Reports & Toolkits

County Guide for Reducing Jail Populations and Costs

  • Document

    County Guide for Reducing Jail Populations and Costs

    County officials are implementing data-driven and evidence-based policies, practices and programs to decrease jail populations, reduce associated costs and meet the social and safety needs of communities. Annually, county jails process 8 million admissions and spend $29 billion on correctional facilities.[1] The Pew Charitable Trusts reported in 2021 that county corrections costs increased 521 percent from 1977 to 2017.

    New Resource: Jail Data Initiative

    When determining local jail population drivers, counties may choose to look at neighboring counties’ data or others within their state and/or nationally as comparisons. The Jail Data Initiative at New York University, in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts, is gathering data on jail populations around the country. Using online data rosters from roughly a third of the jails in the United States, the project analyzes daily populations, lengths of stay, charge and demographic profiles of those incarcerated, admissions, release statistics and more. Visit their website to explore and compare local data metrics.

    Through collaborative efforts such as local public safety planning boards or criminal justice coordinating councils, counties are looking at data from various departments and entities to identify factors that drive jail population growth and exploring solutions to improve outcomes.

    Common drivers of jail populations include:[2]

    • Bookings and/or arrests, especially for low-level charges such as misdemeanors
    • Pretrial length of stay
    • Technical violations of community supervision, and
    • Recidivism.

    Counties are also increasingly interested in identifying and reducing or eliminating racial disparities in their criminal legal systems. Counties can use data to better understand their jail populations and identify disparities that indicate further review. Counties can disaggregate data for each of the four jail population drivers by self-identified race, ethnicity, age, sex, sexual orientation and gender and then compare to rates in the local population. If the data demonstrate an overrepresentation of a specific group(s), county leaders can work to identify possible disproportionate sources and determine policy and program responses specific to the population(s).

    Identifying the drivers of a local jail population is the first step in reducing the number of people in jail. This toolkit helps county officials lead local efforts to understand jail population drivers and implement data-driven solutions to manage these factors and associated costs. The charts below outline key policies and/or practices that address each jail population driver and their potential impacts beyond jail reduction, as well as key resources and county examples to help support local decision making.

    Join NACo for a five-part virtual learning series that outlines key policies and features communities implementing impactful solutions that promote racial equity and reduce jail populations. Register here.  

    Bookings and/or Arrests

    Reducing the number of people arrested and booked into jails for low-level offenses and misdemeanors through diversion and citations, as well as outstanding warrants for failing to appear in court or not paying fines and fees, can help decrease jail populations by reserving detention beds for people who are a risk to public safety or a serious flight risk. This can also improve outcomes for individuals by keeping them connected to their communities.

    County Solutions & Examples

    Diversion and Citations
    Policy or Practice Beyond Reducing Bookings and/or Arrests, this policy/practice can… County Examples

    Allow citations in lieu of arrest for low-level offenses.

    maximize an officer’s time and allow people to continue working, attend school and care for their families and other obligations. 

    Wilson County, N.C.

    Create or enhance behavioral health diversion or deflection options.

    enhance access to health-focused treatment and services to improve outcomes for residents. Some examples are  Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), crisis response teams, mobile crisis teams, Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery programs, crisis triage centers and more.

    Fairfax County, Va.

    Johnson County, Iowa

    Waukesha County, Wis.

    Blue Earth County, Minn.

    Warrant Avoidance and Resolution
    Policy or Practice Beyond Reducing Bookings and/or Arrests, this policy/practice can… County Examples

    Prohibit warrants and jail time for unpaid justice fines and fees.

    help people continue their social, economic and familial obligations in the community to promote stability. Fines and fees disrupt well-being, particularly for communities of color or individuals characterized by lower incomes. Local governments often spend more money – through incarceration – by trying to collect the funds. Prohibiting jail time for unpaid fines or fees can also decrease the likelihood a person engages in harmful activity stemming from an inability to pay.[3]

    Alameda County, Calif.

    San Francisco, Calif.

    Adopt a court reminder system, such as telephone calls or messaging notifications.

    reduce the failure to appear rate and decrease the likelihood of court postponements.[4]

    Santa Clara, Calif.

    Coconino County, Ariz.

    Pima County, Ariz.

    Jefferson County, Colo.

    Create and share user-friendly documents at the time of citation with key information about court date, processes and consequences for noncompliance.

    ensure individuals have the information they need to meet court requirements and help to improve likelihood of court appearance.

    Orange County, N.C.

