Our Work in 2021
For the past two years, state and local justice systems have had to adjust to a world that won’t stop shifting. Our stakeholders have navigated historic increases in homicide rates; fluctuations in jail and prison populations; court backlogs; unprecedented technological adaptations; programming starts and stops; and a once-in-a-generation investment of federal relief dollars to address state and local budget shortfalls. Any sense of a "new normal" was almost instantly overtaken by a "newer normal."
As the COVID-19 pandemic persisted, it exposed and deepened systemic inequities within the justice system, such as unequal access to key supports and services for people with behavioral health needs. The desire to advance racial and ethnic equality informed much conversation and debate last year, and it shined a spotlight on the racial inequities that permeate all points of our justice system. In 2021, we saw states and localities take thoughtful and diligent approaches to reducing those racial disparities.
Throughout it all, The Council of State Governments Justice Center worked to support our stakeholders in ways that were timely and responsive to their evolving needs and challenges. We connected state and local stakeholders with the resources they need to identify problems in their criminal justice, behavioral health, and crisis systems, and to improve outcomes for people who are impacted by those systems. Here, we present 10 highlights from our work in 2021.
We launched new unprecedented initiatives to expand and improve crisis response systems in communities and states across the country, including a first-of-its kind digital toolkit.
The CSG Justice Center hosted a national conference that explored responses to calls for emergency service, particularly those that involve mental health, substance use, and homelessness. Our experts helped communities successfully conceptualize and implement co-responder and dispatch diversion programs, and we addressed misconceptions about mental health and violence.
Our efforts led to legislation to reduce recidivism and improve public safety.
Through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI)—which we stand up in partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Pew Charitable Trusts—we worked with multiple states to help them address some of their thorniest criminal justice challenges. Using the JRI approach, policymakers in Kansas passed legislation that will keep people with substance use disorders out of prison and improve community supervision and reentry supports.
In Oregon, we supported state legislators to launch a new task force to reduce structural barriers to educational and employment opportunities for people with criminal and juvenile records. The working group’s recommendations will ultimately lead to a proposed set of policy reforms for the 2022 legislative session.
We helped state and county leaders reform their juvenile justice systems to improve outcomes for youth and address racial disparities.
Through the Improving Outcomes for Youth initiative, we supported Indiana and Michigan in conducting comprehensive, data-driven reviews of their juvenile justice systems to identify policy changes that will promote positive outcomes for youth and strengthen public safety.
North Dakota and Connecticut passed legislation to modernize and reform their juvenile justice systems by increasing access to key supports and services, and in Connecticut, raising the minimum age of arrest.
Additionally, our juvenile justice team launched a new project to analyze state juvenile court policies and rules in all 50 states, we worked with jurisdictions to address racial disparities in their juvenile justice systems, and our experts encouraged schools to promote supportive school discipline as students returned to in-person classes.
We showed states how they can reduce barriers to education and employment for people in the justice system.
Our team lifted up concrete reforms with other subject matter experts that states can make to dismantle employment and educational barriers for justice-involved individuals. Two new resources, Removing Structural Barriers to Employment: A Playbook for Every State and After the Sentence, More Consequences: A National Report of Barriers to Work, helped states identify best practices for minimizing the negative impact of employment-related collateral consequences for people with criminal records.
We also released the Fair Chance Licensing Project, a comprehensive effort to track new reforms that reduce barriers to employment across all 50 states. The project also provides resources for lawmakers, business leaders, workforce organizations, and community advocates to explore how these reforms can help address the current worker shortage.
We collaborated with policymakers to navigate systemic challenges in their criminal justice systems.
Through our Face to Face Initiative, we connected Idaho Governor Brad Little and Missouri Governor Mike Parson to people with lived experiences within their states’ criminal justice systems to better understand their experiences.
As states struggled with massive budget fluctuations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we launched the Course Corrections cost calculator, which allows them to easily see how revocations from community supervision affect their prison populations and budgets.
We helped policymakers reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in jails.
Our Stepping Up team hosted a Community of Practice to help counties develop and implement reforms to decrease the number of individuals in jails with serious mental illness. Our experts also worked with stakeholders across the country to better serve people who frequently cycle through the justice system.
In Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Monterey County, CA, we worked with policymakers to identify opportunities to improve responses to people with behavioral health needs in their criminal justice systems. In Kansas, we supported the launch of the state’s Stepping Up Technical Assistance Center—the second of its kind in the nation—to help counties improve outcomes for people with mental illnesses in jail.
We helped connect people with critical reentry supports.
One of the most important ways to help reduce justice system involvement is to provide affordable and stable housing. Our resources provided concrete steps that state and local policymakers can take to increase housing opportunities for people with behavioral health needs who are leaving prison or jail, including highlighting opportunities to leverage federal resources.
We also launched a new resource guide to aid behavioral health and criminal justice service providers create gender-responsive programming and highlighted strategies to help jurisdictions advance the work of peer support specialists.
We used data to improve criminal justice and behavioral health systems.
Having accessible and timely data is key to understanding and improving the justice system. We provided guidance for justice and behavioral health stakeholders on choosing the right data strategy, and our behavioral health experts leveraged the experience of 11 counties to explore how screening and assessment in jails can improve diversion programs.
Through our More Community, Less Confinement project, our researchers conducted a state-by-state analysis on how probation and parole violations impacted prison populations during the pandemic. In collaboration with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, we launched the Justice Counts data dashboard to provide policymakers with up-to-date information to better inform their decision-making on critical issues.
We worked with judicial branch leaders in Montana to analyze racial disparities in their criminal justice system, and we examined what data do or do not tell us about how Hispanic people are treated in the justice system.
We connected states and communities with federal resources to advance key safety and justice priorities and provided guidance on how to create behavioral health-criminal justice programs that are financially sustainable.
In March 2021, Congress passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. We launched a comprehensive digital guide to help jurisdictions understand how to leverage this unprecedented federal funding to expand critical resources for people impacted by the justice system, reduce recidivism, and bolster public safety.
We improved and supported victims’ rights by launching a new resource center offering free assistance to states to improve victim restitution processes.
Our work could not be done without the many organizations and people that support us.
- Action Now Initiative
- Alkermes - The Waltham, Massachusetts Facility
- Allegheny County, PA
- American Psychiatric Association Foundation
- Arnold Ventures
- Blue Meridian Partners
- Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice
- California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
- California Department of State Hospitals
- California Health Care Foundation
- California Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission
- Charles Koch Institute
- Colorado Department of Public Safety
- Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
- Connecticut Court Support Services Division
- Crime Victim Assistance Division, Office of the Attorney General of Iowa
- Florida Department of Juvenile Justice
- George Mason University
- Hamilton County Juvenile Court
- Indiana Office of Judicial Administration
- Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS)
- LEAD National Support Bureau
- Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections
- MacArthur Foundation
- Mathematica Inc.
- Melville Charitable Trust
- Michigan Department of Corrections
- Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
- Midwest Urban Strategies
- Minnesota Department of Corrections
- Monterey County Health Department
- North Dakota Division of Juvenile Services
- Office for Victims of Crime
- Peg's Foundation
- Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency
- Rhode Island Department of Corrections
- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
- RTI International
- Sozosei Foundation
- Seattle Police Department
- State Justice Institute
- State of Colorado
- State of Hawai'i, Crime Victim Compensation Commission
- State of Idaho
- State of Nebraska
- State of New Mexico
- State of Vermont
- The Annie E. Casey Foundation
- The Jacob & Valeria Langeloth Foundation
- The Joyce Foundation
- The Pew Charitable Trusts
- The Tow Foundation
- University of Massachusetts - Medical School
- University of New Haven
- van Ameringen Foundation
- Vital Strategies
We are grateful to the donors who supported our work in 2021.
- Lynn Beshear
- Dion Clark
- Judy Clement
- Marshall Clement
- Bryan Collier
- Patricia Colloton
- David D'Amora
- Laurie Dudgeon
- Michelle Garcia
- Kevin and Maureen Horgan
- Sandra Jamet
- John Mehr
- Ben Oakley
- Megan Quattlebaum
- Gordon Ramsey
- Richard Sears
- Jennifer Shin
- Thomas Stickrath
- Cam Ward
- Committee to Elect Justice Boggs, Inc.