Reducing the Overuse and Misuse of Jails

Reducing the Overuse and Misuse of Jails
Reducing the Overuse and Misuse of Jails

The YEF Institute supports city leaders' efforts to implement policies and practices that reduce the presences of youth and young adults (aged 18 - 24) in jail, and that reduce or eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in the use of jail.

As a growing number of cities across the country address criminal justice reform, NLC joins the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Safety and Justice Challenge to provide cities with tools and support to reduce the overuse of jails for young adults.

Resource: Engaging Peers in Jail Use Reduction Strategies

This introductory resource brief highlights some of the policy and funding opportunities city and county leaders can explore to build on the success of early examples of communities that have utilized peer support as part of their continuum of care and in justice-related interventions. Peer support has been applied and evaluated for decades within behavioral health recovery and treatment.

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Resource: Co-Responder Models: The Roles of Cities, Counties, Law Enforcement, and Providers

This brief, the first joint product in a series from Policy Research, Inc. and the National League of Cities, details the various co-responder models available to city and county leaders. It reflects the growing interest and experimentation with co-response among jurisdictions that are part of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge.
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How Cities Affect Jail Populations

Cities can contribute to a reduction in jail populations through policies and procedures for stopping and arresting young adults, as well as city support for diversion options. The recent increase in jail use has resulted in negative outcomes for jailed individuals, their families, and neighborhoods. In order to reverse this trend, city officials need to understand arrest data in their city and find evidence-based means of addressing law-breaking behavior.

Law Enforcement's Role

By providing specialized law enforcement training and building locally-validated decision-making tools, cities can increase the options for officers to divert people who do not pose a public safety risk. Early diversion can reduce the number of young adults in jail unnecessarily, increase officers' time on the street, and thus improve public safety.

City officials recognize that, in many communities, African-Americans and other young adults of color go to jail at a higher rate than their white peers. Cities can positively affect this trend by applying local arrest data to the development and tracking of early diversion tools, policies, and practices.

A System of High-Quality Community-Based Alternatives to Jail

City leaders serve as key collaborators and conveners with local jail administrators, law enforcement, and community-based service providers. A collaboratively-built system of high-quality, community-services can address the unmet mental health and substance use treatment needs of many of the young adults who currently go to jail, making better use of scarce community resources and resulting in improved long-term outcomes.

Research on cognitive development confirms the common-sense notion that young adults do not automatically mature at the age of 18. In fact, it can take until age 25 to complete brain development related to decision-making and risk-taking. By incorporating the implications of this research into training and policy discussions, cities can increase the chances that young adults will thrive.

Additional Resources

Triage centers provide a strong opportunity to bring first responders and community-based service providers together to effectively address behavioral health crises and improve quality of life across a city.

As part of NLC’s role in the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, NLC collected examples and guidance on triage centers from national partners and cities across the country. To learn more about triage centers and what other cities are doing, view the newly released policy brief, Triage Centers as Alternatives to Jail for People in Behavioral Health Crises. 

Triage Centers as Alternatives to Jail for People in Behavioral Health Crises

Several cities across the nation are embracing pre-arrest diversion to reduce mass incarceration. pre-arrest diversion allows police officers to divert a person into community services to receive treatment rather than arresting and jailing that person.

Pre-arrest diversion models address varying levels of need from behavioral health to connecting individuals to community services rather than the typical arrest procedures.

The YEF Institute's new pre-arrest diversion resource details promising efforts from around the country:

Elements of Pre-Arrest Diversion Initiatives Across the U.S.

NLC introduces cities to the issues stemming from the overuse and misuse of jails, opportunities for city leadership to reduce the use of jails and attendant disparities, action steps to get started, and examples from around the country.