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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From Taxi to Takeoff: Planning and Implementing Early Diversion in Los Angeles

By: Chidinma Ume, Darcy Hauslik

Courts Diversion Jail Populations June 15, 2023

The last several years have ushered in a seismic shift to Los Angeles County’s criminal justice landscape. Home to the world’s largest jail system, LA County achieved an unprecedented 25 percent decline in its jail population–the largest in the nation during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the overall number of people in jail decreased, the percentage of people of color and people with mental health needs behind bars in LA increased. This changing composition mirrored a national trend and illustrated a key lesson: without a parallel effort to promote racial equity and provide safe, community-based care for people who need it, reducing jail populations may actually worsen disparities.

To address this, LA County—a grantee in the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge—announced a new vision of “Care First, Jails Last” and deepened its investment in community-based support for vulnerable populations and alternatives to incarceration. LA County also launched the Justice, Care, and Opportunities Department to consolidate most of these efforts under one roof.

As members of the Center for Justice Innovation (The Center) team, we are technical assistance partners in the Safety and Justice Challenge and worked with LA County to expand their alternatives to incarceration with particular emphasis on equity. Inspired by the learnings from this work—and grounded in our long history of launching and operating diversion programs—our West Coast Initiatives team authored a new report. The report offers concrete insights to inform the development of equitable diversion programming around the country. For practitioners seeking to create diversion programs, this document offers advice on designing early alternatives to incarceration, leveraging data to identify and connect with target populations, and working towards racially equitable outcomes.

We collaborated with LA County to launch two initiatives—the Rapid Diversion Program, which is court-based, and the Prefiling Diversion Program, which is based in law enforcement stations. Both programs aim to reduce the use of jail by connecting participants to safe, appropriate, and community-based care.

While successful diversion programs can safely reduce the use of incarceration, special care must be taken to ensure that these programs are carried out in an equitable way. We hope the insights of the report can provide guidance for developing diversion initiatives that bridge the gap between legal systems and communities while caring for vulnerable populations.

The first section of the report offers tips for developing the essential components of an early diversion program. Recommendations include:

  • Create infrastructure to divert people at the early stages of a case.
  • When determining eligibility criteria, prioritize the client profile over charges. When creating diversion programs, justice partners typically determine charge types to include and exclude in programs. Instead, we suggest program partners determine the profile of people they want to serve—for example, mental health, people with three or more arrests/system contacts, young people, race and ethnic groups that are disproportionately represented, etc.—and let that guide program development.
  • Make charge-based exclusions (sex offenses) presumptively instead of categorically ineligible. This means that instead of having categorical exclusions based on what people may be charged with, presume people are eligible for programs and, when someone is facing a presumptively ineligible charge, allow for discussion on a case-by-case basis.
  • Even within the same municipality, recognize that each diversion site may operate differently and have a distinct culture.
  • Seek out cross-sector collaborations and expertise in the program planning phase.

The opportunity to provide community-based care to people with unmet social service needs can happen at stages that far precede a criminal conviction—any time before a criminal case is adjudicated, and indeed, even before criminal charges are filed. For example, LA’s Prefiling and Rapid Diversion Programs utilize police stations and courts as potential off-ramps from the traditional legal system path.

Both programs pursue a common objective: to expand early interventions for people with unmet needs rather than continued detention or release without any supportive resources. To accomplish this, LA located behavioral health care professionals in the jails and courthouse. For Prefiling Diversion, this meant physically converting unused breathalyzer rooms and offices into spaces for care by placing service navigators in the station. Service navigators find programs and help people enroll in them and understand how to get connected to the program (i.e. when and where to go for intake, whom to call for questions). The Rapid Diversion Program embedded pairs of service navigators and clinicians in courthouses.

Four roles can improve the diversion infrastructure:

  • Mental Health Clinician—screens candidates for behavioral health conditions and appropriate level of services for the behavioral health program someone will need.
  • Service Navigator—identifies healthcare and social service needs, finds local programs and providers, and connects participants to these organizations and services.
  • Case Manager—supports participants one-on-one. Often the main point of contact for program participants, case managers provide referrals for continuing needs, such as education, employment resources, benefits, and housing, and help participants stay engaged in the program.
  • Driver—takes participants to their agreed upon destinations, oftentimes directly from the police station or courthouse to appointments, referred services, and future court dates. This is especially important for jurisdictions where transportation equity is a challenge. Although the driver’s primary role is to transport program participants, the driver frequently interacts with program participants and serves as an additional level of support.

Building these roles into any diversion program—and locating these professionals at the booking station or courthouse where possible—can help ensure that people with specialized knowledge connect participants to resources in a coordinated way. Interactions with program staff are also supportive touchpoints, which is made possible by hiring staff who understand the needs of participants and want to help. This includes people with lived experiences (including families impacted by the criminal justice system), previous program graduates, and people with clinical backgrounds. Remaining intentional about including and staffing each role, especially case managers and drivers who interact with participants frequently—can make even the mandatory components of diversion programs motivational.

