12 New Sites Ready to Rethink Jails

By: Marina Duane

Featured Jurisdictions Interagency Collaboration Jail Populations October 24, 2018

Twelve new Innovation Fund sites expand the Safety and Justice Challenge Network and bring fresh ideas on how to tackle overincarceration.

Local decisions and dynamics make a significant contribution to America’s high incarceration rates.  Local policing practices, judicial decisions, or crime patterns contribute to the overuse of jails. As a result, millions of people cycle in and out of jails annually, disrupting the lives of many people and families and putting local governments under financial pressure.  To tackle this issue, communities across the country are looking at how they can safely reduce their jail populations, improve their responses to people with behavioral health needs, address racial and ethnic disparities, and reduce correctional costs.

To help find effective solutions and spur innovation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has invested more than $100 million to date to support jurisdictions in undertaking jail reforms through the Safety and Justice Challenge. Within two years, the network of jurisdictions grew to include implementation sites that are working on comprehensive reforms, and Innovation Fund sites that receive seed funding to take risks and test innovative ideas.

Momentum for change is building and early results are promising. For example, in two years Philadelphia has reduced its jail population by  36 percent. East Baton Rouge Parish, LA established the parish’s first pretrial release program to operate from within the jail, which creates an option for some participants with behavioral health needs to avoid custody. In Buncombe County, NC, jail bookings for people with domestic violence charges are down 10 percent in late spring 2018, compared to the same period in 2017.

Today, the network is expanding as we welcome a new cohort of 12 Innovation Fund sites. Administered by the Urban Institute, the Innovation Fund further enhances the reach of the Challenge network as it inspires and supports local innovation, experimentation, and peer learning across the nation. The new cohort broadens the network to a total of 52 jurisdictions, located in 32 states and a rich mix of geographically dispersed urban, suburban, and rural communities.

The new sites deepen current reform efforts by zeroing in on issues such as assisting women coming in and out of jail (Cumberland County, ME), improving connection to care for high utilizers (City of Long Beach, CA) or offering free rides to court hearings (Hennepin County, MN). You can find brief descriptions of the new Innovation Fund sites and the work they’ll be undertaking here. Agencies who spearhead the reforms represent a wide variety of local leaders such as sheriffs, the courts, prosecutors, public defenders, departments of health and human services, city and county administrators, and many others.

The 12 Innovation Fund sites not only expand the reach of the Safety and Justice Challenge network but represent an inspiring array of justice reform efforts to safely reduce jail use.

A version of this post appeared on Urban Wire blog.