Incarceration Trends Jail Populations Racial Disparities June 24, 2022

Overrepresentation of People Who Identify As LGBTQ+ In The Criminal Legal System

Jane Hereth, Assistant Professor of Social Work, Helen Bader School of Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or who hold other marginalized sexual orientation and/or gender identities (LGBTQ+) are overrepresented within the criminal legal system. LGBTQ+ people of color and LGBTQ+ people with disabilities experience even higher rates of criminal legal system involvement than their White LGBTQ+ peers. This report will review factors contributing to these disparities. Additionally, the report will highlight the work of organizations addressing the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals involved in the criminal legal system and outline recommendations to address overrepresentation.

How to Use Our New Jail Trends Tool

By: Cecilia Low-Weiner

Data Analysis Incarceration Trends Jail Populations May 22, 2022

There is great news for people looking to understand how jail populations are changing across the country: The Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) has a new tool enabling anyone to track progress of SJC site jails.

The jail trends tool distills all the progress achieved across SJC sites since the Challenge began. Users can click through to different tabs to explore key trends across SJC sites and can drill down in each of these trends to view them on an individual site basis for a more nuanced local perspective.

We are also planning a series of accompanying briefs over the coming months, which will be available here as they’re released. Each brief will take a more detailed look at specific findings and provide additional context to help explain the trends.

Below is an overview of how users can interact with the tool and a highlight of some of the key findings.

Tracking Jail Populations by SJC site

One of the primary goals of the Safety and Justice Challenge is to reduce the misuse and overuse of jails. Users can select a specific SJC community to see how local jail populations have changed since before they joined SJC, to the most recent available quarter. Overall, SJC communities collectively reduced their jail population by 26% since the start of the SJC, resulting in 19,983 fewer people held in jail on any given day. While progress varies across sites, 15 sites reduced their jail population by 15% or more.

Looking at Pretrial Populations

Communities participating in SJC have successfully implemented a variety of strategies to reduce the pretrial jail population and ensure people can stay in their communities while their case is pending. Users can select individual sites to see how their pretrial population has changed. Overall, SJC communities have collectively reduced their pretrial populations by 18% since the SJC began.

Comparing SJC Sites to National Jail Population Declines

One yardstick for understanding jail population change in SJC communities is a comparison with jail population trends nationally. Overall, the population decline in communities participating in SJC outpaced the national jail population decline prior to the pandemic, and declined at a similar rate during the pandemic. Between 2016 and 2019 the national jail population remained flat. Among SJC communities that began implementation in 2016, jail populations declined by 11% during the period. After the onset of the pandemic SJC sites mirrored the national jail population reduction of around 27% between June 2019 and June 2020.

SJC Sites’ Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on jail populations – particularly on jail bookings. In this tab, users can select a community to see how the pandemic affected local jail booking trends. While bookings were declining across sites before the pandemic, bookings dropped substantially, by 57%, between February 2020 and April 2020. Since the low in April, bookings have been rising in most SJC communities. However, as of the most recent quarter, they are still below pre-pandemic levels.

Tracking Racial Disparities

The other core goal of the Safety and Justice Challenge is to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in jail populations. Since implementation, outcomes improved for people of color across SJC communities, but improvements in outcomes for White people outpaced those for people of color. Jail populations declined by more than 15% for Black populations in 10 SJC communities, for Latinx populations in six, and for Indigenous populations in one of four communities. Despite this, declines for White populations were greater. That resulted in persistent or increasing disparities. Users can view disparities for both jail populations and bookings both across SJC sites and at the individual site level.

Future Innovation

Now that the tool is live, we are working with SJC sites and other stakeholders to bring more findings to the public, including trends in length of stay, and further information on how the composition of jail populations has changed over time – in addition to making quarterly updates to the data already publicly available. Please check back regularly to see what’s new!