The second section of the report includes recommendations for using data to promote equitable practices for diversion. The report stresses the need for prioritizing data collection as a critical tool in ensuring equity. Data analysis can help to identify underlying needs and shape the design process prior to program launch. After launch, a consistent flow of data among partners is necessary to sustain the program and gives planners the ability to adjust the program as needed.

Recommendations include:

  • Use relevant and detailed data at the planning stage to ensure equity and effectiveness of programming.
  • Review program performance data on an ongoing basis to ensure the right people are being served.
  • Make data planning a team effort.
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities around data management.

When launching a program meant to achieve equity, program planners should learn how to meet the needs of the desired population. Instead of looking at the types of charges to divert, examine who is being charged and any trends that can inform the demographic to serve (e.g. people who are unhoused but arrested for quality of life offenses, or people arrested on a drug offense but who are excluded based on prior drug convictions). Having a better understanding of common issues—not just charges—that people face can radically shape programming.

In addition to using data on the front end of design, the report recommends reviewing program performance data on an ongoing basis to ensure program efficacy and equity. Recurring reviews should include program staff who can speak to participants’ growth in the programs, especially to help the program collaborators understand ways to improve and sustain the program so it continues to have its intended impact.

Many partners in Los Angeles County make the Prefiling and Rapid Diversion Programs possible, including the LA County’s Justice Care, and Opportunities Department,the Offices of the Los Angeles County Public Defender and Alternate Defender, the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, and Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, the Department of Mental Health, Project 180, and Exodus Recovery, Inc.

Focusing on Latinos in the U.S. Criminal Justice System

By: Nancy Rodriguez

Data Analysis Jail Populations Racial Disparities June 12, 2023

Three new policy briefs have major implications for Latinos in the justice system, including in American jails, based on data and research from sites supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge. The briefs explore how to better track Latino involvement in criminal justice systems, the role of language accessibility in criminal justice systems, and the value of adopting a nuanced approach to immigration enforcement policies at the local level.

A Review of Data Collection Practices and Systems-Involvement

The first brief, “Exploring Latino/a Representation in Local Criminal Justice Systems,” is a review of data collection practices and systems-involvement in local criminal justice systems, with a focus on Latino/a representation. It examines how local agencies in participating sites capture racial and ethnicity information. It also explores the involvement of Latinos/as in local criminal justice systems, including racial and ethnic disparities at the front door, in pretrial outcomes, and in criminal case outcomes. Its findings shed light on the development of much-needed data-driven reforms to the system to further racial equity.

Today, nearly one in five people in the U.S. self-identify as being of Latino origin. Remarkably, despite the size and diversity of the Latino population in the U.S., we do not know how many Latinos are arrested. That’s because we are still not collecting the data in enough detail.

How Latino and Hispanic ethnicity data is stored in local criminal justice systems is inconsistent and inhibits system-wide understanding of racial and ethnic disparities across local jurisdictions.

Even where fields exist to capture ethnicity information within a database, the data is not always consistently collected for all cases passing through key criminal justice system points. Even where agencies have the capacity to capture Latinos’ ethnicity, low rates of reporting and high proportions of missing data impedes accurate measurement of Latino outcomes.

At the front door to the justice system—arrest and jail booking—Latinos in all four sites—Charleston County, South Carolina; Harris County, Texas; Multnomah County, Oregon; and, Palm Beach County, Florida—make up a smaller proportion of those arrested or booked compared to their countywide population. Conversely, Black and Indigenous individuals were over-represented in arrests and jail bookings, relative to their countywide populations.

Latino and White rates of justice involvement were similar—and in many cases rates of Latino involvement were lower than that of Whites. However, Black individuals—particularly young Black individuals—were subject to substantially elevated rates of arrest, jail booking, and court convictions (and dismissals), demonstrating a considerable concentration of justice system contact for the Black community.

The brief makes several policy recommendations to address these disparities and disproportionalities. They include improving data collection practices, developing a standard set of categories to facilitate clear standards for data sharing and data translation between systems, encouraging regular examination of outcomes by race, ethnicity, and age group, and promoting community engagement and collaboration to identify ways to reflect the Latino/a population more accurately in local justice systems.

