Crafting Winning Solutions for Counties as Part of Justice Reinvestment

January 12, 2016

More than 220,000 adults are booked into local jails each week in the United States. The high volume of people flowing through the justice system costs counties across the country more than $70 billion annually on law enforcement, court and legal services, and corrections.

The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center partners with the National Association of Counties (NACo) to propose solutions that will help local officials faced with heavy dockets, overwhelmed treatment services, and antiquated jail facilities and management information systems.

At the state level, the CSG Justice Center brings together people from all three branches of government, as well as state and local criminal justice system stakeholders when state policymakers pursue a data-driven justice reinvestment approach to reduce corrections spending and reinvest in strategies that can reduce recidivism and increase public safety. County representatives are often key players in the leadership teams that guide each state’s justice reinvestment effort and help to inform the policies that are developed.

As part of justice reinvestment, the CSG Justice Center has worked with county associations in several states since 2010 to create innovative solutions designed to bring additional resources to counties and address the concerns of county officials, while also supporting state-level goals to reduce corrections spending.

In 2011, justice reinvestment legislation in North Carolina created the Statewide Misdemeanant Confinement Program (SMCP), which allows people convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to 91 days or more to serve their sentences in a local jail rather than a state prison. Prior to justice reinvestment, North Carolina was one of only two states in the country (the other being South Carolina) that sent people convicted of misdemeanors to state prison instead of local jails when their sentence exceeded 90 days. As a result, misdemeanants accounted for almost one-quarter of admissions to prison. Administered by the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, SMCP enables county jails with available space to voluntarily accept misdemeanants who would previously have gone to state prison and receive reimbursement from the state for related expenses. In FY2014, 2,836 people were processed through SMCP, and the state sent more than $9.6 million to counties for reimbursement of expenses.

In West Virginia, the number of people on supervision who were revoked to prison increased by 47 percent between 2005 and 2011, representing the single largest driver of the state’s then rapidly growing prison population. Failure to adhere to the terms of probation or parole often stemmed from people’s substance use disorders, yet few people under supervision received treatment in their communities. As part of West Virginia’s justice reinvestment approach to controlling prison growth, state leaders will have appropriated $9 million between FY2014 and FY2016 to expand community-based substance use treatment and services for people at high risk of violating their probation or parole. County-level grants are now being awarded to fund inpatient and outpatient treatment programs, the development of addiction recovery housing, and the hiring of recovery support specialists in order to expand counties’ capacity to deliver substance use treatment and services for people on supervision.

In Ohio, county sheriffs were concerned that probationers awaiting violation hearings were spending lengthy periods in jails—in some cases, as many as 60 or 90 days. Holding someone in jail for long periods of time while awaiting a decision about whether to revoke that person’s probation is expensive for county officials and disrupts progress the person may have been making related to community-based treatment, housing, and employment. The state’s 2011 justice reinvestment legislation requires a hearing to take place within 30 days of a person being charged with a violation, thereby reducing the burden on county jails.

The CSG Justice Center plans to continue to support county governments committed to using data-driven, evidence-based approaches on the front lines of the justice system by ensuring that county leaders have an active role in the state’s reform process. In addition to justice reinvestment projects, counties have the opportunity to participate in the recently launched Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails, which provides coordinated support to counties to help people living with mental illnesses stay out of jail and on a path to recovery. Created in partnership with the CSG Justice Center, NACo, and the American Psychiatric Foundation, this initiative was developed with county governments in mind.

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