Deschutes County’s Clean Slate Program Shows Value of Front-End Diversion

By: John Hummel

Community Engagement Policing Pretrial Services September 28, 2021

The war on drugs has failed. More than 60 percent of people who are prosecuted for drug offenses reoffend. In Deschutes County, Oregon, our Clean Slate program provides a model for how communities can chart a better path.

Fifty-three percent of program participants have successfully completed the Clean Slate program, which requires not incurring a new arrest within one year. When compared to individuals that were eligible to enroll in the program but did not participate, only 38 percent were not cited for a new crime within 12 months. This impact is reflected again in that Deschutes County’s two-year recidivism rate hovers around 76 percent, but the two-year rate for Clean Slate participants is only 42 percent. Due to these successes, over 400 court appearances have been avoided and 253 people have been connected to much-needed medical care since the program’s inception in November 2017.

Front-end diversion efforts like Clean Slate—which occur before a court date, when a person has initial contact with law enforcement—can prevent overuse of jail and the negative consequences an arrest can have on a person’s life. We were able to develop the Clean Slate program and run the proof-of-concept pilot thanks to funding from the Safety and Justice Challenge Innovation Fund.

How the Program Works

When an officer interacts with a person on the street suspected of drug possession, rather than arrested them, they issue a citation to appear in court, and they give them a card with information about the Clean Slate program. Our office then calls that person and invites them to a Clean Slate orientation meeting which they can attend before their court date. At that meeting, the District Attorney or one of their deputies is there to welcome the person. After the welcome, the person has a confidential meeting with the public defenders, who also participate in the orientation process. After meeting with the District Attorney and the public defender, the individual meets with a substance use disorder professional who conducts an assessment. The person is then scheduled for an appointment with a primary care provider provider at one of the program’s participating federally qualified health centers. Once the patient shows up at that appointment, they are in the program and out of the criminal justice system.

Treating Substance Abuse Disorder in the Medical System, Not the Criminal Justice System

We have tried treating substance abuse disorder in the criminal justice system for the past 100 years, and we have failed miserably. It simply does not work. When someone is charged with possessing drugs, it is our belief that they either use recreationally or they are living with a substance use disorder and need the help of a medical professional.

The healthcare environment is very different from the criminal justice environment. Patients are free to talk openly and can communicate about what is going on with their lives. There are often underlying issues contributing to their substance abuse disorder. Sometimes it is a history of trauma or a mental health condition. There are also socioeconomic stressors that often play a role. Most people want to do better; they just do not know how to take the first step.

The leadership and providers at Mosaic Medical and La Pine Community Health Center were invaluable to this effort and worked intensely with us to develop the nuts and bolts of the program. They provide compassionate and competent care to our participants everyday.

Getting Law Enforcement on Board

Law enforcement officers have also been important partners. Many have embraced the program and encourage people suspected of possessing drugs to attend a Clean Slate orientation meeting.

Many officers on the street tell us they have come to have a better understanding of the people they interact with on a regular basis. They now realize that the people they are interacting with often have mental health issues, physical conditions, and trauma, which go together with drug addictions.

Handing a person a Clean Slate card and referring them to programs and resources can build a good working relationship between officers and the people they are citing. It shows the officer is not just there to throw a person into a jail cell but instead wants to see them succeed.

Humanizing People with Substance Abuse Disorder

People with a substance abuse disorder do not want or choose to have it. We are not giving them a break; we are giving them a chance to live the life they want to live.

By removing the criminal framework and demonstrating that there are healthcare providers here to help, we make it easier for people to stay employed and housed. Those are important ways for people to stay productive and engaged in society.

Our participants tell us they did not know programs like Clean Slate existed and that they did not think they had the resources to go through such a program. They feel like it is their opportunity to succeed and change their life. They also tell us that the medical staff they work with are helpful and kind, and that there is a lack of judgment which also helps them succeed.

One participant told us: “This program saved my life: I would have been dead by now. I reconnected with my family, have not been arrested, gained weight, got healthier, have fewer sick days at work. It is a miracle, and my whole life has changed.”

Lessons Learned

Police officers told us that the personal commitment of the prosecutor’s office to encourage them to refer to Clean Slate was important in securing their support. We also learned the importance of securing stakeholder support during the process of designing the program. And of course, we relied on data collection to validate the program’s success.

