraordinary actions of an individual and/or a last-minute identification of the impending error by an individual or system process.

Reviews of these instances, or “sentinel event reviews,” may provide critical information about system weaknesses and how best to maximize the ability of the criminal justice system to fulfill its mission. It is important to note that while many of these errors and unanticipated events that signal an underlying system weakness occur largely within a single criminal justice stakeholder group, multiple system actors often contribute to the eventual error occurrence. Accordingly, SERs must include multiple system actors to understand and address the varied and intersecting contributing factors to an error’s occurrence.

Scientific Exploration of SERs in U.S. Criminal Justice:

As DOJ’s research, development, and evaluation agency, NIJ’s interest in sentinel events is largely focused on exploring the following lines of scientific inquiry:

-Whether SERs can be implemented and routinized in a criminal justice context
-Whether these reviews will inform policy and practice improvements to mitigate the risk of analogous errors or weaknesses in the future
-The extent to which changes in policy and practice maximize the criminal justice system’s ability to meet its mission of reducing crime, protecting the public, and advancing the administration of justice
-Whether these reviews are sustainable over time

While SERs have been implemented with demonstrable success in increasing safety and advancing fulfillment of mission in such fields as transportation, medicine, and industry, there are extremely limited examples of all-stakeholder, non-blaming, forward-looking reviews of sentinel events in criminal justice. Accordingly, NIJ and BJA are seeking to build demonstration sites that implement the approach NIJ seeks to evaluate. NIJ is partnering with BJA to identify a TA Provider to assist jurisdictions willing to engage in this scientific exploration, as well as collaborate on translating the lessons learned to its partners and the criminal justice field.

This will build on NIJ’s years of exploration into sentinel events and their potential to effect positive change in the criminal justice system. Applicants should demonstrate a working knowledge of the sentinel events approach and the theories on which it is built, as well as the lessons learned from NIJ’s scientific exploration thus far:

Goals, Objectives, and Deliverables:

The SEI Demonstration TA Provider—in close collaboration with BJA and NIJ—shall identify, develop, and facilitate technical assistance to 20 to 25 demonstration sites across the country. BJA and NIJ will work with the selected TA Provider to implement a standing SER process at each site for their jurisdiction’s criminal justice system. The TA Provider will also conduct a process evaluation across all sites to determine promising practices and critical needs for implementing SERs on a large scale.

GrantWatch ID#:

GrantWatch ID#: 181819

Estimated Total Program Funding:


Number of Grants:

BJA expects to make up to one award.

Estimated Size of Grant:

BJA expects to make an award of up to $1,500,000.

Term of Contract:

BJA expects to make up an award for a 36-month project period beginning January 1, 2018.

There may be an opportunity for an extended project period and supplemental funding, depending on performance, project progress, and funding availability.


Additional Eligibility Criteria:

In general, BJA is authorized to make grants to, or enter into contracts or cooperative agreements with, states (including territories), units of local government, federally recognized Indian tribal governments that perform law enforcement functions (as determined by the Secretary of the Interior), nonprofit and for-profit organizations (including tribal nonprofit and for-profit organizations), institutions of higher education (including tribal institutions of higher education), and certain qualified individuals.

For-profit organizations (as well as other recipients) must forgo any profit or management fee. Foreign governments, foreign organizations, and foreign colleges and universities are not eligible to apply.

Applicants are encouraged to submit an application that demonstrates a thorough understanding of the complex technical assistance needs of jurisdictions attempting to establish an all-stakeholder review mechanism for the purposes of learning from error and preventing reoccurrence. Applications should also demonstrate the capacity to build and sustain partnerships within the criminal justice system.

BJA welcomes applications under which two or more entities would carry out the federal award; however, only one entity may be the applicant. Any others must be proposed as subrecipients. The applicant must be the entity that would have primary responsibility for carrying out the award, including administering funding and managing the entire project. Under this solicitation, only one application by any particular applicant entity will be considered. An entity may, however, be proposed as a subrecipient in more than one application.

Pre-Application Information:

Applicants must register with prior to submitting an application. All applications are due by 11:59 PM eastern time on July 27, 2017.

Every applicant entity must comply with all applicable System for Award Management (SAM) and unique entity identifier (currently, a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number) requirements.

SAM registration and renewal can take as long as 10 business days to complete. A DUNS number is usually received within 1-2 business days.

OJP urges applicants to submit applications at least 72 hours prior to the application due date to allow time for the applicant to receive validation messages or rejection notifications from and to correct in a timely fashion any problems that may have caused a rejection notification.

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Contact Information:

Before starting your grant application, please review the funding source's website listed below for updates/changes/addendums/conferences/LOIs.

For technical assistance with submitting an application, contact the Customer Support Hotline at 800-518-4726 or 606-545-5035, or via email to

National Criminal Justice Reference Service Response Center (Response Center):
P: 800-851-3420
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Geographic Focus:

USA: Alabama;   Alaska;   Arizona;   Arkansas;   California;   Colorado;   Connecticut;   Delaware;   Florida;   Georgia;   Hawaii;   Idaho;   Illinois;   Indiana;   Iowa;   Kansas;   Kentucky;   Louisiana;   Maine;   Maryland;   Massachusetts;   Michigan;   Minnesota;   Mississippi;   Missouri;   Montana;   Nebraska;   Nevada;   New Hampshire;   New Jersey;   New Mexico;   New York City;   New York;   North Carolina;   North Dakota;   Ohio;   Oklahoma;   Oregon;   Pennsylvania;   Rhode Island;   South Carolina;   South Dakota;   Tennessee;   Texas;   Utah;   Vermont;   Virginia;   Washington, DC;   Washington;   West Virginia;   Wisconsin;   Wyoming

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