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.


Diversion Featured Jurisdictions Jail Populations May 26, 2022

Examining The Impacts Of Arrest Deflection Strategies On Jail Reduction Efforts

Shannon Magnuson, Cherrell Green, Amy Dezember, Brian Lovins—Justice System Partners

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.

Reducing jail populations and the collateral consequences of the legal system requires jurisdictions to critically examine the practices bringing these populations through the criminal legal system's front door. It requires implementing opportunities to reduce reliance on citation or arrest/booking, especially for populations with serious mental health disorders (SMHD) or substance use disorders (SUD), while also providing individuals the help and referrals they need to be well. Police-led deflection allows police officers discretion to replace arrest with outreach to community-based service providers. In an effort to learn more about how police-led deflection strategies operate, ISLG funded Justice System Partners to conduct mixed-methods studies of deflection strategies in two SJC sites.

Using administrative data from local crisis centers and interviews with police officers in Pima County, AZ and Charleston County, SC, this mixed methods study aimed to understand how deflection of individuals with SMHD/SUD operates in both sites.

Key takeaways include:

  • A parallel treatment revolving door to the legal system revolving door, which acknowledges the challenges of treatment initiation and engagement and provides individuals with SMHD/SUD with a "no wrong door" policy. This creates enhanced opportunities for treatment while eliminating collateral consequences of the legal system and jail for these vulnerable populations.
  • Deflection first, arrest rare as both policy and principle connects vulnerable individuals to the services they need. At the same time, it lessens opportunities for implicit bias and non-clinical judgements about readiness for change to impact the decision to deflect.

In summary, when police departments deflect as the primary response, they no longer make access to treatment conditional or contingent. In both Charleston and Pima counties, an individual can agree to treatment, receive a police transport to the local crisis center, and then at the door decide not to enter with no legal consequences, meaning that the individual is not arrested for refusing to initiate treatment. The findings suggest support for the implementation of deflection strategies, as well as a need for agencies to critically examine inconsistencies in policies that may result in disparate outcomes. Ultimately, the study finds that deflection strategies can be used to facilitate access to the treatment revolving door, rather than the justice system revolving door.

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Two Years Since George Floyd: The Challenge of Sustaining Momentum for Reform

By: Matt Davis

Community Engagement Featured Jurisdictions Racial Disparities May 25, 2022

Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd two years ago today on May 25, 2020. People protested racial injustice in the criminal justice system across the country and beyond, and as a result, some cities and counties pledged to make significant changes to law enforcement.

But in recent conversations with people involved with the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), many reflected on how not enough has changed in the last two years and how the landscape for criminal justice reforms is now becoming more challenging. And yet, they also pointed to areas of progress.

Jose Bernal, an organizer with the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, California, was the SJC representative on San Francisco’s Reentry Council, where he was part of the movement that successfully worked for the closure in 2020 of a seismically unfit jail facility. Bernal said the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with Mr. Floyd’s death, brought about a reckoning that helped close the jail. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors had been talking about closing it since 1996, but the events of 2020 helped influence some supervisors to finally support the closure.

But since 2021, there has been a shift in how some people view the criminal justice system, Bernal said.

“In an ideal world, we want to believe that our elected officials are moved by data and facts. And, you know, there are a few that are,” Bernal said. “But right now, there is this very dangerous narrative moving us back towards the 1990s’ ‘tough on crime’ approach.”

Some people believe that we “don’t have enough police, law enforcement is under-resourced, and crime is out of control,” Bernal said. “And it’s a false narrative. The facts don’t substantiate it. Crime is actually at historic lows.”

“We should still be having the conversation about reinvesting that money into the community, but it’s not what you see in the headlines,” Bernal concluded.

Keith Smalls is a community representative and Co-Vice Chair of the Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. He said the influx of new people into the movement for criminal justice reform following Mr. Floyd’s murder was welcomed. But the passion did not always help change policy, and in some cases, it provoked a backlash.

“Two years ago, a lot of new voices came into the movement for reform,” Smalls said. “A lot of passionate people lent their support and joined the front line for reform. But suddenly, when the protesting stopped, people took their passion home. What I tell people is that they were welcome to join the movement for reform then, but that they are even more welcome now. We need you.”

