The NCSL Blog


By Kendra Longworth and Anne Teigen

Each year, nearly 11 million people are admitted to jail in the United States, nearly 18 times the number of yearly admissions to state and federal prisons.

In respGavelonse to the drivers of high jail incarceration rates, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation created the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), a national initiative that has provided more than $148 million in grants to local jurisdictions intending to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.

NCSL has been part of the SJC as a strategic ally since 2015.

When the SJC launched six years ago, jail populations had more than tripled since the 1980s and the misuse and overuse of jails was one of the greatest drivers of incarceration in the United States, having particularly dire impacts on low-income people and communities of color.

The foundation wanted to spur local leaders to address over-incarceration, racial and ethnic disparities, and form a network of jurisdictions that could model and inspire effective criminal justice reform for the nation.

And after five years, data suggests the challenge has been successful. The SJC has grown into a collaborative network of 51 cities and counties across 32 states and the City University of New York (CUNY) Institute for State and Local Governance recently released a comprehensive report on 11 of the SJC jurisdictions. The report details the progress made toward reducing jail populations, confronting disparities, and city and county progress, and provides an update on sites during the pandemic.

The report noted that from 2016 to 2019, the average daily populations (ADP) for those in custody pre-trial declined by 18%. Across the sites, bookings declined by 6% and many sites saw improvements in ADP, bookings, and length of stay outcomes for people of color. Incarceration rates declined in 13 of 14 sites and booking rates declined in 10 of 14 individual sites. Although these numbers show progress, people of color are still largely overrepresented in jail populations.

In conjunction with the report release, Laurie Garduque, director for justice reform at the MacArthur Foundation and lead for the SJC, announced that an additional $18 million in grants would be allocated to support 15 cities and counties to deepen the Foundation’s work. Garduque reiterated that the challenge has demonstrated that jail population reduction efforts are achievable and that momentum for reform is growing.

A moderated discussion with criminal justice experts and local justice leaders about how cities and counties are rethinking and redesigning their criminal justice system can be found here.

Kendra Longworth is an intern in NCSL’s Criminal Justice Program. Anne Teigen is a program director in the Criminal Justice Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.