Shelby County, TN

Change in Jail Population 6%

Action Areas Courts Pretrial Services

Last Updated


Shelby County, which contains the city of Memphis, is the most populous county in the state.

When Shelby County joined the Safety and Justice Challenge, the number of bookings into its jail was decreasing, but the average length of stay was rising, particularly for in-custody felony defendants.

The Shelby County Jail is a pretrial detention facility. In August 2017, 15% of the people had been in jail for more than 500 days.

Racial and ethnic disparities persisted in the county’s justice system. Specifically, Black and Hispanic people were overrepresented in the jail.

Case processing times continued to increase. Delays in the held-to-state process, which refers to those cases that are bound over to the grand jury and reflect mostly felony cases, and lengthy time intervals associated with continuances, were identified as two main factors contributing to this increase.

Overuse of detention causes disruption in the stability of arrestees’ families and communities, leads to higher re-arrest rates, and produces worse case outcomes with more back-end incarceration.


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



To reduce case processing time for in-custody felony defendants, the county used many approaches: developed a Differentiated Case Management plan; reviewed cases for people in custody 500+ days; established a third Grand Jury and a process for those cases that are bound over to the grand jury; and provided earlier appointment of counsel for felony defendants.



In July 2019, the courts began using a new research-based risk assessment tool, the Public Safety Assessment, to predict pretrial success and ensure people could be released from jail safely.



For people facing misdemeanor citations, there was an opportunity to make the system more efficient. The misdemeanor citation process was consolidated to one appearance date that now includes both processing and court.


As a result of the strategies above, Shelby County has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system. The county has been able to reduce its jail population while keeping the community safe.

Quartery ADP for Shelby County (2016-2024)

6% from baseline

More Results

As of early 2021, the Public Safety Assessment tool was used to review more than 26,000 people in jail to assess whether or not they could be safely released back into the community while awaiting trial. In July 2019, the release on recognizance rate, which measures the amount of people who are safely released without paying bail, barely exceeded 15%. As of January 2021, the release on recognizance rate had nearly doubled to more than 31%.

As a result of efforts to improve case processing, the Differentiated Case Management plan was signed by all ten independently elected criminal court judges in September 2019. Two Differentiated Case Management Coordinators began in January 2020, and are working more closely with five of the ten criminal court judges, as of February 2021.

In addition, six jail population management reports were developed and completed by April 2019 to measure the length of time between various steps in the criminal justice system. Without data to understand the current situation, decisions about change could not be made.

The Criminal Court Clerk’s Office also reduced and began reporting the time between indictment returned and arraignment in criminal court. The time from arraignment to appointment of a public defender for felony cases in General Sessions Court began decreasing in May 2018, a change that was widely embraced by judges.

Remaining Challenges

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

Access to data that would allow for both an analysis of what is happening now in the justice system and creating data-driven solutions remains a challenge.

To get there, the county will build case management dashboards that provide a current summary and detailed information for those in criminal court. Once the dashboard is completed, it will give people a better understanding of cases on each docket. Following this, the county will build pretrial dashboards, which will track information related to appearance rate, concurrent rate, success rate, pretrial length of stay, and recommendation rate among other key data.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on every aspect of the county’s local justice system and continues to uniquely affect those incarcerated in local jails. 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.

Lead Agency

Shelby County Sheriff’s Office

Contact Information

Katy Mack


Shelby County Criminal Court Clerk's Office, Shelby County Criminal Court Judges, Shelby County Pretrial Services, Shelby County District Attorney's Office

Blog Posts