Housing Jail Populations July 11, 2023

At The Intersection of Probation and Jail Reduction Efforts: Findings on Probation, Jail, and Transitional Housing Trends in Pima County, Arizona

Ammar Khalid, Rochisha Shukla, Arielle Jackson, and Andreea Matei

Reducing jail populations – and the collateral consequences of criminal legal system involvement – requires jurisdictions to critically examine why and how people are entering the system to begin with. Much of the research around jail reform focuses on the pretrial population; however, with rising numbers o individuals under probation supervision and jail commonly being used to detain those awaiting a hearing on a probation violation, reform efforts to understand how violations contribute to the overall jail population are essential. To learn more about the impact probation revocations have on jails and to advance promising strategies to address them, CUNY ISLG funded the Urban Institute through the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) to conduct a mixed-methods study on how people on probation end up in jail incarceration and the impact of a program aimed at improving these outcomes with transitional housing support through the Adult Probation Department (APD) in Pima County, Arizona. Using administrative data from the Pima County Jail and APD, case record reviews, and interviews with APD leadership, probation officers, judges, community-based housing providers, and people on probation, this study aimed to decipher the system-level trends in jail incarceration for probation violations and the key pathways to jail incarceration for those individuals currently on probation. It also sought to understand the impact of the transitional housing support program on short and long-term outcomes for people on probation receiving funding from APD for transitional housing.

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Funding Housing Solutions to Reduce Jail Incarceration

By: Kelly Walsh

Housing Interagency Collaboration Jail Costs May 18, 2022

Too often across county government there are siloes between efforts to reduce jail incarceration and efforts to house people. But a recent report by the Urban Institute funded by the Safety and Justice Challenge shows how cross-governmental collaboration can break down these siloes and address historic injustice which has contributed to the jail-homelessness cycle.

The report is based on learnings from three private roundtables we held in 2020 with practitioners, people with lived experience of jail incarceration, and subject matter experts across housing, behavioral health, and criminal justice. The purpose of the roundtables was to understand how gaps and lack of coordination prevent large-scale systems change in these areas. Specifically, conversation focused on analyzing how existing funding streams limit housing options for people with criminal justice involvement.

It is important for counties to understand the background of structural and institutional racism that connects housing and criminal justice challenges. Decades of disinvestment and exclusionary zoning have created barriers for people of color to live in some upper and middle-class neighborhoods. Even when affordable housing is created it often ends up in distressed and under-resourced areas. Disparate racial outcomes in our housing and criminal justice systems persist in part because solutions to racist histories are often focused either on housing or the criminal justice system, not the relationship between the two.

Counties are in a position to help bridge the housing and justice fields. Housing instability can both be a result and a cause of interaction with the criminal justice system. People with serious mental illness and substance use disorders, people with previous incarceration, and people in moments of transition (such as aging out of foster care)are all more likely to experience housing instability. an This diversity of factors calls for program and policy solutions that can minimize the risk of experiencing the justice system–housing instability cycle. Any effort to improve housing stability and reduce jail use must intentionally align the specific needs of the people being served and the activities pursued.

The report settled on the following four constructive approaches to addressing the cycle:

  1. Provide Housing Without (or with few) Conditions

The Housing First approach is an evidence-based concept grounded in the idea that people need housing before they can begin working on other challenges. Housing is a stabilizing platform that helps people overcome challenges in other aspects of their lives (e.g., substance use disorders, lack of employment). Housing First recognizes this and therefore does not condition housing on the achievement of sobriety, treatment, employment, or other milestones. Evidence shows this practice works.

  1. Support the Whole Person to Achieve Housing Stability

Housing stability is not just about housing. Supportive services linked to housing can help improve outcomes for people with mental health and substance use disorders, both of which can contribute to and be exacerbated by jail stays. Each year 2 million people with mental illness are booked into jails. Of those 2 million, 75 percent have substance use disorders. In many cases, people receive their first mental illness diagnosis in a correctional facility. Jails should not be substitutes for robust community-based behavioral health services. Instead, counties can shift resources to create housing solutions that provide holistic approaches and services to address underlying challenges such as mental illness and homelessness.

  1. Fund Multiple Pathways to Promote Housing Stability

Just as there is no single cause of housing instability, there is no single housing solution that can meet all residents’ needs. Counties should pair structured, clearly defined programs, such as permanent supportive housing, with flexible funds that can be used to solve a wider variety of underlying challenges for people who cycle in and out of jails and housing.

