Launching the Data-Driven Justice Initiative: Disrupting the Cycle of Incarceration

Every year, more than 11 million people move through America’s 3,100 local jails, many on low-level, non-violent misdemeanors, costing local governments approximately $22 billion a year.In local jails, 64 percent of people suffer from mental illness, 68 percent have a substance abuse disorder, and 44 percent suffer from chronic health problems.Communities across the country have recognized that a relatively small number of these highly-vulnerable people cycle repeatedly not just through local jails, but also hospital emergency rooms, shelters, and other public systems, receiving fragmented and uncoordinated care at great cost to American taxpayers, with poor outcomes.

For example, Miami-Dade, Florida found that 97 people with serious mental illness accounted for $13.7 million in services over 4 years, spending more than 39,000 days in either jail, emergency rooms, state hospitals, or psychiatric facilities in their county.In response, the county provided key mental health de-escalation training to their police officers and 911 dispatchers. Over the past 5 years, Miami-Dade police have responded to nearly 50,000 calls for service for people in mental-health crises, but have made only 109 arrests, diverting more than 10,000 people to services or safely stabilizing situations without arrest.The jail population fell from over 7,000 to just over 4,700, and the county was able to close an entire jail facility, saving nearly $12 million a year.

On any given day, across the country more than 450,000 people are held in jail before trial, nearly 63 percent of the local jail population, even though they have not been convicted of a crime.A 2014 study of New York’s Riker’s Island jail found more than 86 percent of detained individuals were held on a bond of $500 or less.To tackle the challenges of bail, in 2014 Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina began using a data-based risk assessment tool to identify low-risk people in jail and find ways to release them safely.  Since Charlotte-Mecklenburg began using the tool, significantly more low-risk individuals have been released from jail, the total county jail population has dropped by 40 percent, and there has been no increase in reported crime.

To break the cycle of incarceration, the Administration is launching the Data-Driven Justice Initiative (DDJ) with a bipartisan coalition of 67 city, county, and state governments who have committed to using data-driven strategies to divert low-level offenders with mental illness out of the criminal justice system and change approaches to pre-trial incarceration, so that low-risk offenders no longer stay in jail simply because they cannot afford a bond.These innovative strategies, which have measurably reduced jail populations in several communities, help stabilize individuals and families, better serve communities, and often save money in the process.  Access the complete article.

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