Smalls also reflected on how the criminal justice system continues to fail people, and how those who have experienced incarceration can help address these continuing problems. He recently delivered a Ted Talk in Charleston about the misnomer of calling it the “corrections” system. In the talk, he said his own experience in the criminal justice system helped him understand that it is not designed to rehabilitate.

“The system has never been designed for ‘correction,’” Smalls said. “The only people who can really show that to people at the decision-making table are people who have experienced incarceration.”

“Eighty-five percent of the people who go to prison come home. So, we should talk about what we’re making inside these systems. We get to a safer society by treating and rehabilitating people,” Smalls said.

The city council in Portland, Oregon—located in Multnomah County which is participating in the SJC—voted in 2020 to shrink the Police Bureau, but some advocates think accountability is still needed. Portland’s former Assistant Police Chief Kevin Modica believes there is more work ahead but that is optimistic.

“There have been some administrative rule changes and there is legislation moving now towards more accountability, but without a new movement for public safety reform, we’re still going to be living in the status quo. That’s going to show up in police interactions with Black boys and Black men on the street,” Modica said. “We’ve not done enough to engender a culture change. But I’m a lifelong reformist, and I do believe things will get better.”

Derrick Dawson is a National Organizer with Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training in Chicago. He is serving as a technical assistance provider to the SJC’s racial equity cohort in Cook County.

“Unfortunately, once George Floyd was murdered, everybody wanted a quick fix for systemic racism,” he said. “And quick fixes don’t work for systemic racism. In fact, every time we try to initiate one, we do more harm than good. It supports White supremacy. Because when quick fixes do not work, we’re allowed to say, ‘well, we tried that and it didn’t work, so why should we try?’ And that serves to reinforce the continuation of White supremacy, because now we have an excuse not to try anything new or different.”

Instead, Dawson said, it is important to strike the balance between starting somewhere and recognizing that there is a long way to go.

“In our work with the Cook County SJC team, for example, we’ve been very clear with everybody that this is a two-year project, and we have no delusions about solving the problem of systemic racism in two years. But we also recognize that we must start somewhere,” he said.

“There has been a growing understanding of the issues around systemic and institutional racism. The more folks that we can get to think about these issues systemically and institutionally, now, perhaps the next generation will have less of a slog than we have. Cook County and other systems are recognizing that we need to engage in the long-term work, otherwise we will be in the same place 20 or 30 years from now, as we are today.”


Costs Featured Jurisdictions Racial Disparities April 26, 2022

Population Review Teams: Evaluating Jail Reduction and Racial Disparities Across Three Jurisdictions

Joanna Weill, Amanda B. Cissner, and Sruthi Naraharisetti

Nearly one-third of those incarcerated across the U.S. are held in local jails, mostly held during the pretrial period, before they have been convicted of any crime. Among those detained in local jails, Black individuals are disproportionately represented, making up more than a third of the jail population in 2019.

Within this context of a national overreliance on jail, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation launched the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) in 2015. This effort supports local jurisdictions across the country in their search for safe and effective ways to reduce jail populations and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities.

Currently implemented in more than a dozen cities around the country, jail Population Review Teams (PRTs) are one strategy to reduce jail populations. Funded by the SJC and with guidance from ISLG, the Center for Court Innovation conducted a quantitative research study of the PRT model and its impacts in three sites through the spring of 2020: Lucas County, Ohio; Pima County, Arizona; and St. Louis County, Missouri. Although the sites did not design their PRTs to explicitly reduce racial disparities, this project helps them to measure the impact of PRTs and continue to work toward disparity reduction.

The analysis found:

  • A small impact on the jail population: Ultimately, the PRTs examined resulted in the release of a small proportion of the total jail population during the study period.
  • A larger impact, once a case is reviewed: For cases that make it to actual review by the PRT, about half go on to be released.
  • PRTs can increase disparities: In St. Louis County, White individuals are more likely than Black individuals to be eligible and recommended by the PRT.
  • Small disparity reduction at early PRT stages is not enough: In Lucas and Pima Counties, Black individuals were slightly more likely than White individuals to be eligible for the PRT, but these differences were not sustained past the eligibility stage.

Together, the findings across the three sites suggest that a jail reduction strategy is unlikely to reduce racial disparities if it does not explicitly consider race during the development of program policies. In addition, the PRTs included here impacted a small percentage of the overall jail population. However, feedback from the sites suggests that as a supplement to other local efforts or a driver of broad policy change, the PRT model shows promise in building collaboration, engaging local stakeholders across the system in meaningful discussion about overreliance on jail, and shining a light on potential areas for future efforts.

