We Can Help Your City Put Fewer People in Jail

Should your city apply for a new technical assistance program to reduce the number of people going to jail? Here are ten questions to guide your decision.

The past two decades’ rapid rise in jail populations has come at great short- and long-term expense to city governments. The increased use of jails has also failed to reduce recidivism rates and demonstrated mixed results at best in terms of public safety. However, some cities have been able to successfully reduce jail populations – and understanding your jail system, and the alternatives available to you, can help your city achieve success as well.

City Leadership to Reduce the Use of Jails, a new technical assistance program offered by NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families, can help you find the right alternatives to incarceration for your city or town. We’re hosting an upcoming webinar on the topic, and we’ve created a quick self-assessment tool, detailed below, to help local elected officials and staff determine the areas in which your city has the greatest need for assistance.

Data collection, analysis, and related policy-making

  1. Do local officials routinely receive reports of arrest and other data from the police department, including data disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, geography of arrest, and offense?
  2. Have racial and ethnic disparities in arrests undergone analysis, and if so, has this analysis resulted in any shift in policy or protocol?
  3. Has the city measured the effectiveness of current policies, including any diversion initiatives, in terms of protecting public safety, making efficient use of public funds, and improving long-term outcomes for individuals, communities and the city?
  4. Has the city mapped available mental health or substance abuse treatment services and the related needs of residents by neighborhood?

Promising or model policies and programs

  1. Does the police department operate a pre-arrest diversion program and report regularly on its effects? To qualify, such programs would stem from formal policies or procedures to utilize arrest for those individuals who pose a public safety risk and to refer others to services. Examples include a mobile crisis response team or crisis intervention team or a law enforcement-assisted diversion (LEAD) model, among many others.
  2. Does the city police department provide officers with training in mental health, substance abuse, racial and ethnic disparities, and developmentally-appropriate interactions with young adults?
  3. Does the city operate a triage center or other crisis response center to which officers can refer people with mental health or substance abuse needs?

Efficient use of resources

  1. Has the city allocated resources to support people returning from jail or prison so that they may effectively reconnect to the community as well as seek job opportunities?
  2. Have elected or appointed officials recently assessed city operating costs or capital budget spending related to the local jail? And if such spending exists, have they developed a plan to reduce costs and/or achieve greater efficiencies?


  1. Do city elected or appointed officials participate in a county, regional or state collaborative focused on the local jail?

Cities interested in technical assistance to assess, develop and implement policies and practices to reduce the use of jails can find out more during the webinar on Thursday, June 29, from 3:00 -4:00 p.m. EDT.

Featured image from Getty Images.

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 @laura_furr or email her at furr@nlc.org.