Call to Action: Data-Driven Justice Initiative, Disrupting 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, in Miami-Dade, Florida found that 97 people with serious mental illness accounted for $13.7 million in services over four 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 and, over the past five years, Miami-Dade police have responded to nearly 50,000 calls for service for people in mental health crisis, 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 7000 to just over 4700 and the county was able to close an entire jail facility, saving nearly $12 million a year.
In addition, on any given day, 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. To tackle the challenges of bail, in 2014 Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC began using a data-based risk assessment tool to identify low risk people in jail and find ways to release them safely. Since they began using the tool, the jail population has gone down 40 percent, significantly more low-risk individuals have been released from jail, and there has been no increase in reported crime.
To break this cycle of incarceration, the Administration has launched the Data-Driven Justice Initiative with a bipartisan coalition of 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 system and to 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, saves money in the process. DDJ communities commit to:
- combining data from across criminal justice and health systems to identify the individuals with the highest number of contacts with police, ambulance, emergency departments, and other services, and, leverage existing resources to link them to health, behavioral health, and social services in the community;
- equipping law enforcement and first responders to enable more rapid deployment of tools, approaches, and other innovations they need to safely and more effectively respond to people in mental health crisis and divert people with high needs to identified service providers instead of arrest; and
- working towards using objective, data-driven, validated risk assessment tools to inform the safe release of low-risk defendants from jails in order to reduce the jail population held pretrial.
In July 2015, at the NAACP’s 106th national convention, President Obama laid out the reasons why we need to reform America’s criminal justice system, stating, “Our criminal justice system isn’t as smart as it should be.” Many localities, states, and organizations are taking action to advance these goals. We want to hear from local or state governments, private sector companies, nonprofits, and community organizations about the new, specific, and measurable steps that they are ready to take to further the development of a smarter, more data-driven criminal justice system. Jurisdictions that would like to formally commit to joining the White House’s efforts in this work will be asked to submit a formal sign-on letter from their Chief Executive.