Courts Data Analysis Frequent Jail Users Incarceration Trends Probation Sanctions May 5, 2022

Trends in Jail Incarceration for Probation Violations

Rochisha Shukla, Ammar Khalid, Arielle Jackson

Urban Institute report on Trends in Jail Incarceration for Probation Violations

In partnership with the Adult Probation Department in Pima County, Arizona, and as part of broader research funded by the Safety and Justice Challenge to examine the impact on jail use of providing housing supports for people on probation in Pima County, the Urban Institute analyzed trends in jail incarceration for people with probation violations using datasets for overall jail bookings in the county from 2015 to 2020 and petitions-to-revoke for people on probation from 2016 to 2020. This case study summarizes our findings on patterns in overall jail bookings and petitions-to-revoke and, for the probation population in jail, analyzes average lengths of stay and patterns by race and ethnicity and sex.

Beyond Jails: Community-Based Strategies for Public Safety

By: Matt Davis

Featured Jurisdictions Human Toll of Jail Incarceration Trends November 23, 2021

For decades, the United States has responded to social issues like mental health and substance use crises, chronic homelessness, and ongoing cycles of interpersonal violence with jail incarceration rather than pursuing innovative strategies that are better suited to address the root causes of these issues. Jail incarceration has disrupted the lives of millions of people—disproportionately harming Black, Indigenous, and people of color—without improving public safety. There is a better way.

Communities can instead invest in agencies and organizations that address these issues outside the criminal justice system. The proven solutions highlighted in a new report released by the Vera Institute of Justice with support from the Safety and Justice Challenge look beyond jails to promote safe and thriving communities.

To be responsive to residents’ needs and account for the harm caused by incarceration, jurisdictions across the country must look for public safety solutions outside of the criminal justice system. Effectively ending the current dependence on jail incarceration requires an ecosystem of services and supports that enhance the mental, physical, and socioeconomic well-being of the people who have been most marginalized.

The report looks in depth at what methods are working to reduce jail use. They include responding to behavioral health crises without incarceration, using crisis call centers, mobile crisis response teams, crisis stabilization measures and other services instead of police and jails. Incarceration will not address chronic homelessness, but permanent supportive housing can. And some jurisdictions are interrupting cycles of violence without incarceration by adopting a public health approach that includes investment in community violence intervention programs.

Some example programs in cities and counties participating in the SJC include:

  • Started in 2021, the Portland Street Response (PSR) in Multnomah County, Oregon, is a specialized mobile crisis response program designed to reduce police interaction with people who are experiencing homelessness and/or behavioral health issues. When a 911 call involving these issues comes in, PSR dispatches specially trained medics alongside peer support specialists who have direct experience with similar challenges. In addition to providing care for non–life-threatening medical issues and connecting people to services, the team may provide transportation to shelters, clinics, or another destination the person being helped selects.
  • In Cook County, Illinois, the Westside Community Triage and Wellness Center provides urgent behavioral health care and serves as a hub to connect the neighborhood’s largely Black and Latinx residents to ongoing behavioral health services. In Pima County, Arizona, the Crisis Response Center offers 24/7 access to care resources for people who are experiencing behavioral health crises to avoid jail or emergency room settings.
  • In Baltimore, Maryland, the Baltimore Community Mediation Center provides mediation services for people experiencing any stage of conflict, including mediation within jails and prisons for people approaching reentry. To ensure mediation services are accessible, the center partners with other public services and community-based organizations. In 2018, with help from around 60 volunteers, the center held close to 600 mediation sessions at more than 130 different locations around the city.
  • In multiple cities around the United States, Cure Violence has reduced shootings by adopting a public health approach called Community Violence Intervention (CVI). It conducts public education campaigns to change attitudes about violence, seeking to build relationships with people who are most likely to engage in violent behavior. It relies on “credible messengers,” people who have lived experience with violence in neighborhoods, to perform outreach and intervention.

The report also focuses on grassroots strategies to elevate community expertise, and on effective collaboration with community-based organizations.

  • For example, JustLeadershipUSA in New York City—a strategic ally of the Safety and Justice Challenge—is a power-building movement led by organizers directly impacted by the criminal justice system. In 2020, the organization created the #buildCommunities Platform 2.0, a large-scale vision-building exercise conducted in association with the #CLOSErikers campaign. Over three months, the collaborative convened assemblies in eight different neighborhoods in New York City that had been heavily impacted by incarceration and divestment. Conveners facilitated sessions for groups of residents to present, discuss, and workshop ideas together to identify where investment is needed to improve safety and well-being. The vision contributed to a multi-campaign effort that generated a $391 million city commitment to non–criminal justice system programming and resources.
  • In 2019, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors established a public-private Work Group on Alternatives to Incarceration. The group convened dozens of representatives from nonprofit organizations, service providers, and state and local governments to explore better responses to the “human conditions” of homelessness, poverty, and behavioral health issues. Their work involved creating a roadmap for solutions that provide care and services first and make jail a last resort, a process that engaged government and community residents to think broadly and boldly about strategies for public safety. The group produced more than 100 recommendations to minimize the use of police and jails.

