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.

Meeting the Behavioral Health Needs of Veterans Across the Intercepts

By: Ashley Krider, Terri Hay, Duane France

Human Toll of Jail Jail Populations Veterans November 10, 2022

Many veterans experience substance use disorders, mental health conditions including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and trauma, including traumatic brain injuries, all of which can lead to involvement with the criminal legal system. Fifty-five percent of veterans incarcerated in 2011–2012 reported having a mental health disorder, with mental illness diagnosis twice as high in veterans as in non-veterans. Approximately 65% to 71% of justice-involved Veterans had a reported substance use disorder before arrest.

In recognition of Veterans Day on November 11th, we would like to highlight several relevant resources and opportunities. A focus on specific populations, such as Veterans, aligns with the commitment Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) communities have to diversion and deflection, as well as meeting the behavioral health needs of individuals who are or may become involved with the criminal legal system.

  • Many SJC cities and counties, which receive support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, operate Veterans Treatment Courts, including Harris County, TX, Cook County, IL, Ada County, ID, and Palm Beach County, FL. Unlike traditional criminal courts, the primary purpose of a Veterans Treatment Courts is not to determine whether an individual is guilty of an offense, but rather to ensure that they receive treatment to address unmet clinical needs. There are over 600 Veterans Treatment Courts across the U.S.
  • With the integration of the new three-digit National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (988), people can now dial 988 and press 1 to access the Veterans Crisis Line. There are also options to chat online or text at 838255. Responders are trained in crisis intervention and military culture.
  • One program from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that allow entities to identify whether an individual has prior military service is the Veterans Re-Entry Search Service. This web-based system allows prison, jail, and court staff to identify Veterans quickly and accurately among their populations. The VA makes this service available to facilitate its own direct outreach to these Veterans, and to inform the development of Veteran-specific programs in the criminal legal system.
  • Veterans Justice Outreach specialists provide a range of services to assist justice-involved Veterans, including outreach to Veterans across the possible span of their interactions with the criminal legal system, such as law enforcement encounters, courts, jails, and prisons. The aim of the Veteran Justice Outreach program is to avoid the unnecessary criminalization of mental illness and extended incarceration among Veterans by ensuring that eligible, justice-involved Veterans have timely access to Veterans Health Administration services. Each state has one or more Veteran Justice Outreach specialists who can provide additional information on the program.
  • The Peer Specialist Toolkit helps Veterans Health Administration medical centers hire and deploy peer specialists who help other Veterans get treatment for mental and substance use disorders.
  • The Rural Veteran Outreach Toolkitassists VA personnel in collaborating with community partners to reach rural Veterans through education and outreach.
  • The National Institute of Corrections’ Veterans Reentry Programming: Supporting Transition to Civilian Life Across the Sequential Intercept Model outlines Veteran-specific reentry approaches.

We also operate SAMHSA’s Service Members, Veterans, and their Families Technical Assistance (SMVF TA) Center, which serves as a national resource to support states, territories, and local communities in strengthening their capacity to address the behavioral health needs of military-connected individuals and families. The SMVF TA Center supports specific initiatives like the VA/SAMHSA Governor’s and Mayor’s Challenges to Prevent Suicide among SMVF as well as the public at large through a variety of technical assistance efforts including needs assessments, virtual and onsite consultation, Policy and Implementation Academies, interagency collaboration and support, and dissemination of educational resources including a monthly e-newsletter.

One offering from the SMVF TA Center is the Crisis Intercept Mapping (CIM) for SMVF Suicide Prevention. The Crisis Intercept Mapping is a tool that helps community stakeholders visualize how SMVF flow through the crisis care system. The Crisis Intercept Mapping has some parallels to our Sequential Intercept Model and is designed to help communities strengthen the delivery of evidence-based suicide prevention policies and practices for SMVF before, during, and after a time of crisis.