  1. Plan for Release before Release

Deflection from the criminal justice system should be the guiding principle for local policymakers, however, no community has eliminated the use of jails. The millions of people released from jail every year, many more than once, face unique challenges and require supports that promote housing stability upon release. Landlords and property owners discriminate against applicants who have any degree of justice-involvement. Public housing authorities may temporarily or permanently exclude people with some types of criminal histories, using their broad discretion when crafting screening and eviction policies. Where deflection and diversion are not successful, counties and local criminal justice and housing actors can embed housing planning at intake or other points before release for those with the highest needs.

Bridging Funding Gaps

To date, housing as jail diversion has attracted limited attention and investment. This is caused partly by the siloed nature of existing traditional funding streams and the inherent risks of experimental and innovative solutions. Strained state and local budgets present another significant barrier to addressing housing as jail diversion entirely within the traditional funding paradigm. However, the pandemic-spurred urgency to reduce jail populations, new federal funding streams, and continued growth and maturity in the innovative funding marketplace have created an opportunity to invest in solutions. We encourage counties to explore opportunities for impact investment to bridge gaps by tapping new funding that is faster, more flexible, and potentially more conducive to testing and scaling innovative solutions like these.

Actionable strategies are needed to improve coordination across the sectors, increase housing options at the point of diversion and reentry, and leverage the investments to make this happen. Counties and cities can help the housing and justice sectors to help people avoid justice system involvement in the first place, support successful returns to their communities, and target resources toward housing stability.


Community Engagement Costs Housing November 22, 2021

Funding Housing Solutions to Reduce Jail Incarceration

Madeline Brown, Jessica Perez, Matthew Eldridge, and Kelly Walsh at The Urban Institute

As counties across the United States search for ways to reduce the oversized and racially disproportionate footprint of our criminal justice system, many are looking upstream—to housing and the evidence that connects it to economic stability and overall well-being. This report presents four approaches to housing programs and policies that show promise to reduce jail incarceration and address structural barriers, as well as funding options for such approaches. The findings are based on an extensive literature review and three private roundtables held in 2020 with practitioners, people with lived experience of jail incarceration, and subject matter experts across housing, behavioral health, and criminal justice sectors. We identified the following investment-ready approaches that should guide the use of resources—public or private—aimed at reducing the impact of the jail system: (1) provide housing without (or with few) conditions, (2) support the whole person to achieve housing stability, (3) fund multiple pathways to promote housing stability, and (4) plan for release before release.

Local Communities Are Better Placed Than Governments To Define Public Safety

By: Renita Francois

Community Engagement Featured Jurisdictions Housing February 15, 2021

As we consider the role of law enforcement in our communities, we must acknowledge that the police are not a one-size-fits-all solution to the myriad problems they have been empowered to solve.

Police officers should not be first responders when our loved one’s mental health is compromised, when our child has a bad day at school, when our teenager rebels, when a member of our community is unhoused, or when our neighbor is battling the sickness of substance abuse. Organizations rooted in the community already know that person by name, and we have a responsibility to invest in those organizations’ ability to respond.

In New York City, where I lead the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety, (also known as MAP) we’ve had demonstrable success doing just that. I work with residents in the city’s most disenfranchised neighborhoods to develop solutions that will make them safe.

True safety lies in networks of strong community leaders, well-resourced local organizations, complete access to opportunity, a responsive government, and the realization of justice. That’s why in New York City, we’ve spent the past four years developing NeighborhoodStat, or NStat.

NStat is a process that brings together neighbors, community organizations, and agencies to support safer, more vibrant communities. The approach is grounded in the belief that public safety cannot exist without the trust and participation of the public. NStat involves these parties meeting regularly and rebuilding trust.

I have sat in on dozens and dozens of NStat conversations with Black and Brown communities, and while there are those for whom safety is very much about law and order, what is more commonly affirmed in those conversations is that safety isn’t about the absence of crime — it’s about the presence of opportunity. This video demonstrates how the process has worked in New York, and gives direct voice to those people’s concerns:

An example of the NStat process at work is in Brownsville Brooklyn, home to the most densely concentrated area of public housing in the United States. It is a vibrant, tight-knit community with a strong sense of pride, and it produces powerful and profoundly committed organizers. Conversely, residents have had to fight against deeply entrenched inequity and disinvestment, and the violence that is a by-product of that condition.