Jail detention has tremendous costs for the people in jail, their families, and their community. This program has reduced those costs and is a worthwhile investment in people’s futures.

We encourage other Safety and Justice Challenge jurisdictions to draw on the lessons from the Clean Slate Program to lower the use of jails and help people living with substance abuse disorder improve their lives.

The Clean Slate Program is also the subject of a case study by the Urban Institute which is available here. And you can watch a video about the program featuring participants and law enforcement, here.

Why We Must Keep Clear Heads as We Look at the FBI’s Annual Crime Stats

By: James Austin

Data Analysis Human Toll of Jail Incarceration Trends September 23, 2021

The FBI’s annual crime stats report is due out on Monday. In more than a quarter century of correctional planning and research, I’ve seen a variety of reactions to these numbers—including plenty of fearmongering and distortion. But there has never been a better time for us to keep a clear head and take an objective look.

What We Already Know

There are a few things we already know even before the FBI releases the data. Overall, serious crimes went down, not up, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet polling showed the American public believed there was more crime in the United States than there was a year before. It isn’t true.

One of the reasons crime dropped in 2020 was the COVID-19 lockdown itself, which restricted social interactions that can lead to criminal activity.  But the pandemic also gave many jurisdictions the opportunity to implement needed law enforcement court processing reforms that have resulted in fewer arrests for low-level crimes, fewer jail bookings, and reduced jail and prison populations. All of this occurred without an increase in overall crime rates.

It is true, however, that in many places in the country homicide and shootings increased in 2020. But most other forms of violent crime either have not risen as steeply or have dropped during the same period. Moreover, there is growing evidence that in cities where the homicide rate turned markedly up, the increase is slowing. These are the findings presented in a report by the Council on Criminal Justice, a non-partisan organization that works to advance understanding of the criminal justice policy choices facing the nation, which has been studying the effects of the pandemic on the justice system.

Putting New Data in Historical Perspective

It’s also important to keep a sense of historic perspective looking at the numbers.

Crime rates have dropped by more than half since 1995. Homicides, the rarest of all crimes, have also declined. But as the chart below shows, homicide rates since 1900 have shown a lot of fluctuation, ranging as high as 12 per 100,000.  And the “jump” in homicides from 2019 to 2020 is likely to be from five per 100,000 people to about six per 100,000. That means there was a one-one-hundredth percent change in the homicide rate, which is statistically insignificant and not at all out of line with historic fluctuations.

There have been similar and even higher changes in the homicide rate, for no apparent reason. One must concede that a large portion of changes (up and down) in the homicide rate is random.


That’s not to say we should not be concerned about any increase, or for that matter, any one homicide. But equating a rise in homicides with an increase in crime rates when crime rates have declined is misleading the public.

The Role of Criminal Justice Reforms in Addressing Homicides

Homicides are concerning especially for those people who live in areas where they occur most frequently. But the increase calls for a thoughtful response, including focused law enforcement resources and community-based anti-violence programs. Intervening earlier in the lives of people who commit homicides is a far more positive and effective approach to reducing homicide rates.

Predictably, commentators and editorial boards will be eager to pin the blame for the rise in homicides on a “lax” criminal justice system, “progressive” prosecutors, bail reform, and declining jail and prison populations. They’ll tell you police have lost their motivation to do their jobs because of calls for accountability over violence and racial justice. But that’s not what is likely to be reflected in the numbers.

The solution to homicides is to spend money more smartly on targeted approaches. Not prey on people’s misplaced fears to justify indiscriminate spending on ineffective public policy.

Deepening Partnerships between People with Lived Experiences of Incarceration and System Leaders

By: Aminah Elster

September 22, 2021

The criminal legal system has a lot to learn from people who have experienced it directly – particularly when it comes to centering racial equity in our decision making and change-making strategies. Yet efforts by criminal legal system leaders to engage community members with lived experiences of incarceration are often brief, centered on one-way, top-down information exchange or focused on asking for general input. That is why, thanks to funding and support from the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, San Francisco partners launched a new fellowship focused on creating authentic collaborative partnerships that lead to actionable insights between system leaders and people with lived experience.