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A New “Tap In Center” Aims To Restore Community Trust

By: Miranda Gibson, Beth Huebner

Community Engagement Courts Diversion Featured Jurisdictions Interagency Collaboration Racial Disparities April 14, 2022

There is new hope in St. Louis County for people afraid to move on with their lives or engage with the criminal justice system because of unresolved warrants, municipal code violations, or having missed a court date.

The center, which is part of a national effort to lower jail populations in jurisdictions across the country as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), aids in responding to concerns raised by the Department of Justice (DOJ) about racial injustice related to municipal court practices in its 2015 investigation into the Ferguson Police Department—which is located in the northern part of St. Louis County.

The DOJ commissioned a report in the wake of the 2015 police killing of Michael Brown, which spawned a series of racial justice protests in Ferguson, attracting international attention. The report found that police practices were often unconstitutional and that municipal court practices imposed substantial barriers to the challenge or resolution of municipal code violations. The court also imposed “unduly harsh penalties for missed payments or appearances,” the report said. It also said the law enforcement practices in Ferguson were driven in part by racial bias and that they disproportionately harmed African American residents. So, it is evident that in St. Louis County any efforts to lower the jail population must go hand in hand with intentional efforts towards racial equity.

Minor legal issues are often part of the reason people “tap out” of trusting the criminal justice system. They stop people feeling proactively and collectively engaged with their community’s safety and security. But the new “Tap In Center” aims to rebuild trust between community members and the criminal justice system, with racial equity at its core. The goal is to help people to have a brief conversation and to help them re-engage with court cases and, more importantly, legal assistance.

Data helped with identifying the location for Tap In. It is taking place in the zip code where most African American people in the county’s jail system live. It is also located in a neighborhood that has historically been underserved in transit access, social services, and community supports. The center aims to take a humanitarian approach to the issues that people face when they must go to a court date every month, often for an extended period of time, until their case might be resolved.

The “Tap In Center” is more than just a place for people to resolve warrants. People can also meet with an attorney, learn their case status, apply for help from a public defender, or even access a cellphone. The center also connects people with other wrap-around services to help them with various challenges in their lives, from temporary housing to clothing to help with food.

Residents have spoken positively about their experience with the center, saying it allows them to continue their lives without fear of bench warrants or fear of arrest for this. Wakesha Cook told St. Louis Public Radio that after getting connected with a public defender and setting up a new court date, “I feel free.”

“When I first got to the center, I was a little nervous since I had this warrant on me, but when I started talking with the people, I was relieved,” said Earnest Holt, another person who visited the center, in an interview with the St. Louis American.

The Tap In Center is a community-based space in a public library. It’s located in a safe, neutral, calm, welcoming spot and is designed to remove barriers and worries that a person might have about going into a courthouse. It welcomes people who come in with warrant issues—people who have historically been wary about engaging with the justice system because they are afraid of, for example, serving jail time.

The center is the result of a partnership between the St. Louis County Library system, The Bail Project, the Missouri State Public Defender, and the St. Louis County Prosecutor, with support from the St. Louis County Courts 21st Judicial Circuit.

Criminal Justice reform strategies in St. Louis County go beyond the Tap In Center. They have focused on systemic case processing, including a population review team, enhanced pretrial reform, pretrial assessment, legal representation, and expedited probation handling. Each of the county’s reform strategies is meant to decrease the disproportionate burden that people of color face in the criminal justice system. St. Louis County is also advised by its own Ethnic and Racial Disparities committee, made up of criminal justice stakeholders, representatives from community advocacy groups, and individuals with lived experiences.

At the time of writing, St. Louis County had reduced the average daily population of its jail by 24% since joining the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2016. Nevertheless, racial disparities do persist. The average daily population of Black people in the jail has reduced by 15% from 2016 to 2021, according to the numbers, and the average daily population of White people has reduced by 41%. Length of stay has reduced for Black individuals who are seeing a 44% decline in the length of stay compared with 41% for White individuals. COVID has slowed progress because of court closures and other related delays. Now that things are reopening, the county is ready to continue its work.

The Tap In Center represents progress and provides motivation for the continued work to be done to address long-standing issues. We hope that other communities across the country will learn from the Tap In Center as they attempt to address their own racial equity issues and more.