Data Analysis Jail Populations Racial Disparities November 18, 2022

Measuring Progress: Declining Populations, Rising Disparities

Cecilia Low-Weiner, Kailey Spencer, Benjamin Estep, CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance

Exploring Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Safety and Justice Challenge Communities

Attempts to reform the criminal legal system are often driven by calls to fix the pervasive racial and ethnic disparities within it. However, these reforms, despite their intentions, can fail to improve or even exacerbate the same disparities they sought to fix.

Since 2015, cities and counties across the country have joined the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) to develop and implement data-driven initiatives to reduce jail populations and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities within these jails. While prior analyses by the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance (ISLG) highlight major strides toward the first goal of reducing overall jail populations, the findings were less encouraging regarding reducing disparities: in many SJC communities, despite often dramatic reductions in bookings and/or jail populations across all racial and ethnic groups, disparities have persisted or even in- creased among these groups.

Reducing these disparities continues to be a challenge within SJC communities, indicating that the benefits of SJC’s strategies aren’t being felt equally among all racial and ethnic groups. This brief seeks to further explore the disparities highlighted in Measuring Progress—an online tool developed by ISLG that measures jail trends since SJC implementation—and set a course for further analyses.


COVID Data Analysis Incarceration Trends November 18, 2022

Measuring Progress: The Fall & Rise of Jail Populations During the Pandemic

Cecilia Low-Weiner, Brandon Martinez, Benjamin Estep, CUNY Institute for STate and Local Governance

A Closer Look at COVID-19’s Effect on Bookings in Safety and Justice Challenge Communities

Across the country, counties seeking to curb the overuse and misuse of jails have looked to a common entry point to do so: their front doors. Since the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) launched in 2015, participating communities have implemented data-driven strategies that have helped reduce the number of people booked into their jails, reductions often closely linked to declines in overall jail population. By January 2020, just prior to the onset of COVID-19, bookings had declined in SJC communities overall by 13 percent, with no negative impacts on community safety: crime trends remained stable or decreased following SJC implementation. When the pandemic started spreading across the United States in early 2020—especially rapidly within jails—SJC communities began implementing emergency measures to reduce their jail populations, many of which directly impacted bookings and resulted in steep declines.

In an effort to understand how these declines were achieved in individual communities, and gain insight into how to sustain these lowered populations, SJC site coordinators collected information on the strategies implemented and closely tracked jail trends. This brief seeks to expand upon findings from Measuring Progress—an online tool developed by the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance (ISLG) that measures jail trends since SJC implementation—to explore booking-related trends across communities pre- and post-COVID, offering a first look at how some of these emergency decarceration strategies may have impacted trends and what has happened since normal operations have resumed.


Data Analysis Racial Disparities November 15, 2022

Race and Prosecution in Broward County, Florida

R.R. Dunlea, Besiki Luka Kutateladze, Melba Pearson, Don Stemen, Lin Liu

This report measures the scope and magnitude of racial and ethnic disparities in prosecutorial outcomes in the Broward State Attorney’s Office, Florida, during 2021.

The data suggest that, compared to Hispanic and White defendants, Black defendants are:

  • Least likely to have their case filed for prosecution, especially for felony charges;
  • Most likely to have their top charge reduced in severity at filing, as well as increased in severity;
  • Most likely to have their case dismissed, whether charged with a felony or a misdemeanor;
  • Least likely to have their felony charge reduced after filing; and
  • Most likely to receive custodial and time-served-only sentences upon conviction, as compared to non-custodial sentences.
  • Especially more likely to receive custodial sentences than White defendants in negotiated pleas, as compared to open pleas.

Compared to similarly situated Black and White defendants, Hispanic defendants are:

  • Least likely to experience charge changes at filing;
  • Most likely to have their case pursued for prosecution;
  • Most likely to have their felony charges reduced at disposition; and
  • Least likely to receive jail and prison sentences upon conviction.

Reflections on My Time Reducing Jail Populations in Charleston County and the Journey Ahead

By: Kristy Danford

Community Engagement Data Analysis Jail Populations August 3, 2022

As I step down from a Safety and Justice Challenge role I’ve served in since 2015, I’m proud of what we achieved together in Charleston, SC and hopeful for the future of justice reform. I am optimistic the progress can provide a path for other communities to sustainably improve their local systems while safely reducing the misuse and overuse of jails.