The SJC Fellowship is an ongoing effort to integrate and strengthen partnerships with impacted people into change efforts that will safely reduce the local jail population and eliminate racial disparities. The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, in collaboration with local partners at Bright Research Group, designed and facilitated a 6-month fellowship that brought people with lived experiences into the SJC partners’ justice reform efforts. Bright Research Group is a research, evaluation, and capacity-building firm led by women of color that works with systems seeking to advance racial justice through authentic partnerships with impacted communities. Together, we selected an inaugural cohort of fellows to identify innovative approaches and best practices in the legal system. In addition to their own diverse first-hand accounts of the criminal legal system, the fellows bring a combined 34 years of demonstrated leadership and commitment to creating equitable, safe, and just communities.

The Fellowship program was created as a dual capacity-building effort, providing meaningful learning opportunities for both system leaders and fellows. The program design provides intentional space for the exchange of information, ideas, and perspectives. System leaders are challenged to look at communities, the causes of crime, and the impacts of the system in new ways while fellows are exposed to the inner workings of the system and the political, cultural, and legislative factors impacting reform efforts. Alumni from the inaugural cohort of SJC Fellows are currently providing input in the design of the second fellowship cohort that will launch in early 2022.

What can other jurisdictions learn from this effort?

SJC fellows say the program is different from others they have seen. Trust has developed and real practices at the District Attorney’s Office have changed because of the partnerships we have forged. We encourage other jurisdictions to learn more about our program and consider what a fellowship could look like in their community.

How the program works

The program was co-designed by Bright Research Group and the District Attorney’s Office and implemented in stages. Program components include orientation, immersion, and project-based action. Partners participated in weekly meetings between the fellows and the District Attorney’s Office, facilitated by Bright Research Group. Weekly engagements included:

  • Opportunities to attend alternative court proceedings;
  • Guest speaker presentations;
  • Collaborative feedback sessions in which the fellows were presented with current staff projects and provided real time consultancy; and
  • Trainings on participatory action research, systems change, and executive coaching.

Each fellow was paired with a system ally who was a member of the District Attorney’s Office staff with the intent to begin building trusting relationships, honest dialogue, and a transparent exchange of ideas. The immersion phase brought fellows and system leaders together in meeting and practice spaces that encouraged information-sharing and inquiry. Fellows asked questions and provided feedback while participating in spaces that are often opaque and inaccessible to people outside the criminal legal system.

During the project activity phase, Bright Research Group provided training on participatory action research and exposed the fellows to the methodologies and skills used in the field of applied research. Together, we identified expanding diversion opportunities as the focus of our research inquiry. The fellows then led a participatory action research project, which included conducting focus groups and one-on-one interviews with approximately 60 people including survivors of crime, formerly incarcerated individuals, system leaders, and community stakeholders.

The project culminated in a report of findings and recommendations intended to support the District Attorney’s Office in expanding access to alternatives to traditional prosecution. The presentation included critical insights about the obstacles and opportunities to expanding restorative justice in San Francisco, and specific recommendations to support the District Attorney’s Office in increasing community trust, acting as a community ally, advancing the expansion of restorative justice, and supporting decarceral approaches within the criminal legal system.

Who are the fellows?

The inaugural cohort of Safety and Justice Challenge Fellows are five community leaders with lived experience with the criminal legal system, deep experience in community-based work, and a commitment to systems change efforts that increase health, safety, and healing.

  • Aminah Elster, is a Campaign and Policy Coordinator with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, a grassroots organization that supports people inside of California’s women’s prisons.
  • Philip Jones is a Master’s in Social Work student and a Peer Case Manager in the Peer Mentoring and Support program with San Francisco Jail Behavioral Health Services.
  • Aaron Lowers is an educator with Five Keys Schools and Programs in San Francisco, where he serves system-involved students and works to support them as they transition from incarceration through re-entry.
  • Viet Mike Ngo currently works as a supervisor for a job program that employs people with barriers to employment at Community Youth Center, a San Francisco non-profit agency that provides academic, career, family, and community supports for a diverse population of high-needs young people.
  • Earl Simms is the Bay Area Regional Director of the Timelist Group, a community-based organization focused on providing rehabilitation courses, resource coordination, and housing upon release for incarcerated individuals.

