Bail Community Engagement Crime Data Analysis Featured Jurisdictions Human Toll of Jail Jail Populations Pretrial and Bail Pretrial and Jails Pretrial Justice Pretrial Services Racial Disparities July 1, 2022

Expanding Supervised Release in New York City

Safety and Justice Challenge, Center for Court Innovation

In 2015, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation launched the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), a multi-year initiative to reduce populations and racial disparities in American jails. To advance knowledge development grounded in a research agenda that explores, evaluates, and documents site-specific strategies to safely and effectively reduce jail populations and address racial and ethnic disparities, the Foundation engaged the Institute for State & Local Governance (ISLG) at the City University of New York (CUNY) to establish and oversee an SJC Research Consortium. Consortium members are nationally renowned research, policy, and academic organizations collaborating with SJC sites to build an evidence base focused on pretrial reform efforts.

Under New York City’s Supervised Release Program (SRP) individuals awaiting trial are released under community supervision to ensure their return to court, instead of via bail or pretrial detention. Defendants are eligible for the citywide SRP if they meet specific criteria, including arrest charge type, estimated risk status, and community ties. Towards the goal of reducing the jail population, New York City expanded the City’s Supervised Release Program (SRP) several times by altering the eligibility criteria to include a wider range of individuals. The first large expansion of SRP since 2016 occurred at the beginning of June 2019. A subsequent program expansion occurred in December 2019 as New York State prepared for 2020 bail reform legislation to go into effect.

In an effort to better understand the impact of expansion of SRP as a jail-reduction strategy, ISLG and the SJC Research Consortium funded the Center for Court Innovation to examine the impact of the June 2019 expansion. The Center conducted a time series analysis to determine if observed post-expansion SRP enrollment and/or detention rates significantly differed from predicted rates. The study found that the expansion increased SRP rates across racial groups and reduced detention for non-violent felony offenses, though not for misdemeanor offenses. In addition, the findings show increased use of SRP for misdemeanor offenses, which may suggest net-widening.

Key takeaways:

  1. Increasing program participation does not always decrease detention. For small program expansions (like the 2019 expansion) to have a true impact on detention, these initiatives must target serious crimes that are likely to be detained.

  2. Large changes are needed for large impact. Larger expansions, especially those that are driven by legislative change (like the December 2019 expansion in preparation for bail reform), can have a greater impact on detention compared to smaller expansions.

  3. Targeted efforts to reduce racial disparities are necessary. Disparities are not automatically impacted by increasing program participation and decreasing detention across the board. To reduce racial disparities, targeted efforts must be made.

Together, the findings suggest that the SRP expansion reduced detention for some offenses and highlight the importance of measuring the impact of program implementation and expansion to inform future work and jail reduction efforts in New York City and other jurisdictions.

Perspective: Five myths about criminal justice


COVID Crime Racial Disparities June 24, 2021

Being “tough” on crime doesn’t always make sense.

By Laurie R. Garduque
Laurie R. Garduque is the director of criminal justice at the MacArthur Foundation
Originally published on on November 25, 2020 at 5:55 p.m. EST

The movement to end police violence against Black communities has brought heightened attention to criminal justice issues amid a global pandemic. The FBI recently released the 2019 “Crime in the United States” report, which looks at last year’s trends. The data is easily cherry-picked to push false narratives around what works — and what doesn’t — to fight crime. Here are some dangerous misconceptions to look out for.

Myth No. 1

Responses to the pandemic are driving crime rates up.

Since March, the coronavirus has created a public health crisis in jails, where social distancing is extremely challenging for people awaiting their trials. Many jurisdictions have released people who do not pose a threat to the community and have shifted their arrest strategies to keep people out of jail in the first place. Critics say the releases are leading to a rise in crime. For example, William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, argues that “releasing individuals, who by definition are not safe to be among the public, in the name of improving public welfare is nonsensical.” Similarly, Kent Scheidegger, legal director of a victims rights advocacy group, the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, warns that “as the country reopens, the effect of releases will show in statistics as well.”

But the decrease in jail populations due to the coronavirus is not causing an increase in crime. Overall, crime has been steadily declining in recent years, and pandemic-related jail policies haven’t affected it. A new report from the JFA Institute looking at the impact of the outbreak on crime, arrests and jail populations suggests that reform strategies that have been in place over the past six months have reduced jail populations while not affecting crime. In places like San Francisco and Charleston County, S.C., the report showed that crime rates overall have not been influenced significantly by local justice systems’ responses to the coronavirus and that some crimes have fallen since the beginning of the pandemic. Studies have found that unnecessarily jailing people endangers the health and safety of individuals held in jails, those who work in jails and the broader community. Research has also shown that over-punishing people at low risk of committing more crimes turns them into people at high risk of committing more crimes — so we are paying huge amounts of money to create a public safety problem through mass incarceration.