    Streamline driver’s license restoration, including indigent legal services to expunge charges and convictions and restore suspended or revoked licenses.

    reduce unlicensed driving and remove identification and transportation barriers to employment and housing.

    Durham County, N.C.

    Leon County, Florida

    Adopt programs or specialty courts that clear old warrants for failing to appear in court.

    help people with active warrants resolve their cases and reduce threat of arrest for a past failure to appear in court to help sustain their life in the community.

    Jefferson County, Ala.

    Pima County, Ariz.

    Implement a “grace period” after missing court before issuing a warrant.

    help people avoid unnecessary warrants and reduce threat of arrest for failure to appear.

    Robeson County, N.C.

    Expand court hours to nights and/or weekends.

    better accommodate work and personal schedules to reduce failures to appear and help jurisdictions reduce case backlogs.[5]

    Pima County, Ariz.

    Sacramento County, Calif.

    Shelby County, Tenn.

    Harris County, Texas

    Fulton County, Ga.

    External Resources

    • Baltimore Behind Bars (Justice Policy Institute, 2009)
    • Citations in Lieu of Arrest (National Conference of State Legislatures)
    • County Jails at a Crossroads (National Association of Counties, 2015))
    • Examining Law Enforcement Use of Citations Across the United States (International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2016)
    • How the Backlog May Reshape the Future of Courts (Thomson Reuters)
    • Jail Population Management: Elected County Officials Guide to Pretrial Services (National Association of Counties, 2009)
    • Policy Reforms Can Strengthen Community Supervision (The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2020)
    • Stepping Up: A National Initiative Reducing Overincarceration of People with Mental Illnesses
    • Reducing Fines and Fees in the Criminal Justice System (National Association of Counties)
    • Tailoring Crisis Response and Pre-Arrest Diversion Models for Rural Communities (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2019)
    • Think Local, Act Local: How Cities and Counties Can Lead Fines and Fees Reform (Fines & Fees Justice Center, 2022)

     

    Pretrial Length of Stay

    Reducing length of stay during the pretrial period will decrease jail populations and allow people to return to the community more quickly to assist with their defense and continue working, attending school, caring for their families and other obligations. Counties can reduce length of stay by shortening case processing times and creating alternatives to pretrial detention.

    County Solutions and Examples

    Court Proceedings
    Policy or Practice Beyond Reducing Pretrial Length of Stay, this policy/practice can… County Examples

    Implement virtual court proceedings options for people in jail and in the community.

    create an accessible justice system, improve health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, decrease failure to appear rates and subsequent warrants and reduce the likelihood of court postponements.[6]

    Chatham County, Ga.

    Loudoun County, Va.

    Set reasonable time standards between date of arrest and court date.

    create an accessible justice system, improve health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic and return people to their communities and families more quickly.

    Pima County, Ariz.

    Reform bail guidelines, implement “ability to pay” policies and/or eliminate cash bail, particularly for misdemeanors and/or nonviolent offenses.

    result in fewer people being held pretrial because they do not have the money to post bail. With proper screening and monitoring, cash bail can be eliminated and people can be released without increasing rearrest or failure to appear.[7]

    Fairfax County, Va.

    Cook County, Ill.

    Harris County, Texas

    Pretrial Services and Supervision
    Policy or Practice Beyond Reducing Pretrial Length of Stay, this policy/practice can… County Examples

    Create a pretrial release program.

    reduce the amount of time people are held in detention and allow them to assist in their defense, which can result in fewer convictions and/or lengthy sentences.[8] Pretrial supervision also helps minimize the risks of re-offending while awaiting trial.[9] It allows people to continue working, attend school and care for their families and other obligations. 

    Howard County, Md.

    Stanford County, N.H.

    Sonoma County, Calif.

    Shelby County, Tenn.

    Caldwell County, Texas

    El Paso County, Colo.

    Jefferson County, Neb.

    Institute a pretrial risk assessment and process for release on personal recognizance for people who are low risk of recidivism and/or failure to appear.

    help judges determine appropriate release mechanisms so that more people can remain in the community while awaiting trial. The risk assessment and process should be continuously evaluated for fairness and equity to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities and bias in decision making.

    Washington, D.C.

    Olmsted County, Minn.

    Shelby County, Tenn.

    Palm Beach County, Fla.

    Charleston County, S.C.

    Screen for mental illness and/or substance use disorders, as well as potential competency to stand trial issues.

    help identify people who would benefit from connections to community-based treatment and services or who need a higher level of care, during booking to identify people who may be eligible for pretrial release.

    Pacific County, Wash.