As reported in our 2021 Annual Report, Charleston County’s local jail population was reduced 40 percent from our initial baseline in 2014 to 2021. Municipal and Magistrate charges booked into our jail were cut by 80 percent. The rate of local bookings among our adult population decreased by 67 percent. The rate of local bookings among Black adults decreased from 178 per 1,000 Black adults to 58. The number of unique individuals repeatedly cycling through our jail, most often on lower-level charges, decreased by 71 percent. At the same time, Circuit Court charges booked into our jail kept steady and our crime trends remained similar to that in the rest of our state–which did not enact our reforms. We now have even more refined data and expertise to lead the way forward in making our local system more effective, equitable and efficient.

Those results have not happened by accident. They are the result of intentional data-guided collaborations between diverse stakeholders in Charleston, from executives leading agencies within the system to diverse members of our community. We came together, cutting across lines of responsibility and power, to objectively look at how our system was serving all of us and found sustainable ways to do more good than harm. We made it better by forming a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC), assuming nothing, rethinking expectations, and continually using data to guide us. While there is more work to be done, the CJCC’s efforts moving forward will continue to be focused and intentional. For instance, the evidence-base is clearly pointing the way forward to reducing the time from arrest to disposition and improving pretrial outcomes.

Before joining the SJC I experienced the gap between what jurisdictions and/or independent justice system agencies were trying to do with reform measures and what was happening on the ground in local communities. If you have seen my TEDx talk you know my journey led me from experiencing the system first-hand, to working on the front lines in probation and parole, to working within organizations and legislative spaces trying to bring about greater alignment between what the research shows works and what actually happens, day-in and day-out.

Wherever I was working in the country, the gap between intentions for reform, and what was happening on the ground, persisted. It was natural because change is challenging. The challenges are also exacerbated by the constant barrage of hot button issues in the news. I found that jurisdictions often whacked one mole on the road to reform, only to find another mole pop up. It was disorienting and exhausting. I’d had enough of the reactive whack-a-mole approach and wanted to take a more proactive and sustainable localized approach to reform.

I came to realize if I really wanted to help make a system work better for the families and communities it served, I had to go local, and it had to be done with a collective body of system leaders and representatives of the community they served. I was convinced if we singularly focused our reform efforts on pulling one policy lever or another, or focused too much on one decision-maker or another, reforms would continue to come up short. To truly reform the system, we had to focus on the whole system.

Every decision-maker in the “system” and every decision mattered. Together, we could form a CJCC, assess how our system was working, set specific goals, and measure progress against those goals. After a lot of reflection, I came up with my dream job. I wanted to work hand-in-hand with local system actors and the communities they served. I wanted to form a CJCC, to use data to ground the dialogue, and to look beyond the next mole that pops up. While I was convinced this had to be the way forward, there were not many others willing to give it a shot, and there were no staffed CJCCs in South Carolina.

Then along came MacArthur’s Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC). When it launched, I stepped up to serve as a volunteer in Charleston alongside some brave early adopters. Together, we eventually formed the Charleston CJCC.  We challenged one another, learned from each other, and became one of the first communities to join SJC. Over the last seven years, our CJCC has grown. It went from a scrappy startup to a mainstay in the community leading the way for others. While we remain the only community from South Carolina in the SJC, additional CJCCs are forming across the state. The collaborative, data-guided work of our CJCC is also contributing to the development of the first-ever national standards for CJCCs.

My vision is to see this kind of transformation take place across the country. There are roughly 3,000 counties across America and many of them lack the kind of sustained data-guided collaboration we have managed to pull together in Charleston and across many SJC cities and counties. Every community can and should have a high-functioning CJCC that brings diverse stakeholders together to look at its data, to see how its system is functioning, set specific goals, monitor their progress, and make it happen. Inevitably, the data will point to inefficiencies and inequities and countless stories of harms done. The data will also point to a number of opportunities to do more good than harm. I implore anyone reading this to be on the lookout for the forthcoming CJCC national standards published by the National Institute of Corrections in conjunction with the National Network of CJCCs and to strive to live them out.

As criminal justice reforms continue to evolve, I urge my colleagues to embrace data and constructive dialogue as their guide, stay focused on what makes their community safer and more just, and keep coming together. CJCC’s provide a sustainable forum for us all to demand collective accountability from the entire system and foster the learning environment necessary to make it happen.

Personally, it has been a challenging and rewarding experience to get to live out this journey, and I am excited for the continued efforts of the Charleston CJCC and CJCCs across the country. Meanwhile, I am also a mother who feels like time is moving way too fast. So, I am about to embark on my next journey to spend more time with my kids. For now, I am taking a step back from full-time work before that brief window of childhood closes and the next chapter opens.

I wish my colleagues at SJC sites across the country continued success as we continue to collaborate locally and across the country to do more good than harm.


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.