Myth No. 2

Protests for racial justice are causing an increase in crime.

Demonstrations against the deaths of Black people at the hands of police have continued nationwide since the killing of George Floyd in May. Conservative media outlets argue that these protests are leading to an increase in crime. “What we have witnessed these past few tumultuous nights is not America. It is an anarchist’s dream,” a Washington Examiner columnist thundered in June. In the Wall Street Journal, Paul Cassell wrote: “What changed in late May? The antipolice protests that began across the country around May 27 appear to have resulted in a decline in policing directed at gun violence, producing — perhaps unsurprisingly — an increase in shootings.”

But contrary to the claims of some leaders that cities are “plagued by violent crime,” a new Center for American Progress analysis shows that violent crime rates decreased from 2019 to 2020 in more than half of the 25 largest U.S. cities, including New York and Seattle, and in some smaller metros such as Portland, Ore. The data also show that while homicide is up from 2019 to 2020 in five of the largest U.S. cities, those increases began before the protests started in June.

The protests are not causing an increase in crime — they are causing cities and counties across the country to have conversations about transformational change in their criminal justice systems, such as alternatives to police, corrections and courts.

Myth No. 3

We must remain ‘tough on crime.’

Some leaders say the only way to keep communities safe is to be “tough on crime” and lock up criminals. Attorney General William Barr has said that reform efforts are “pushing a number of America’s cities back toward a more dangerous past.” And in an opinion piece in the National Review, former deputy attorney general George J. Terwillenger III claimed, “Perhaps someone will figure out a way to neutralize chronic violent offenders without incarceration, but until they do the choice is simply to either put the repeat violent offender away or leave him on the street to make more victims.”

But research has shown that “tough” methods are a waste of resources. Tactics such as stop-and-frisk and the misuse and overuse of jails are discriminatory and do not keep communities safe. Someone who spends time in jail is statistically more likely to reoffend and end up back in the system. And a study from the Pretrial Justice Institute shows that as few as three days spent unnecessarily in jail can have collateral consequences for a person’s life, such as the loss of a job and health benefits and time away from family obligations. Cities and counties have been able to safely release people pretrial without seeing an increase in rates of rearrest or failure to appear. Rather than being “tough on crime,” investing in the needs of the community (and the people most affected by crime) is the most effective way to keep communities safe.

Myth No. 4

One year of crime data can show a trend.

Headlines — such as the New York Times‘ “In Emptier Subways, Violent Crime Is Rising” or the Crime Report’s “‘Steep Increase’ in Violent Crime Reported This Year” — suggest a record year for crime and that communities are unsafe as a result. This narrative is furthered by reports that cherry-pick data to undermine reform efforts.

In reality, analyzing crime rates is complicated. As we review the analysis of annual crime trends in the FBI’s report on 2019, we must keep in mind that historical context is key to ensuring a true “apples to apples” comparison. Year-to-year crime stats do not paint the most accurate picture; trends over decades do. Pointing to a current, or even seasonal, spike in certain crimes — for example, the recent jump in homicides in cities across the country — ignores that overall crime, including violent crime and homicides, is significantly lower now than in the 1980s and ’90s.

Many factors influence fluctuations in crime rates, such as the tendency for crime to rise in the spring and summer and decline in the fall and winter, or changes in policing tactics. An uptick or downturn in any one year doesn’t necessarily signal a larger trend.

Myth No. 5

Criminal justice reform means more crime.

We’ve seen leaders hesitate to engage in criminal justice reform strategies because they seem too new, nuanced or radical. Law enforcement officials and prosecutors across the country have been outspoken critics of policies to reduce or eliminate cash bail. Georgetown University law professor Bill Otis, nominated to the U.S. Sentencing Commission by President Trump, called efforts toward sentencing reform “more-crime-faster proposals.”

But cities and counties have been working for years to implement tested, data-driven reform strategies that keep communities safe while reducing the misuse and overuse of jails. This includes bail reform, which, despite the naysayers, has not been found to increase crime. In research released this month by Loyola University Chicago, scholars found the 2017 order by Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County Timothy
Evans to reevaluate the use of monetary bail in Cook County, Ill., increased the percent and number of people released pretrial without any associated significant change in new criminal activity, violent or otherwise,
nor any change in the amount of crime in Chicago after 2017. Though critics insist we need to choose between reform and safety, cities and counties are proving that this is a false choice — the system can be made more
fair, and all communities can be kept safe.