Pathways to Collective Healing: Law Enforcement and the Communities They Serve

By: Aviva Kurash

Policing Reentry Victims August 19, 2021

In the wake of calls to reevaluate public safety, the challenges of modern policing call for police agencies to build and maintain trust and legitimacy with the communities they serve and to work with community members as essential partners to identify problems and co-produce tangible solutions.

As strategic partners to the Safety and Justice Challenge, the IACP recognizes that promoting community-wide healing in the wake of trauma cannot be detached from the efforts to reduce jail populations and promote alternatives to arrest that uphold community safety. Trust, transparency, accountability, and safety are intertwined.

Policing happens in a dynamic environment. Policies, procedures, supervision, oversight, and accountability systems can help minimize the risk of high-profile events occurring or scandals arising. However, police agencies also need to be prepared to respond in the aftermath of these incidents to promote healing, recovery, and accountability. Police agencies that have trained officers to provide a trauma-informed response and promote comprehensive officer wellness are better able to constructively respond to the trauma of a high-profile incident.

This raises the question: how do we move forward? In 2016, the Office for Victims of Crime in the U.S. Department of Justice sought to explore what a path forward that embraces collective healing might look like, in the process developing a national demonstration initiative: Law Enforcement and the Communities They Serve: Supporting Collective Healing in the Wake of Harm (“Collective Healing”). The IACP was motivated to lead this initiative because we recognized that a strong foundation of understanding and collaboration must be in place between police and the communities they serve, prior to high-profile incidents, to ensure the deployment of effective responses in the wake of such incidents—when barriers, tensions, and stakes are often intensified.

Over the intensive four-year Collective Healing initiative, the IACP provided oversight, management, and national training and technical assistance to five law enforcement agency demonstration sites. Through partnerships with Equal Justice USA, Resilience Works, the Alliance for Safety and Justice and the Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice Initiative, PRO Wellness Services, and a range of other experts with experience in building trauma-informed systems through multi-stakeholder collaborations, the Collective Healing initiative supported law enforcement’s leadership role in adopting a trauma-informed culture and practice.

Themes Across Collective Healing Sites

The initiative’s intersectional approach focused on three interrelated components that are essential to fostering collective healing: 1) improving community-police relations and community wellness, 2) enhancing the access to and quality of victim services, and 3) improving officer and agency wellness and resilience. Specifically, this initiative elevated strategies that address institutional disparities, enhance victim services (with particular attention to reducing barriers to accessing these services in communities that experience a disproportionate burden of victimization), and promote comprehensive officer wellness and resiliency. Our resulting report from this project sheds light on both these preventative and reparative strategies.

Work with demonstration sites included developing, implementing, and assessing the practical tools necessary for building essential relationships and joint strategies to reduce tensions, maximize communication, promote trauma-informed interventions and problem-solving, and facilitate healing between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

The report outlining what we learned is designed to help law enforcement agencies create a victim-centered, trauma-informed, collaborative response, co-created with the communities that they serve. The report emphasizes meeting the needs of the most vulnerable after traumatic events, including communities that are most impacted by the criminal legal system and community violence, the responding officers, their families, and their agencies. These efforts are significant but represent only the early stages of what should be a long-term commitment to addressing complex and deeply rooted challenges.

The intensive work of the Collective Healing initiative over four years focused on creating a victim-centered, trauma-informed, collaborative response that meets the needs of those most vulnerable amid violence and traumatic events. In the wake of calls to reevaluate public safety priorities and strategies, we should bear in mind that working toward collective healing is a continuous process, involving both accountability and transparency, and which includes:

  • Trauma-informed policing
  • Leadership, culture, and operational capacity-building
  • Collaboration and community engagement
  • Victim services
  • Vicarious trauma and officer wellness

We look forward to sharing the lessons learned from this demonstration initiative as we continue to work with and learn from the sites in the Safety and Justice Challenge, and ultimately promote local justice systems that are both safe and just.

You can read the full report here.

Connecting People to Care in A Municipal Setting: Learning from Long Beach, California

By: Gigi Zanganeh

Community Engagement Diversion Pretrial Services August 16, 2021

We can learn a lot from the city of Long Beach in California about how best to keep people from falling through the cracks in our criminal justice systems. That’s the crux of an extensive new case study by the Urban Policy Institute on a Connection to Care (C2C) program focused on the city’s municipal jail.

