Issue Brief

Community Engagement Pretrial Services Racial Disparities May 23, 2023

Establishing, Implementing, and Maintaining a Language Access Program

UCI School of Sociology: Department of Criminology, Law and Society

The MacArthur Foundation launched the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) in 2015 with the goals of safely reducing jail incarceration and addressing racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system. The SJC Network currently includes fifty-seven sites. The local criminal justice systems in these localities serve racially and ethnically diverse populations comprised of subgroups with different characteristics and needs, including people who are limited English proficient (LEP). As defined by the U.S. Department of Justice (Guidance to Federal Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affecting Limited English Proficient Persons, 2002), a person is LEP if their primary language is anything other than English and if they have a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English. An estimated 25 million people in the United States are LEP (2020 American Community Survey, 5-Year Estimates). The national origin nondiscrimination provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”) require recipients of federal financial assistance to provide people who are LEP with meaningful access to their programs and activities (e.g., in-language communication, telephonic interpretation, and translation of vital documents).

Many organizations and agencies within local criminal justice systems receive federal financial assistance and are thus legally obligated to provide language services. When law enforcement agencies, court systems, and correctional systems provide adequate language services they strengthen access to justice for people who are LEP - e.g., providing life-saving public safety assistance, supporting victims of crime, and delivering vital medical and behavioral care to people who are incarcerated. While national guidance for improving language accessibility exists, the extent to which language services are available in local justice systems is relatively unknown.


Incarceration Trends Presumption of Innocence Pretrial and Bail Pretrial and Jails Pretrial Justice Pretrial Services October 12, 2022

Cages Without Bars

Patrice James, Illinois Black Advocacy Initiative
James Kilgore, MediaJustice
Gabriela Kirk, Center for Policy Research at Syracuse University
Grace Mueller, Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts
Sarah Staudt, Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts
Emmett Sanders, Challenging E-Carceration
LaTanya R. Jackson Wilson, Shriver Center on Poverty Law

Pretrial Electronic Monitoring Across the United States

Across the United States each year, hundreds of thousands of people accused but not yet convicted of crimes are required by the courts to participate in electronic monitoring programs. These people are fitted with a locked, tightened ankle shackle, which often tracks every move they make.

Pretrial electronic monitoring programs represent a fast-growing type of incarceration that imposes significant harm and burdens on people who are subject to it. We interviewed people subject to monitoring, program administrators, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys across select jurisdictions to better understand how pretrial electronic monitoring is used.


Diversion Featured Jurisdictions Plea Bargains Pretrial Services July 27, 2022

Reject or Dismiss? A Prosecutor’s Dilemma

Florida State University, Loyola University Chicago

One of the key decisions that prosecutors make is whether or not to file charges against a defendant. Depending on the office, this decision point may be called initial case assessment, screening, review, or filing. Prosecutors, or in some instances paralegals, review evidence provided by law enforcement and decide whether to file any charges in each case.

The core purpose of case screening is to identify and eliminate cases that cannot or should not be prosecuted. In other words, prosecutors have the difficult task of assessing limited case facts in front of them and rejecting cases 1) that do not involve enough evidence to support a conviction, and 2) for which prosecution would not be in the best interest of justice and victims. The decision to reject a case is highly consequential because it means that the defendant will avoid formal charges and conviction.

Cases can also be dismissed after they are filed. While judges can dismiss cases— due, e.g., to missing case processing deadlines or 4th amendment violations—most dismissal decisions are made by prosecutors. Cases may be dismissed by a prosecutor due to evidentiary issues (including victim or witness cooperation) or plea negotiations in other cases, for example.

PPI 2.1 examines the relationship between these two highly discretionary case outcomes: case rejection and case dismissal. While there is no agreed-upon standard for what proportion of referred cases should be rejected for prosecution, or what proportion of filed cases should be dismissed, we suspect that these proportions will vary across jurisdictions and by offense types.

Local criminal justice systems should enable prosecutors to identify dismissible cases as early as possible. Eliminating dismissible cases at the screening stage reduces negative consequences for defendants, victims, and the criminal justice system. For defendants, the declination of dismissible cases reduces unnecessary pretrial detention, disturbances to family life and employment, and chances of wrongful conviction. For victims, identifying dismissible cases at filing minimizes the burden of involvement in the criminal justice system and avoids false expectations, though in some cases prosecution may provide victims with temporary protections they need. For the criminal justice apparatus, declining dismissible cases reduces caseloads and criminal justice expenditure.

In this report, we provide a rare compilation of data on screening and dismissal decisions from jurisdictions across the country. We explore case rejection and dismissal trends in 15 prosecutor’s offices before drilling down in these two important outcomes to examine variations across defendant race and offense type in select jurisdictions.

While reading this report, let’s keep in mind that there are marked jurisdictional differences that influence screening and dismissal decisions. For example, New York prosecutors typically have two days to file a case, while Florida allots several weeks for this decision. Furthermore, jurisdictions have adopted different COVID-19 regulations: some closed certain court operations for months, while others remained open. Yet others quickly moved operations virtually, as is still the case in Hennepin County. Lastly, what is counted as a rejection or dismissal may vary across jurisdictions: a dismissal in the interest of justice in Philadelphia might have been labeled a deferred prosecution in Milwaukee and therefore excluded from dismissal rate calculations. Given these differences, we encourage cross-site learning about rejection and dismissal practices, but not direct comparison.


