Reducing incarceration with technology (ShutterStock image)

Reducing incarceration with technology

Twenty new jurisdictions have joined the Safety and Justice Challenge, an initiative to reduce over-incarceration and address racial and ethnic local justice disparities through innovative criminal justice reforms.

A national $100 million initiative by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation,  the challenge works to tackle such issues as “gender-responsive risk and needs assessment, culture-based case management and recidivism reduction approaches, and enhanced services for people with mental illness involved with the justice system,” the foundation said in its announcement of the new grant winners. 

Many of the solutions involve using technology to drive down jail usage and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in local justice systems.

Durham County, N.C., is developing an automated notification system to prevent failure-to-appear warrants and arrests. People facing criminal court charges would receive text or phone notices regarding their scheduled court dates, in an effort to decrease the number of people who end up in jail because of missing a court date.

“People forget things. It’s only human,” Durham County Clerk of Superior Court Archie L. Smith III said in a statement. “Medical providers generate appointment reminder calls to insure that health needs are timely met. We will provide reminder calls such that legal obligations can be timely addressed.”

Adams County, Colo., is developing a data linking system to better understand the correlation between mental health crises and crime. It will analyze how many critical incident response calls are related to mental health crises and divert people with mental illness from incarceration to treatment. The county will develop a dashboard and analytical tool to monitor progress on redirecting people with mental illness to treatment to reduce the unnecessary use of emergency services and the jail.

“The intent of the system will be to share data between health providers in the jail and community to improve continuity of care,” according to minutes from the Data Sharing Task Force Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. “We know people stay in prison/jail longer and return more without continuity of care.”

San Francisco is developing a web-based recidivism analysis dashboard, integrating data from multiple justice agencies to support the development of data-driven sentencing and supervision policies that will help the city assess its progress in reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system.

“This dashboard will offer an interface that would allow key decision-makers to review information in real time and make decisions about resource allocation for supervision or programming,” according to the San Francisco Sentencing Commission City and County of San Francisco. "It would also be a tool to inform the public about how we are collectively reaching our goal to reduce recidivism in the criminal justice system."

The 20 communities will receive short-term support of $50,000 each from the foundation’s Innovation Fund and expert technical assistance in designing and implementing local reforms. They are also eligible for future funding opportunities, and have access to the resources, peer learning opportunities and expertise of the Safety and Justice Challenge Network. 

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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