    Douglas County, Kan.

    Champaign County, Ill.

    External Resources

    • Addressing Mental Illnesses and Medical Conditions in County Jails (National Association of Counties, 2015)
    • Americans Favor Pretrial Expanded Pre-trial Release, Limited Use of Jails (The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2018)
    • Bail Fail: Why the U.S. Should End the Practice of Using Money for Bail (Justice Policy Institute, 2012)
    • Baltimore Behind Bars (Justice Policy Institute, 2010)
    • County Roles and Opportunities in Pretrial Justice (National Association of Counties, 2017)
    • County-State Collaboration in Building High-Functioning Pre-trial Systems (National Association of Counties, 2017)
    • Court During Covid-19 Crisis (National Association of Counties, 2020)
    • Evidence Based Court Strategies for Criminal Caseflow Management (National Center for State Courts, 2020)
    • Fines, Fees and Bail, Payments in the Criminal Justice System that Disproportionately Impact the Poor (Council Of Economic Advisors, 2015)
    • Improving Responses to People with Mental Illnesses at the Pretrial Stage (The Council of State Governance Justice Center, 2015)
    • Locked Up: Is Cash Bail on the Way Out? (The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2017)
    • National Task Force on Fines, Fees and Bail Practices (National Center for State Courts)
    • Pretrial Risk Assessment Tools (Safety and Justice Challenge, 2019)
    • Roadmap for Pretrial Advancement (Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research)
    • Thomson Reuters: How the Backlog May Reshape the Future of Courts (Thomson Reuters)
    • Webinar: Stepping Up—Conducting Timely Mental Health Screening and Assessment in Jails (National Association of Counties, 2015)
    • Video Arraignment (National Center for State Courts)
    • Pretrial Detention: A Pretrial Research Summary (Advancing Pretrial Policy & Research, 2021)

     

    Technical Violations of Community Supervision

    Reducing the number of people in jail for technical violations can help decrease jail populations and improve outcomes and compliance with supervision conditions. Counties can reduce this kind of incarceration by reducing case processing times and implementing specialized caseloads.

    County Solutions and Examples

    Policy or Practice Beyond reducing technical violations of community supervision, this policy/practice can… County Examples

    Provide incentives for good behavior.

    enable people to get off supervision sooner and promote their well-being and stability in the community. 

    Maricopa County, Ariz.

    Expedite technical violation of community supervision cases.

    increase the rate at which a person on supervision is transferred to prison or released from jail. Probation and parole officers can work with jail staff to screen people being held for technical violations and help fast track their release back to the community.

    St. Louis County, Mo.

    Develop supervision strategies and opportunities for specialized conditions of probation for people with mental illness and/or substance use disorders.

    provide access to treatment and services and target resources to address the underlying causes of harmful behavior.

    Maricopa County, Ariz.

    Erie County, N.Y.

    Utilize graduated sanctions for technical violations of supervision  and use non-incarceration responses.

    respond to underlying needs in the community (mental illness, homelessness or substance use disorders) and keep people connected to services and supports.

    Miami-Dade County, Fla.

    East Baton Rouge Parish, La.

    Campbell County, Tenn.

    External Resources

    • New Model for Collaborative Court and Community Caseflow Management—Expedite Resolutions and Improve Outcomes (National Center for State Courts, 2022)
    • Policy Reforms Can Strengthen Community Supervision (The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2020)
    • Reducing Jail Populations through State and Local Policy Coordination (National Association of Counties and The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2021)
    • To Safely Cut Incarceration, States Rethink Responses to Supervision Violations (The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2019)
    • Use of Incentives and Sanctions to Promote Compliance with Supervision Conditions during Reentry: A Implementation Strategy (The Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2013)
    • Pretrial Services Inventory: Identifying Resources to Support Pretrial Success (Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research, 2022)

     

    Recidivism

    Reducing recidivism through effective jail- and community-based services can decrease jail admissions and populations and improve outcomes for people with criminal histories.

    County Solutions and Examples

    Jail-based Reentry Services
    Policy or Practice Beyond Reducing Pretrial Length of Stay, this policy/practice can… County Examples

    Implement Medication Assisted-Treatment (MAT) programs, or other clinical treatment in jail.

    improve health outcomes and connect individuals to community-based treatment and service providers before release to help ensure that their treatment continues and a support network is in place to enhance stability.[10]

    Lewis and Clark County, Mont.

    Upper Cumberland County, Tenn.

    Provide re-entry peer support services.

    create an opportunity for a smooth transition back into the community and provide a support network, before and after release, by capitalizing on lived experience.