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.

Deschutes County’s Clean Slate Program Shows Value of Front-End Diversion

By: John Hummel

Community Engagement Policing Pretrial Services September 28, 2021

The war on drugs has failed. More than 60 percent of people who are prosecuted for drug offenses reoffend. In Deschutes County, Oregon, our Clean Slate program provides a model for how communities can chart a better path.

Fifty-three percent of program participants have successfully completed the Clean Slate program, which requires not incurring a new arrest within one year. When compared to individuals that were eligible to enroll in the program but did not participate, only 38 percent were not cited for a new crime within 12 months. This impact is reflected again in that Deschutes County’s two-year recidivism rate hovers around 76 percent, but the two-year rate for Clean Slate participants is only 42 percent. Due to these successes, over 400 court appearances have been avoided and 253 people have been connected to much-needed medical care since the program’s inception in November 2017.

Front-end diversion efforts like Clean Slate—which occur before a court date, when a person has initial contact with law enforcement—can prevent overuse of jail and the negative consequences an arrest can have on a person’s life. We were able to develop the Clean Slate program and run the proof-of-concept pilot thanks to funding from the Safety and Justice Challenge Innovation Fund.

How the Program Works

When an officer interacts with a person on the street suspected of drug possession, rather than arrested them, they issue a citation to appear in court, and they give them a card with information about the Clean Slate program. Our office then calls that person and invites them to a Clean Slate orientation meeting which they can attend before their court date. At that meeting, the District Attorney or one of their deputies is there to welcome the person. After the welcome, the person has a confidential meeting with the public defenders, who also participate in the orientation process. After meeting with the District Attorney and the public defender, the individual meets with a substance use disorder professional who conducts an assessment. The person is then scheduled for an appointment with a primary care provider provider at one of the program’s participating federally qualified health centers. Once the patient shows up at that appointment, they are in the program and out of the criminal justice system.

Treating Substance Abuse Disorder in the Medical System, Not the Criminal Justice System

We have tried treating substance abuse disorder in the criminal justice system for the past 100 years, and we have failed miserably. It simply does not work. When someone is charged with possessing drugs, it is our belief that they either use recreationally or they are living with a substance use disorder and need the help of a medical professional.

The healthcare environment is very different from the criminal justice environment. Patients are free to talk openly and can communicate about what is going on with their lives. There are often underlying issues contributing to their substance abuse disorder. Sometimes it is a history of trauma or a mental health condition. There are also socioeconomic stressors that often play a role. Most people want to do better; they just do not know how to take the first step.

The leadership and providers at Mosaic Medical and La Pine Community Health Center were invaluable to this effort and worked intensely with us to develop the nuts and bolts of the program. They provide compassionate and competent care to our participants everyday.

Getting Law Enforcement on Board

Law enforcement officers have also been important partners. Many have embraced the program and encourage people suspected of possessing drugs to attend a Clean Slate orientation meeting.

Many officers on the street tell us they have come to have a better understanding of the people they interact with on a regular basis. They now realize that the people they are interacting with often have mental health issues, physical conditions, and trauma, which go together with drug addictions.

Handing a person a Clean Slate card and referring them to programs and resources can build a good working relationship between officers and the people they are citing. It shows the officer is not just there to throw a person into a jail cell but instead wants to see them succeed.

Humanizing People with Substance Abuse Disorder

People with a substance abuse disorder do not want or choose to have it. We are not giving them a break; we are giving them a chance to live the life they want to live.

By removing the criminal framework and demonstrating that there are healthcare providers here to help, we make it easier for people to stay employed and housed. Those are important ways for people to stay productive and engaged in society.

Our participants tell us they did not know programs like Clean Slate existed and that they did not think they had the resources to go through such a program. They feel like it is their opportunity to succeed and change their life. They also tell us that the medical staff they work with are helpful and kind, and that there is a lack of judgment which also helps them succeed.

One participant told us: “This program saved my life: I would have been dead by now. I reconnected with my family, have not been arrested, gained weight, got healthier, have fewer sick days at work. It is a miracle, and my whole life has changed.”

Lessons Learned

Police officers told us that the personal commitment of the prosecutor’s office to encourage them to refer to Clean Slate was important in securing their support. We also learned the importance of securing stakeholder support during the process of designing the program. And of course, we relied on data collection to validate the program’s success.

Jail detention has tremendous costs for the people in jail, their families, and their community. This program has reduced those costs and is a worthwhile investment in people’s futures.

We encourage other Safety and Justice Challenge jurisdictions to draw on the lessons from the Clean Slate Program to lower the use of jails and help people living with substance abuse disorder improve their lives.

The Clean Slate Program is also the subject of a case study by the Urban Institute which is available here. And you can watch a video about the program featuring participants and law enforcement, here.