Reacting to the evidence that the overuse of jails harms people, families, and communities, and is simultaneously bad for local budgets, public safety, and community-police relations, cities across the country are developing and implementing strategies to more effectively target arrests and jail use. Three of these cities shared their strong examples of city opportunities to reduce arrest and jail use during NLC’s City Summit in Pittsburgh.
Reducing the Use of Jails
Inspired by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County launched a collaboration to reduce the use of jail. The Adult Detention Initiative (ADI) starts from the perspective that people who pose a danger to the public should go to jail, and those who don’t should receive alternative community-based treatment.
ADI incorporates a strong focus on data to drive arrest or treatment decisions, and the collaborative makes that data publicly available. For example, over 21% of people booked into the Hennepin County jail met the criteria for mental illness set by the local mental health screening tool. This aligns with national estimates that 17% of people have active symptoms of serious mental illness when booked into jail.
The local Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC), which has strong representation from Minneapolis city government, oversees ADI. More local agencies are turning to CJCCs to collaborate on reforms and coordinate responses to problems within the criminal justice system. The National Network for Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils is a resource for cities hoping to create a CJCC or connect with other CJCCs for support and peer learning.
Reducing Arrests, Especially of Young People
Tallahassee, Florida City Commissioner Gil Ziffer, explained how local law enforcement officers issue a civil citation and refer people to a light-touch intervention rather than taking them into custody and charging them with a crime. This pre-arrest diversion model, also known as deflection, is the Adult Civil Citation program. The program reduces crime and provides support to people accused of low-level offenses, such as petty theft, marijuana possession, and underage possession of alcohol.
Results are remarkable for such a cost-effective alternative to arrest. Between 75 percent and 95 percent of cited persons have not been arrested after completing the program. The median age of people receiving citations is 21, demonstrating that the program addresses Tallahassee’s particular concern about reducing arrests of the many college students in town. Law enforcement officers are able to return to the streets immediately, and the local jail and courts see greater efficiency as well.
Supporting People with Mental Illness
Irvine, California’s Mental Health Outreach Program modifies how law enforcement interacts with people with mental illness. A strong collaborative of city and community organizations significantly enhanced training for all police officers and established a Mental Health Liaison Officer within the Irvine Police Department.
The Irvine Police Department partners with adult and child protective services, senior centers, a victim advocate and a county clinician to support people with mental illness rather than arrest them. The collaborative meets monthly to identify and strategize how to best serve individuals with needs that overlap multiple agencies.
All officers in the Irvine PD receive Crisis Intervention Training, including how to recognize when mental illness might be contributing to a disturbance or crime. In addition, all officers receive supplemental training, including addressing mental health needs, every three months.
The Mental Health Liaison Officer fulfills a role similar to that of a case manager and supports between 50 and 100 residents at a time. The officer makes sure that people receive stabilizing services during and especially after a crisis to reduce the risk of another crisis.
The MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, a major criminal justice reform initiative to reduce over-incarceration by ending the misuse of America’s jails, supports the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ help for cities reducing the overuse of jails for young adults. Join cities working to reduce the use of jails for young adults by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author: Laura E. Furr is the program manager for justice reform and youth engagement in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Laura on Twitter at @laura_furr and she can be reached at email@example.com.