Vera’s report also highlights why criminal justice system responses to these social issues are not enough. Many current approaches to reducing the use of jails fail to address many of the underlying drivers of jail incarceration that would be better addressed through other agencies, organizations, and community-led efforts—unstable housing, poverty, limited educational opportunities, poor health, and inadequate access to services. Moreover, most current local justice reform approaches also fail to account for the racialized harm caused by decades of investments prioritizing criminal justice system agencies over community-based services and often ignore problematic system practices. These shortcomings limit both the efficacy and the reach of many reform efforts.

Ultimately, a network of community-based services and supports could go a long way to address criminalized behaviors in ways safer and more effective than jails.

Why We Must Keep Clear Heads as We Look at the FBI’s Annual Crime Stats

By: James Austin

Data Analysis Human Toll of Jail Incarceration Trends September 23, 2021

The FBI’s annual crime stats report is due out on Monday. In more than a quarter century of correctional planning and research, I’ve seen a variety of reactions to these numbers—including plenty of fearmongering and distortion. But there has never been a better time for us to keep a clear head and take an objective look.

What We Already Know

There are a few things we already know even before the FBI releases the data. Overall, serious crimes went down, not up, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet polling showed the American public believed there was more crime in the United States than there was a year before. It isn’t true.

One of the reasons crime dropped in 2020 was the COVID-19 lockdown itself, which restricted social interactions that can lead to criminal activity.  But the pandemic also gave many jurisdictions the opportunity to implement needed law enforcement court processing reforms that have resulted in fewer arrests for low-level crimes, fewer jail bookings, and reduced jail and prison populations. All of this occurred without an increase in overall crime rates.

It is true, however, that in many places in the country homicide and shootings increased in 2020. But most other forms of violent crime either have not risen as steeply or have dropped during the same period. Moreover, there is growing evidence that in cities where the homicide rate turned markedly up, the increase is slowing. These are the findings presented in a report by the Council on Criminal Justice, a non-partisan organization that works to advance understanding of the criminal justice policy choices facing the nation, which has been studying the effects of the pandemic on the justice system.

Putting New Data in Historical Perspective

It’s also important to keep a sense of historic perspective looking at the numbers.

Crime rates have dropped by more than half since 1995. Homicides, the rarest of all crimes, have also declined. But as the chart below shows, homicide rates since 1900 have shown a lot of fluctuation, ranging as high as 12 per 100,000.  And the “jump” in homicides from 2019 to 2020 is likely to be from five per 100,000 people to about six per 100,000. That means there was a one-one-hundredth percent change in the homicide rate, which is statistically insignificant and not at all out of line with historic fluctuations.

There have been similar and even higher changes in the homicide rate, for no apparent reason. One must concede that a large portion of changes (up and down) in the homicide rate is random.


That’s not to say we should not be concerned about any increase, or for that matter, any one homicide. But equating a rise in homicides with an increase in crime rates when crime rates have declined is misleading the public.

The Role of Criminal Justice Reforms in Addressing Homicides

Homicides are concerning especially for those people who live in areas where they occur most frequently. But the increase calls for a thoughtful response, including focused law enforcement resources and community-based anti-violence programs. Intervening earlier in the lives of people who commit homicides is a far more positive and effective approach to reducing homicide rates.

Predictably, commentators and editorial boards will be eager to pin the blame for the rise in homicides on a “lax” criminal justice system, “progressive” prosecutors, bail reform, and declining jail and prison populations. They’ll tell you police have lost their motivation to do their jobs because of calls for accountability over violence and racial justice. But that’s not what is likely to be reflected in the numbers.

The solution to homicides is to spend money more smartly on targeted approaches. Not prey on people’s misplaced fears to justify indiscriminate spending on ineffective public policy.