Establishing, Implementing, and Maintaining a Language Access Program

The second brief focuses on language accessibility in criminal justice systems, specifically focusing on the SJC. Language barriers can negatively impact legal representation and outcomes for non-English speakers in criminal cases.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires federally funded agencies to provide meaningful access to their programs and activities. This brief surveyed several local criminal justice systems and discovered significant gaps in the availability of language services for those who are LEP despite the provisions of Title VI. The report finds that while organizations and agencies within local criminal justice systems often receive federal funding, and are therefore mandated to provide language services, specific practices and the extent to which services are made available in these systems remains relatively unknown.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Data around language needs and services is inconsistently collected. Less than half of respondents reported collecting data on how frequently language services are utilized, and about half reported making efforts to address language access complaints beyond a case-by-case basis (e.g., regular reviews of complaints and outreach to specific language minority groups).
  • Despite the existence of bilingual and/or multilingual staff, most are not formally equipped to provide interpretation services. Approximately 94 percent of respondents reported that they have bilingual and/or multilingual employees. However, less than half of these employees are certified translators, and less than half offer pay differentials to employees who use their language skills on the job.
  • Translated content is lacking in digital spaces, written materials, and public signage. Less than half of respondents said their official website contains translated content, and less than half reported that public notices are translated into a language other than English. Despite more than half of all respondents reporting that they have translated materials, there are some languages for which no written translation is provided by any of the respondents. 

The report recommends that every individual who meets local criminal justice systems has access to services in their primary language. It makes the following policy recommendations:

  • Facilitate the hiring and training of bilingual and/or multilingual staff and interpreters and prioritize pay differentials for staff that are certified to use their language skills on the job.
  • Consistently collect and analyze data to better understand the language needs of local populations and assess whether the language capacities of the organization are sufficient to meet the identified language needs.
  • Ensure that all written content is translated, or can be quickly translated if needed.

It is important to note that language accessibility in criminal justice systems is not only about providing interpreters. It also involves the ability of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and those who have cognitive disabilities (e.g., intellectual disability) to communicate effectively with criminal justice system actors. In addition, individuals must be able to understand the legal process and make informed decisions about whether they want an attorney or to represent themselves without being coerced by others.

Immigration Enforcement Policies and Detainer Trends in SJC Sites

The third policy brief outlines the landscape of immigration policies across four SJC sites— Harris County, Texas, Los Angeles County, California, New York City, New York, and Cook County, Illinois—and illustrates how jail populations intersect with immigration enforcement policy.

Key findings include:

  • Specific attention on immigration is required to address racial inequities in local justice systems. The findings indicate that pursuing policies designed to lower jail incarceration and improve racial equity do not by default include an assessment of how immigration policies impact the system involvement of Latinos/as and undocumented persons.
  • Jurisdictions restrict and permit collaboration with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to varying and inconsistent degrees. While 70 percent of sites enacted limitations on some type of immigration enforcement cooperation, nearly 78 percent of jurisdictions lack a formal policy on ICE detention contracts; the absence of clear policy may permit further collaboration.
  • A majority of jurisdictions lack formal policies regarding the use of state and local resources to enforce federal immigration law. The majority of sites have no formal policy. However, 18 percent of sites restrict the use of funds for immigration enforcement, while 6 percent of sites expressly permit the use of local resources.

The brief includes policy recommendations for SJC sites:

  • Restrict the use of state and local resources to execute policies that enforce federal immigration law and contribute to racial disparities.
  • Limit local data sharing and collaboration with ICE.
  • Limit the outsourcing of local jail beds for immigration detention purposes.
  • Identify how local immigration policies are impacting the system involvement of Latino/as and undocumented populations

Nuanced criminal justice reform is needed around immigration policies at the local level. Future research should examine the intersection of immigration policies and the policing of Latino communities to offer insight into the treatment and justice system outcomes of Latinos/as and undocumented immigrants.

Collectively, I hope these three policy briefs will form the basis for deepening the national conversation about racial equity in the criminal justice system—particularly through a Latino/a lens.

Behavioral Health IMPACT: Addressing Mental Health Disparities in Local Jails

By: Ashley Krider

Jail Populations Mental Health Substance Abuse May 23, 2023

Since 2015, Policy Research, Inc. (PRI) has partnered with MacArthur’s Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) to reduce the number of individuals involved, or at risk of involvement with, the criminal legal system who have mental illness, substance use, and other complex needs. Studies highlight the importance of concentrating on this population as communities work to tackle the misuse and overuse of jails and create more equitable systems:

As part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, PRI created the IMPACT Network to provide technical assistance to participating communities on issues related to the over-incarceration of individuals with mental illness and substance use disorders. The IMPACT Network communities engage in a peer-to-peer learning model to accelerate best and promising practices in behavioral health reform and jail diversion, with a commitment to pursuing community-driven, race-conscious solutions to reduce harm to populations overrepresented in, or disparately impacted by, the criminal legal system.

The SJC IMPACT Network began in 2021 with a group of 11 jurisdictions.

Over the past two years, these communities have participated in topical technical assistance meetings focused on behavioral health data tracking and evaluation, equity within the intersection of the criminal legal system and behavioral health, developing early diversion strategies, building a robust jail continuum of care, and other critical topics.