Five myths is a weekly feature challenging everything you think you know. You can check out previous myths, read more from Outlook or follow our updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Breaking The Cycle Of Homelessness And Jail

By: Madeline Bailey

Crime Homelessness Pretrial Services August 12, 2020

On any given night in the United States, more than 550,000 people are experiencing homelessness. Among these, 96,000 are chronically homeless, meaning they are facing long and repeated episodes of homelessness that make it increasingly difficult to return to housing. This crisis is perpetuated by a legal system that criminalizes survival behaviors associated with homelessness, fails to account for the ways in which people who are homeless face impossible odds within the legal process, and then releases them back into the community with even more obstacles than they faced before.

The time has come for local justice systems to take immediate action to halt the cycle of homelessness and jail incarceration.

This must begin with acknowledging the harms perpetuated by the current system, addressing deepening racial disparities, and enacting urgently needed changes to policies and practices.

That’s the crux of a new evidence brief issued this week by the Vera Institute of Justice—strategic allies to the Safety and Justice Challenge.

In the brief, we examine how the overenforcement and criminalization of homelessness exposes unhoused people to frequent police contact and citations for unavoidable aspects of homelessness, such as camping outside or soliciting help. For people lacking a stable income, housing, or a reliable mailing address, unpaid fines and missed court dates can quickly trigger warrants and arrests. Once caught in the system, people without housing face a higher likelihood of pretrial incarceration and increased vulnerability to conviction, leading to longer periods in jail.

After release from jail, increased obstacles and restrictions make it even harder to find safe housing, employment, and overall stability—leaving many recently released people with no realistic option for avoiding homelessness.

Confirming the cycle, researchers have found that homelessness is between 7.5 and 11.3 times more prevalent among the jail population. Because of punitive laws and enforcement practices, people who are homeless are 11 times more likely to be arrested, nationwide, than those who are housed.

Without legal and policy changes, the cycle of homelessness and jail will persist, and will deepen already existing racial disparities within the criminal legal system. Research has shown that Black people make up more than 40 percent of America’s unhoused population, despite constituting only 13 percent of the general population.

The evidence establishing the link between homelessness and jail incarceration demands further research and highlights the urgent need for alternative approaches.

The most humane way to stop the cycle of homelessness and jail is to provide safe and stable housing for all. But, as some jurisdictions are starting to recognize the urgency of stopping this cycle, local justice system stakeholders have begun implementing smaller solutions that offer people experiencing homelessness a way to avoid the devastating consequences of the criminal legal system, while also allowing communities to free up system resources for other purposes.

Our brief offers several strategies for breaking the cycle of homelessness including:

  • Eliminating harmful city ordinances that target elements of homelessness
  • Halting the issuance of warrants for quality of life offenses
  • Forgiving legal fines and fees for people experiencing homelessness
  • Reforming probation and parole procedures to support people without stable housing
  • Addressing housing and employment restrictions for justice-involved people

Especially in a year when the United States is weathering an unprecedented public health crisis, it is more important than ever to examine the systems that make communities most vulnerable and to implement alternatives that prioritize safety, health, and justice for all.

Madeline Bailey is a Program Associate with the Vera Institute of Justice

Crime Is Down In Chicago After Coronavirus-Related Jail Releases

By: Don Stemen

COVID Crime Jail Populations May 21, 2020

Law enforcement policy has too often been decided in a data vacuum, in large part due to a lack of sophistication and transparency in how policing data are publicly released.

At the same time, safety-related jail releases of defendants charged with low-level felonies to protect them from the spread of the Coronavirus offer an unprecedented discrete opportunity to test common assumptions about whether releasing people before trial necessarily leads to an uptick in crime.

In the absence of crime data, such early concerns were raised about a possible crime wave related to Coronavirus jail releases, but it turns out that those fears have not been borne out by actual statistics, which we’ve been tracking in Chicago on a weekly basis and reporting on a website.

Instead, the data in Chicago shows a marked drop in overall crime since Coronavirus jail releases began, with total reported incidents down more than 30 percent.

At the same time, since March 15, the Cook County jail population is also down 28 percent, to a level not seen since the early 1980s:

The data also show statistically significant reductions in seven out of 12 of the most frequent offense types, particularly arrests for non-marijuana drug offenses:

Chicago and Cook County Justice agencies began containment policies on March 17, when Cook County began a reassessment of bond for primarily non-violent offenders. On March 24th, the Chicago Police Department directed officers to reduce police stops and issue citations in lieu of low-level misdemeanor arrests.

Concerns of a crime wave have been raised primarily by law enforcement agencies, although early analysis by the Marshall Project suggested the opposite trend, with reported crime down across the country in major cities. And our own analysis bolsters that.

However, there is also interesting nuance in the data that aligns with underlying structural issues that COVID-19 have illustrated in regards to public health.