As identified on the model below, within a community crisis system there are four key “intercept points” that provide opportunities for diverting at-risk SMVF to appropriate and effective prevention and support services:

  1. First Contact
  2. Acute Care
  3. Care Transitions
  4. Ongoing Treatment and Recovery Support

In 2022, the White House released a report, Reducing Military and Veteran Suicide: Advancing a Comprehensive, Cross-Sector, Evidence-Informed Public Health Strategy, directly calling for the “expansion of SAMHSA’s crisis mapping initiative to assist cities and counties in identifying gaps and incorporating best practices in suicide prevention for veterans interacting with community crisis systems” (Priority Goal 2 on page 13). Crisis Intercept Mapping is designed to bring together an interagency group of key stakeholders from the community to identify barriers and gaps in the community’s crisis system serving SMVF and discuss ways in which best practices and partnerships can be implemented to close those gaps and reduce service member and Veteran suicide through the development of integrated local strategic action plans.

A Q&A On Hispanic Heritage Month With 70 Million Creator Juleyka Lantigua

By: Juleyka Lantigua

Human Toll of Jail Jail Populations Racial Disparities September 27, 2022

Q: What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?

A: It means that we’re trying to squeeze too much into a single month. As with any designated month or week to celebrate a huge swath of history and the contributions of a broad range of people, the notion falls absurdly short. But the month-long bookmark does have its utility inasmuch as it focuses the limelight on the rising-majority population of the country, thereby surfacing updated information, demographic trends, and political forecasts that, in the hands of people who want to shape the future of the US, can be very helpful

Q: 70 Million, LWC Studios’ podcast about criminal justice reform, was nominated for a Peabody Award and won several others. What prompted the idea? 

A: I created the show to bridge the gap between practitioners and the public, to provide an accessible tool for educators, supporters, and policymakers that could imbue their work with real-world stories about the disastrous consequences of the matrix of “criminal injustice” systems at work in the United States. It’s, at its core, a public service.

Q: Why is it so important to tell the story of the local impact of jail through the voices of people impacted by jail?

A: Jails are the gateway to life-long entanglements with the legal system; they are the progenitors of generational cycles of poverty and disenfranchisement; they are almost entirely useless given that 97% of defendants never go to trial to get their “day in court,” and they simply warehouse people who actually need help. They are the depositories of social ills (not people) we care very little about curing: mental health, domestic violence, drug addiction, homelessness, military PTSD, chronic poverty, and inhumane immigration policies. So they are ideal for unpacking how ignoring, miscategorizing and relegating our collective responsibility for our fellow citizens diminishes who we are and makes becoming who we pretend to be impossible.

Q: Which episode of the podcast has had the most impact on listeners, do you think? 

A: Based on listens, episode 10 in season four reached the most people.

When a State Treats Drug Addiction Like a Health Issue, Not a Crime

A year ago, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize drug possession. The goal is to reverse some of the negative impacts of the War on Drugs by approaching drug use from a health-centered basis. We visit an addiction and recovery center in Portland that’s gearing up for what they hope will be an influx of people seeking treatment. Reported by Cecilia Brown.

Q: Racial equity is a huge part of jail reform, isn’t it? 

A: Racial equity is the only axis on which true reform can be achieved. A system built on monetizing the capture of formerly enslaved people cannot be reformed without addressing the institutional DNA that created it.

Q: I understand that you’re Dominican, and that you’ve also traced your ancestry back to multiple parts of Africa. How does that play into your view of jail issues? 

A: I am an Afro-Descendent Latina woman raising two Black boys in the United States today. Every day I spend on this work extends my sons’ safety, further secures their well being, and contributes to the security of my family’s longevity. This work is vital to me.

Q: What are some of the major issues facing Latinx people in American jails?

A: The same issues that plague everyone else: unreasonable pre-trial detention periods, an exploitative bail system, lack of mental health services, overwhelmed public defenders, understaffed courts, physical hazards in dilapidated facilities, organized crime, etc. But increasingly, a subset of the country’s Latino population has been targeted and trapped by ICE and its private jail and prison contractors. The most revolting of these has been the children separated from their families and held in ice-cold warehouses for months as they sought asylum. So, in many ways, the local jail has become mobile and can pop up anywhere a dragnet needs to be formed for political theater.

Q: Why does it matter that stories about people of color in American jails are told by and for people of color?

A: Because we are the experts in our own experiences. 

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.