The 73rd Precinct area that includes Brownsville consistently ranks among the top precincts for crime, yet despite what’s happening around it, the Brownsville Houses, arguably through the leadership of its residents and community partners, have continued to buck the trend.

In 2019, as part of NStat, residents of Brownsville Houses noted concern with critical hotspots in their community that they deemed underutilized, poorly taken care of, and vulnerable to negative activity. They also dug into high poverty and high unemployment at Brownsville Houses that make young people vulnerable to crime. In response, residents created B-Lit, an innovative lighting series that included activating public spaces at night-time.

Here’s a picture of the B-Lit project:

The series also offered programming that included a community poetry night titled Poetic Justice; a roller-skating event called Swervin; an employment expo for residents; and a performance of “King Lear” followed by an interactive, guided conversation on about caregiving and death. In each case, the community activated the shared space for a neighborhood event.

Overall, Brownsville Houses have experienced notable declines in major and violent crime and exhibited an almost 87% decline in shootings — the most significant decrease of all developments that are part of the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety since its launch in 2014.

The NStat process is not a perfect solution to every public safety challenge, but it does strive to serve as a mechanism for residents to achieve their vision of safety for their own communities.

Behind the strategy is the belief that if we really want to understand how to undo the structural damage that has destabilized communities of color, then the government must come down from its ivory tower and take a seat at the people’s table.

A 2019 report from the Center for American Progress noted about NStat that “while this approach may seem like a radical departure from traditional policing-focused methods of crime reduction, the model is firmly grounded in evidence on the factors that influence neighborhood safety.” It also found that because NStat focuses on “micro-level communities,” jurisdictions of all sizes seeking to address public safety through community investment can learn from it.

Crime is an outcome. It’s the product of centuries-long, government-backed structural inequity, disinvestment, and dehumanization. It should not be a surprise that neighborhoods with the least amount of government dollars flowing into the community, the lowest rates of educational attainment, minimal access to fresh food, and the highest rates of incarceration and chronic disease also have the highest crime rates. This is what systemic inequity looks like.

The days of using conditions that the government helped create as an excuse to over police neighborhoods are over. We can no longer strip entire neighborhoods of resources and tell residents to build a future with broken tools. It’s past time to divest from punitive enforcement and invest in well-being and opportunity. The time for communities to self-determine their own safety is now.

Renita Francois is the Executive Director, Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety in New York City

Coalition: HUD’s Plans Will Limit Access to Fair Housing & Second Chances for People with Criminal Records


Crime Housing Presumption of Innocence May 4, 2017

A coalition of criminal justice groups issued a statement today voicing opposition to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) recent proposal to amend its so-called “disparate impact” rule under the Fair Housing Act. The disparate impact rule permitted people to bring legal claims against housing policies and practices that, while not motivated by discriminatory intent, predictably harmed protected groups, including people of color.

“We join together as diverse voices from the criminal justice field to strongly oppose HUD’s proposed rule regarding the disparate impact standard, a key tool used to enforce fair housing policies and practices across the country. If enacted, the rule change would limit access to fair housing for people with a criminal record and create yet another barrier for people who have paid their debts and are working hard to start a new life.

HUD’s current guidance recognizes that housing policies and practices that unduly burden people on the basis of their criminal records may be a violation of the Fair Housing Act because they disproportionately impact people of color. This may include creating a blanket ban or other exclusionary practices—including through housing applications or evictions— based on past arrest, including an arrest that doesn’t lead to a conviction or is expunged.

If enacted, the proposed change will make it harder for a person with a criminal history to take legal action and protect themselves if they were evicted or denied access to housing solely on the basis of their record. 

The vast majority of people currently incarcerated will eventually return home to their communities, and there are millions of people living in our neighborhoods now who are struggling to overcome the ongoing consequences of their conviction. We should be helping people along pathways to success, not creating new barriers in their way. A safe home is a key component of a meaningful second chance. 

The proposed rule is in direct conflict with the goals of the First Step Act, which was passed in December, as well as the widely accepted principle that we need to create more second chances for people with criminal records. 

We urge HUD to withdraw the proposed rule, and instead, continue to build on our collective progress towards creating a justice system that elevates our communities and makes them safer.”

Endorsing Organizations:

  • Association of Prosecuting Attorneys
  • Association of State Correctional Administrators
  • Center for American Progress
  • The Council of State Governments Justice Center
  • JustLeadershipUSA
  • National League of Cities
  • National Legal Aid & Defender Association