    Douglas County, Neb.

    San Bernardino County, Calif.

    Pima County, Ariz.

    Community-based Services
    Policy or Practice Beyond Reducing Pretrial Length of Stay, this policy/practice can… County Examples

    Provide housing and supportive housing.

    help eliminate contact with the criminal legal system and increase compliance with the terms of supervision. Supportive housing provides reliable and affordable housing with support services for people who would otherwise face difficulties staying housed. These services may include case management, coordination with health and behavioral health care providers, as well as assistance with employment, education, transportation and more.[11]

    Anne Arundel County, Md.

    Champaign County, Ill.

    Hennepin County, Minn.

    Implement continuum of care services(s).

    help individuals transition back into the community by providing support and services for employment, healthcare, education, housing and treatment.

    Johnson County, Iowa

    Carroll County, Ky.

    Albany County, N.Y.

    Allegheny County, Pa.

    Provide opportunities for a warm hand-off, particularly individuals with behavioral health conditions, to community-based treatment.

    enhance positive outcomes such increase engagement of treatment and services and access to peers. Treatment has also been found to be more cost-effective than incarceration.[12]

    Albany County, N.Y.

    Orange County, Fla.

    Utilize Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding to create employment opportunities for individuals returning to the community from jail.

    provide funding for career services for people returning to the community from jail, including on-the-job training and basic education such as math, English and reading, to enhance skill-building and employment. Employment and educational opportunities can help minimize financial hardship.[13] WIOA funds can be used to hire reentry specialists who are trained to address the employment needs of people returning to the community.

    Clackamas County, Ore.

    Dane County, Wis.

    Montgomery County, Md.

    Provide transportation support to people involved in the criminal legal system.

    help individuals access services that support social determinants of health such as housing, employment and more. Providing transportation support or services makes court and supervision appointments more accessible.

    Sacramento County, Calif.

    Placer County, Calif.

    Johnson County, Kan.

    Implement risk-need-responsivity (RNR) model for people under jail or community supervision.

    be used to make informed decisions about targeted release and determine individual needs to support positive outcomes.

    Hidalgo County, Texas

    External Resources

    • Baltimore Behind Bars (Justice Policy Institute, 2010)
    • Before and After a Behavioral Health Crisis: Building a Continuum of Care (National Association of Counties, 2022)
    • Building an Effective County Behavioral Health Care Continuum (Safety and Justice Challenge, 2022)
    • Coordinating a Systems Approach to Behavioral Health and Justice (The Council State Governments Justice Center, 2014)
    • County Roles and Opportunities in Re-entry Planning (National Association of Counties)
    • How Can Counties Create Housing Stability for Justice-Involved People? (Urban Institute, 2021)
    • Housing for the Justice-Involved: The case for county action (National Association of Counties, 2018)
    • Jail Re-entry for People with Substance Use Disorders (National Association of Counties, 2022)
    • Jurisdictions Using RNR Simulation Tool (Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence, 2017)
    • MAT for Substance Use Disorders (National Association of Counties, 2019)
    • Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2022)
    • Meeting the Immediate Needs of Individuals with Substance Use Disorders (National Association of Counties)
    • Opioid Use Treatment in Jails and Prisons (The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2020)
    • Preparing People for Reentry: Checklist for Correctional Facilities (The Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2020)
    • Promoting Health and Safety through a Behavioral Health Continuum of Care (National Association of Counties, 2022)
    • Reentry Matters: Strategies and Successes of Grantees (The Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2018)
    • Risk Need Responsivity 101: A Primer for SCA and JMHCP Grant Recipients (The Council State Governments Justice Center, 2015)
    • RNR (Policy Research Associates, 2018)
    • Second Chance, Safer Counties Workforce Development & Reentry (National Association of Counties, 2016)
    • To Safely Cut Incarceration, States Rethink Responses to Supervision Violations (The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2019)
    • Addressing Unmet Needs in St. Louis, Missouri: Supportive Pretrial Services Address Unmet Needs as a Way to Prevent Future Involvement in the Criminal Legal System (Advancing Pretrial Policy & Research, 2022)

     

     

    [1] National Association of Counties, “The County Landscape,” (February 2022) available at https://www.naco.org/resources/county-landscape

    [2] The common drivers of jail populations identified in this toolkit were determined based on the county level perspective. These drivers can be reasonably reduced by implementing and/or restructuring county practices and policies. NACo recognizes that other factors such as state or federal laws impact jail populations, but those drivers are not included in this toolkit at this time.

