Seeding and Spreading Innovation to Reduce Jail Use

By: Jesse Jannetta

Data Analysis Interagency Collaboration Jail Populations February 1, 2017

An abiding challenge of justice reform in the United States is the decentralization of criminal justice operations. Reforming how we deliver public safety entails making changes in how thousands of independently operated justice agencies do business. This is certainly true of changing how jails are used, which must be tackled county by county, and city by city. Meeting this challenge is necessary, because that status quo of jail use is costly in terms of fiscal impact, unintended harms, and contribution to the racial and ethnic disparities that are endemic to the American justice system,

The upside of decentralization is that it generates innovation. Elected officials, justice and human service professionals, and community leaders of all kinds are wrestling with how to address crime, victimization, addiction, mental illness, and homelessness while using costly incarceration as sparingly as possible. These local reform thinkers are generating new ideas to address these difficult problems, and also represent an audience eager to consider and adapt innovative solutions designed elsewhere.

The Safety and Justice Challenge is creating a growing network that weaves local change efforts into a movement to transform the way jails are used throughout the country. On February 1, the Safety and Justice Challenge Network, a collaborative of counties, cities, and states modeling and inspiring reforms to create fairer, more effective local justice systems across the country, expands with the announcement by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation of a cohort of 20 jurisdictions participating in the Innovation Fund. 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 Fund sites’ innovations focus on areas such as behavioral health, diversion at the point of arrest, data integration and analysis of jail population drivers, and pretrial release and supervision. Partners include sheriffs, prosecutors, public defenders, police departments, the courts, community organizations, researchers, county and municipal governments, and many others. You can find brief descriptions of the Innovation Fund sites and the work they’ll be undertaking here.

Creating change locally can be isolating. Becoming part of a peer network like the SJC is energizing. The Innovation Fund sites will draw inspiration from one another and the Challenge Core and Partner Sites. They’ll exchange knowledge, learning from and advising on the work of their colleagues.

Rethinking jail everywhere in the United States takes a broad movement. The 20 Innovation Fund sites are excited to contribute to that movement through the Safety and Justice Challenge.

This post originally appeared on the Urban Wire blog.