The communities participating in the IMPACT Network focus on a variety of strategies to decrease inappropriate incarceration of people with behavioral health needs.

Allegheny County, PA

Allegheny County’s Justice Related Services (JRS) provides assessment, treatment placement, and service coordination to court-involved individuals with mental health or co-occurring diagnoses. They are also focusing on balancing risk and needs during decision making for people with behavioral health needs, developing alternative response to certain 911 calls, and building out a broader continuum of peer supports for court-involved people.

Orange County, CA

In April 2022, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office launched their Focused Intervention Route to Services and Treatment (FIRST Point) pre-filing diversion pilot program. The pilot program connects people who have committed low-level crimes with services to address mental health and substance use issues to ensure a criminal proceeding does not inhibit future work and education opportunities.

San Juan County, NM

San Juan County has worked closely with community stakeholders and cross-agency representatives through their Sequential Intercept Mapping (SIM) process, identifying gaps in services available to individuals with behavioral health needs. As part of their post-SIM work, the county plans to identify a system for data collection that will assist stakeholders in tracking the county needs and build planning capacity toward creation of a mental health drop-in center.

In early 2023, PRI expanded the IMPACT Network by adding six additional communities: Doña Ana County, NM; Solano County, CA; Sarpy County, NE; Douglas County, NE; Issaquah, WA; and Natrona County, WY, for a total of 17 jurisdictions. This new group of counties brings to the IMPACT Network communities from the West and Midwest, including several smaller and more rural jurisdictions.

We are excited to further diversify the IMPACT Network and continue this important work toward the goals of reimagining systems, reducing the footprint of local jails, and increasing equity.

A visual representation of the IMPACT network from the SJC’s 2023 convening.


We Can Reduce Jail Populations and Keep Communities Safe

By: Laurie Garduque

Crime Data Analysis Jail Populations April 6, 2023

A recent uptick in violent crime across the country has alarmed many Americans. But even as communities work to address the root causes of violence and the effects of incarceration, new data from our Safety and Justice Challenge shows there is no link between reducing jail populations and increases in crime. Communities can feel confident in efforts to reform the local criminal justice system and safely reduce the jail population.

Since 2013, MacArthur has invested over $323 million in local justice reform, including tracking progress and analyzing the effectiveness of reform strategies. We have built close partnerships with research leaders in the criminal justice field, including grantee City University of New York’s Institute for State & Local Governance (ISLG) and the JFA Institute, to examine data from cities and counties participating in the Safety and Justice Challenge.

From this deep engagement with data and our relationships with diverse experts and people with lived experience, we have learned many valuable lessons. And the findings of two new reports—“Jail Populations, Violent Crime, and COVID-19: Findings from the Safety and Justice Challenge” by ISLG and “The Impact of COVID-19 on Crime, Arrests, and Jail Populations” by the JFA Institute—are among the most useful and insightful, and reinforce with data what we have heard from people involved in the justice system.

These analyses looked at what happens when cities and counties across the country focus on criminal justice reforms that make the system more fair, just, and equitable. They found that in communities participating in the Safety and Justice Challenge, there is no relationship between reforms that reduce reliance on jails and recent upticks in violent crime across the United States.

Reducing Jail Populations While Keeping Communities Safe

Since the Safety and Justice Challenge began, participating cities and counties have collectively reduced their jail population by 20 percent. This has resulted in about 15,000 fewer people in jail on any given day, allowing individuals, who are legally presumed to be innocent, to instead remain with their families, communities, and hold onto their jobs while their cases were pending.

JFA Institute’s close examination of the data found that even considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which temporarily reduced jail populations dramatically nationwide, most Safety and Justice Challenge cities and counties continued to outperform the nation as a whole in reducing jail populations, without jeopardizing community safety. As COVID-19 mitigation efforts wane, these communities have shown that progress can be sustained. Many of the emergency measures taken to reduce the jail populations during the pandemic, and that have remained in place in the months since, do not have an impact on public safety.

Meanwhile, ISLG’s analysis looks at how often individuals released from jail return to custody while their criminal case is still pending. The findings, which use individual-level jail admissions data from 2015 through April 2021, show that reforms focused on releasing people from jail before their trial did not drive recent increases in violent crime. The report found:

  • There is no correlation between declines in jail incarceration and increases in violent crime through COVID-19.
  • Most individuals released on pretrial status were not rebooked into jail. This has remained consistent over the years.
  • Of the small percentage of the individuals rebooked into jail, it was very rare that they returned with a violent crime charge and exceedingly rare that they returned with a homicide charge.

The evidence is clear: cities and counties should push forward with making the criminal justice system more equitable and fair. The decreased use of jails has no impact on crime, particularly violent crime, and communities should look beyond incarceration to address safety concerns. To claim that reforms jeopardize community safety ignores the data and unnecessarily puts the lives of incarcerated individuals and their families at risk.