    [3] National Association of Counties, “Reducing Fines and Fees in County Justice Systems,” (March 2020) available at https://www.naco.org/sites/default/files/documents/Reducing-Fines-and-Fees-in-County-Justice-Systems.pdf

    [4] Pretrial Justice Center for Courts, "Use of Court Date Reminder Notices to Improve Court Appearance Rate,” (September 2017) available at https://www.ncsc.org/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/1635/pjcc-brief-10-sept-2017-court-date-notification-systems.ashx.pdf

    [5] Levin, M., “Reducing the Staggering Backlog of Court Cases,” (October 2021) available at https://www.route-fifty.com/public-safety/2021/10/reducing-criminal-case-backlog/185971/

    [6] Bridenback, M., “Study of State Trial Courts, Use of Remote Technology,” (April 2016) available at https://napco4courtleaders.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Emerging-Court-Technologies-9-27-Bridenback.pdf

    [7] Justice Policy Institute, “Bail Fail: Why the U.S. Should End the Practice of Using Money for Bail,” (September 2012) available at https://justicepolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/bailfail.pdf

    [8] Léon Digard, L. and Swavola E., “Justice Denied: The Harmful and Lasting Effects of Pretrial Detention,” (April 2019) https://www.vera.org/downloads/publications/Justice-Denied-Evidence-Brief.pdf

    [9] National Institute of Justice, “Pretrial Services Programs: Responsibilities and Potential,” (March 2001) available at https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/181939.pdf

    [10] Walsh, N., “Medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders," (February 2019) available at https://www.naco.org/articles/medication-assisted-treatment-substance-use-disorders

    [11] National Association of Counties, “Housing for the Justice-Involved: The Case for County Action,” (February 2018) available at www.naco.org/sites/default/files/documents/Reentry-Housing-FINAL.PDF

    [12] Ortiz, N., “County Jails at a Crossroads: An Examination of the Jail Population and Pretrial Release,” (July 2015) available at https://www.naco.org/sites/default/files/documents/County%20Jails%20at%20a%20Crossroads%20-%20Full%20Report_updated.pdf

    [13] U.S. Department of Labor, “Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act,” available at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/eta/wioa

    County officials are implementing data-driven and evidence-based policies, practices and programs to decrease jail populations, reduce associated costs and meet the social and safety needs of communities.
    2022-09-07
    Reports & Toolkits
    2023-01-11
  • Basic page

    The Stepping Up Initiative

    In May 2015, NACo and partners at the CSG Justice Center and APA Foundation launched Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails.
    page

    <table border="1" cellpadding="1" cellspacing="1" style="width:100%" summary="call-out">
    <tbody>
    <tr>
    <td>

  • Reports & Toolkits

    COVID-19 Recovery Clearinghouse

    The COVID-19 Recovery Clearinghouse features timely resources for counties, including allocation estimations, examples of county programs using federal coronavirus relief funds, the latest news and more.
    03
    12
    7:15 pm
    Reports & Toolkits

    <table border="1" cellpadding="1" cellspacing="1" style="width:100%" summary="ad-block no-top-margin no-bullets">
    <caption>Jump to Section</caption>

  • page

    <h3><strong>Counties Matter in Human Services</strong></h3>

  • Basic page

    Live Healthy U.S. Counties

    The National Association of Counties (NACo) Live Healthy Prescription, Health & Dental Discount Program is a NO-COST program available to all member counties.
    page

    <h1>With <a id="naco" name="naco">NACo</a>, Saving Feels Better</h1>

  • Basic page

    Human Services & Education Steering Committee

    All matters pertaining to children’s issues, foster care,  public assistance and income support, services to senior citizens and individuals with disabilities, immigration policy, social services, and elementary, secondary and post-secondary education. Policy Platform & Resolutions 2022-2023 2022 NACo Legislative Priorities
    page

    <p>All matters pertaining to children&rsquo;s issues, foster care,&nbsp; public assistance and income support, services to senior citizens and individuals with disabilities, immigration policy, social services, and elementary,

  • Basic page

    Justice & Public Safety Steering Committee

    All matters pertaining to criminal justice and public safety systems, including ​criminal justice planning, law enforcement, courts, corrections, homeland security, community crime prevention, juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, emergency management, fire prevention and control, and civil disturbances.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
    page

    <p>All matters pertaining to criminal justice and public safety systems, including ​criminal justice planning, law enforcement, courts, corrections, homeland security, community crime prevention, juvenile justice and delinquency preven

Related News

Related Resources

More From