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation funded the initiative and the case study through its Safety and Justice Challenge.

The Safety and Justice Challenge seeks to reduce jail populations in communities around the country. Many participating cities and counties have jails that can hold thousands of people, but Long Beach’s municipal jail holds just 200 people who are often released in fewer than 72 hours before going to a county facility. They are in many cases people without housing who cycle in and out of the city’s jail and back onto the streets. They often struggle with behavioral health issues like substance abuse disorders and mental health diagnoses. And they are arrested for low-level crimes on a repeated basis.

Long Beach’s initiative is simple, yet, at the same time, quietly revolutionary. It doesn’t involve high-priced consultants or elaborate new care models. It is often as simple as getting people a taxi from the city jail in Long Beach to drug treatment or to a homeless shelter when they are released. Yet in some cases the C2C model pioneered in Long Beach has been sufficient to help people who have languished in the same destructive cycle for decades, getting them off the streets and into supportive services.

More than anything else, the program encourages people in the criminal justice system who have historically been operating in silos to talk to each other. It gets them to collaborate and work together in new, mutually beneficial ways.

In the case of this program, two of the biggest challenges to overcome were signing a contract with a taxi firm to provide rides, which took several months; and figuring out how to release people from the city jail to coincide with intake at the shelters and rehabilitation centers.

In other places, people are given a bus pass or a metro card when they are released from city jails. The idea is to get people on their way, and in many cases to get them to drug treatment or supportive housing. But some people do not follow through, instead falling through the cracks.

The C2C pilot was one element of a broader collaborative strategy developed by the City of Long Beach. The goal was to work more effectively with people who were repeatedly arrested, often because of a lack of housing. In 2015 the city developed the Public Safety Continuum, a collaboration between the Long Beach Police Department, the Long Beach Fire Department, and other municipal government partners including the city prosecutor’s office and Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services. Its research led to the city creating the Justice Lab at the start of 2018, to improve approaches for people who were cycling in and out of jails.

Foundational to the Justice Lab’s overarching strategy was the creation of the Multidisciplinary Team (MDT), which the Justice Lab manager oversees. It brings together city and county safety, social service, and behavioral health departments monthly to better coordinate the provision of mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness services for high-frequency users (HFUs) of the system.

The nine-month C2C pilot was a key strategy to enhance the city’s continuum of responses, and a way of addressing a critical gap in that continuum. Since 2015, Long Beach had been cultivating a range of responses to the needs of people coming into frequent contact with the city’s justice system, human services, and behavioral health systems. It based this effort on the Sequential Intercept Model, which helps jurisdictions systematically address how community-based responses can serve people with mental and substance use disorders involved in the justice system.

The foundational intervention for engaging HFUs at the jail intercept is the “clinician in jail” pilot program, which began in April 2018. The program embeds a mental health professional in the Long Beach City Jail to assist people incarcerated there and connect them to services to prevent additional jail bookings. The clinician is employed by the Guidance Center, a community-based mental health services provider. During the initial six-month pilot, the clinician met with 297 people and provided 214 referrals, primarily to mental health services (33 percent of referrals), substance abuse services (19 percent), and homelessness services (32 percent; Long Beach Justice Lab 2019).

The Long Beach Police Department, which operates the jail, committed to funding the clinician program during its second year. However, despite the good work the clinician did, the actual rate of connection to referred services upon release was disappointingly low because of challenges like the lack of transportation at the point of release. The C2C pilot was conceived to address this gap. And the results were impressive, even through COVID-19.

147 rides were provided in the program’s first ten months, primarily to emergency shelters and behavioral health treatment centers.

You can download and read the case study, Connection to Care in a Municipal Jail Setting, by clicking here. It includes client success stories and more detail on overcoming challenges.

The Multidisciplinary Team meetings provided a forum for strategic and client-level collaboration. Perhaps the greatest testament to the strength of the C2C collaboration was the partnership’s ability to reallocate resources and become more successful in engaging clients even as the city’s pandemic response disrupted the pilot’s jail-based components.

By replicating Long Beach’s step-by-step work, other jurisdictions can use data to understand their own challenges and develop the collaborative relationships and add priority system capacity to better meet them.