One of the largest private philanthropic foundations in the U.S. hopes to restore a degree of fairness to the criminal justice system by giving tens of millions of dollars to county jail systems. To incentivize a sweeping reduction in the nation’s inmate population, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation this week announced it planned to give 20 jail systems of varied sizes $150,000 each to develop new strategies for who is jailed and who is offered alternatives.

The foundation’s president said the grants are the first step in the Chicago-based charity’s plan to spend $75 million over five years to bring about reforms in the jails. "At the end of the day, what we're talking about is systemic change," MacArthur President Julia Stasch said.

With approximately 12 million people passing through more than 3,000 local jails in the U.S. annually, most for nonviolent offenses, the charity noted how the jails have become warehouses for the mentally ill. Many county jail systems are pretrial detention centers, where those who are too poor to afford bail can be kept for months awaiting resolution of their cases.

The foundation has asked the selected jail systems to work with experts, judges, prosecutors, court administrators, police and corrections officials to design plans that make their systems run more efficiently, Stasch told the Associated Press. Of the 20 jail systems, half will be picked next year for a second round of funding ranging from $500,000 to $2 million to implement the plans.

MacArthur's list of jails includes systems in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia as well as New Orleans, which has the nation's highest rate of incarceration. Facilities in Harris County, Texas -- which has the nation's second-highest rate of incarceration for drug-related offenses -- are also on the foundation's list.