County joins nationwide justice initiative
Allegheny County is one of 67 city, county and state governments which have joined a new White House initiative to use proven, data-driven strategies to safely reduce incarceration.
The bipartisan effort is intended to also help stabilize individuals and families, better serve communities, and, often save money in the process. It also closely mirrors efforts and initiatives of the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative.
“We are thrilled to be part of this national effort that uses data to help individuals and families in our community, while also reducing costs and impact to the county as well,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “The Allegheny County Jail Collaborative has long been a model of efforts to reduce incarceration and recidivism. To now also have additional resources and partners to continue to move forward with the steps we’ve taken on data-driven strategies is an exciting part of our work.”
The Data-Drive Justice (DDJ) Initiative is a commitment to use data-driven strategies to divert low-level offenders with mental illness out of the criminal justice system and changes approaches to pre-trial incarceration so that low-risk offenders no longer stay in jail simply because they cannot afford a bond. The strategies have measurably reduced jail populations in several communities.
The White House will support the participating communities by developing and leveraging a community resources toolkit, improving outcomes for veterans through mental health services, and addressing individual needs through evidence-based interventions. Private-sector, philanthropic and nonprofit organizations were also asked to participate in the initiative and are providing critical and targeted support in four areas: data; diversion and coordinated services; research on what works; and ongoing support and collaboration.
“Our goal is to provide, within the walls of the Allegheny County Jail, education training, life skills and a moral compass,” said Judge Jeffrey Manning, President Judge of the Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania. “That work results in a better inmate and a better person than the one who was confined for punishment.”
The Allegheny County Jail Collaborative was begun in 2000 as a joint effort between the Allegheny County Jail, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, the Allegheny County Health Department and the Allegheny County Courts. The aim is to reduce recidivism, improving public safety, holding down jail costs and preventing disintegration of communities and families impacted by crime and incarceration. The Collaborative has implemented both system changes that impact the entire jail population, and targeted programs that direct specialized reentry services to the individuals at the highest risk of recidivating.
“Even three days in jail for people accused of nonviolent crimes increases the risks of recidivism, since they lose their jobs and even their housing while they wait for trail. For people with mental illness, waiting in jails instead of getting treatment can have even more negative effects,” said Department of Human Services Director Marc Cherna. “We’re pleased to be working with key local and national partners to make sure we can provide treatment to more people who are low-level defendants with mental illness, rather than incarcerating them. Serving people in the community is as important as effective reentry programs to public safety.”
In late 2014, a report from the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute found that participating in one of the jail’s re-entry programs reduces recidivism and, in cases where there is recidivism, extends the time before re-arrest. Participation reduced the probability of being rearrested by 24 percentage points compared to the inmates who were not part of the program.
“While our primary responsibility is to manage the system of incarceration, our services to inmates and former inmates support re-entry into the community and reduce recidivism,” said Warden Orlando Harper. “Through funding provided by the Jail Collaborative, we are able to work with a broad-based group of partners including our own departments, court officials, service providers, ex-offenders, faith-based community organizations, families and the community at large to do what we can to ensure that an inmate has every opportunity to success when he or she is released, and to limit the chance that he or she will return to the Allegheny County Jail.”
The Allegheny County Jail holds an average population of 2,200 to 2,400 inmates. Over the course of a year, approximately 18,000 men and women enter the facility, with nearly 7,000 spending less than 30 days in the jail. On an average day, approximately 40-50 arrestees come through the Intake Department.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of seven participating states. Franklin County is the only other Pennsylvania participant in addition to Allegheny County.
For additional information on the support and convenings that will be occurring with the DDJ initiative, view the White House’s fact sheet on the program on the whitehouse.gov website.