Mecklenburg County, NC

Change in Jail Population 6%

Action Areas Bail Community Engagement Pretrial Services Racial Disparities

Last Updated

Background

Prior to joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, Mecklenburg County had successfully implemented several evidence-based practices to improve its justice system, such as using risk to inform the setting of release condition decisions, rather than relying on charge. This resulted in a significant jail population reduction, however there was still an unnecessary use of the local jail.

Too often, a jail stay depended on a person’s ability to pay money bail. Although the county increased the use of non-financial release conditions, jail stays still too often depended on a person’s ability to pay.

Pretrial status inmates and length of stay were main drivers of the jail population. In 2019, the pretrial jail population was 63% of the total average daily population.

People of color were overrepresented in the jail. In 2019, despite making up approximately 46% of the local population, Black and Hispanic people made up 78% of the jail population.

Strategies

Since joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, Mecklenburg County has advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just and equitable for all.

01

BAIL REFORM

The county implemented changes to its bail policy in March 2019 by removing the monetary bail schedule and creating a non-financial Release Conditions Matrix. This resulted in more individuals safely released from jail while awaiting trial. In addition, the county established a more informed and uniform bail setting process resulting in more meaningful first appearance hearings for individuals.

02

ENHANCED PRETRIAL SERVICES

The county enhanced pretrial services by strengthening system efficiencies through a streamlined case processing management plan. It is also developing specialized pretrial supervision teams to better serve clients at higher risk of pretrial failure.

03

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

The county launched a Community Engagement Task Group including 10 community members. The goal of the Task Group is to ensure community members can meaningfully engage and participate in the development of policy and practice changes in the justice system, under the guidance of the Criminal Justice Advisory Group.

04

CENTERING RACIAL EQUITY

The county partnered with the W. Haywood Burns Institute to analyze criminal justice system data to identify and inform policy and practice changes to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system. County stakeholders also created and delivered Implicit Bias Training for Justice Professionals to improve system actors’ understanding of the intersection of race and the justice system.

Results

As a result of the strategies above, Mecklenburg County has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system.

Quartery ADP for Mecklenburg County (2016-2021)

6.3% from baseline

More Results

There have been significant pretrial justice system improvements in the county. For example, first appearance courtrooms are now headed by a small number of trained judges, which allows for uniformity in how release and detain decisions are made. The county also established a bail policy leadership group that is staffed by an analyst and meets monthly to review outcome data.

In addition, the Criminal Justice Services (CJS) Pretrial Supervision Unit is poised to launch two specialized caseloads focused on clients who are at higher risk of pretrial failure. An assessment done by the Center for Court Innovation has provided the CJS Pretrial Supervision Unit with a set of recommendations concerning best practices around procedural justice. The Unit is working to incorporate those suggestions.

The development of the Community Engagement Task Group drew significant interest from both the local justice partners and the larger community, who are all committed to collaborating around the development of policy and practice changes in the justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all. Nearly 100 community members applied to participate in the Task Group, and 10 applicants were selected in March 2021.

By the end of Summer 2021, all county justice agencies will have implemented the Implicit Bias Training for Justice Professionals.

Remaining Challenges

Mecklenburg County is focused on addressing its remaining challenges in its local justice system.

An analysis of local criminal justice data by the W. Haywood Burns Institute identified bookings and early release decisions as the two decision points in the justice system most impacted by racial and ethnic disparities. The Community Engagement Task Group will plan to review the racial and ethnic disparities data analysis and provide feedback on policy and practice changes that will help to eliminate existing disparities in the local system.

The county is seeing an uptick in violent crime, including homicide, which has placed an emphasis on identifying dangerous individuals that are legally eligible for pretrial detention and detaining them, and appropriately supervising others while they await disposition of their case.

Last, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of the county’s local justice system. The foundation of collaborative, data-driven strategies, including the necessary structures and collaboration from local stakeholders that are in place to support these strategies, has set the county up well to respond to the pandemic swiftly and effectively. The county is focused on sustaining the work underway as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge in order to continue to support the work of reducing the local jail population and eliminating racial and ethnic disparities.

Lead Agency

Mecklenburg County Criminal Justice Services

Contact Information

Dr. Catie Clark
Criminal Justice Services Research and Planning Manager and SJC Site Project Director
Catie.Clark@MeckNC.gov

Partners

Mecklenburg County Manager's Office, Clerk of Superior Court, Office of District Court Judges, Chief Magistrate's Office, District Attorney's Office, Public Defender's Office, North Carolina Department of Public Safety Community Corrections 26th Judicial District, Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office, Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, Law enforcement agencies in Huntersville, Pineville, Cornelius, Davidson, Matthews, and Mint Hill, Community Support Services (CSS), New Options for Violent Actions (NOVA)

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