The Chicago Tribune found, for example, after filing a public records request, that the police department issued more Coronavirus dispersal orders in Chicago’s West Side neighborhoods, which are markedly more populated by African American people on lower incomes. These neighborhoods also have the highest violent crime rates in the city and the most concentrated areas of economic and social disadvantage.

There are structural inequities, including racial inequities, at play in Chicago’s geography. The statistics show a markedly higher reduction in crime in Chicago’s central business district and in many of the more affluent neighborhoods with fewer people of color:

The area where we’ve seen the biggest drop in crime is The Loop—the central business district in downtown Chicago where the businesses, the shopping district, and the financial district are located. And nobody’s there right now—the accountants and attorneys are all working from home, and almost all of the stores are closed to shoppers.

Meanwhile in the areas with higher crime rates, homicides and shootings have been relatively unaffected by the crisis, remaining relatively steady in their week-to-week fluctuations.

The data suggest that we may have reached a statistical baseline, in terms of how much it’s possible to impact crime statistics and the jail population alone.

At this point, if we want to further reduce crime or the jail population, then it’s going to need deeper work from a public health perspective to protect the population at greatest risk for shootings and homicides. There are some more intractable issues at play that aren’t interfered with, even by a pandemic.

So far, there’s been limited replication of this kind of statistical analysis, nationally. But we encourage it because it illustrates the powerful impact of police decision making on the system.

By reducing the number of drug arrests in Chicago, for example, police have had a profound impact on the system, and on the jail. There is a systemwide interconnectedness revealed in the numbers.

The question is, once restrictions have been eased, will the Chicago justice system remember what it’s learning from all this? 

Dr. Don Stemen is an Associate Professor and Chairperson in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology and a member of the Graduate Faculty at Loyola University, Chicago.

Professor David Olson is a Professor in the Criminal Justice and Criminology Department at Loyola University Chicago, where he is also the Graduate Program Director, and is also the Co-Director (with Diane Geraghty, Loyola School of Law) of Loyola’s interdisciplinary Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy and Practice. 


The Covid Blueprint: Crime Stats Are Not Going Up As Jail and Prison Populations Go Down

By: James Austin

COVID Crime Jail Populations May 7, 2020

Contrary to what fearmongers would have you believe, the Coronavirus has shown that crime doesn’t rise when jail and prison populations go down. This was well known even before COVID-19 caused cities to rethink their criminal justice policies.

The current COVID-19 crisis provides a real-time blueprint on how to vastly streamline our criminal justice system. Removing misdemeanor and traffic violations from the criminal code would reduce the number of arrests, jail bookings and court filings by at least 50%. Expediting the disposition of criminal charges for those jailed will reduce the jail and prison populations. And we now know that crime rates will be reduced as we shrink the $300 billion criminal justice system footprint.

The press has focused on a few isolated surges in shootings but in fact, a new study by Thomas Abt and Richard Rosenfeld shows that American homicide rates declined dramatically in April and May based on data from 64 U.S. cities: Homicide rates declined by 21.5 percent in April and 9.9 percent in May compared with the previous three-year average for those months. We’ve also seen abrupt drops in theft and burglaries since the Coronavirus took hold, and that’s against a backdrop of crime rates already dropping by over 50% since 1995.

The crime drop has also produced an arrest drop, and that’s been compounded as law enforcement has decided not to pay as much attention to misdemeanor crimes. Those arrests have dropped dramatically, producing reduced jail bookings and fewer people in jail.

As we talk about reducing the footprint and cost of police agencies (over $140 billion a year), the number one thing for us to learn is that we don’t need to physically arrest people for a misdemeanor crime. Instead, police should give them a field citation, with the exception of domestic violence and DUI charges. And police shouldn’t be doing routine traffic stops for the sole purpose of raising money for more policing. As an alternative, we should maximize use of cameras, and develop a corps of traffic officers who aren’t armed with guns but with tablets. If they catch you speeding, they take a picture of your license plate, and then send you the picture and a bill. That’s all.

The big challenge we’re now facing is people’s court appearances being delayed because the criminal courts have been shut down, or are working at a slower pace. Courts need to expedite the processing of cases for those folks who are still in jail. Defenders and prosecutors will have to change their old business practices of delaying sentencing until they get a deal they like. In particular, needless and lengthy court continuances need to be eliminated.

Courts may also need to declare a one-time amnesty for those who fail to appear over coming months on misdemeanor and traffic citations issued during the Coronavirus crisis. Otherwise, there’ll be a sizable backup of failure-to-appear warrants which will clog the courts, increase jail bookings, and do nothing to improve public safety.

—Dr. Austin has over twenty-five years of experience in correctional planning and research. He is the former director of the Institute on Crime, Justice and Corrections at George Washington University in Washington, DC.