Justice Reinvestment Initiative
Across the United States, state, local, and federal agencies and other organizations are marshaling efforts to address the underlying forces that contribute to the United States having the highest incarceration rate in the world, resulting in billions of taxpayer dollars being spent that could otherwise be invested in other public outcomes.
Over the past ten years, Fulton County’s justice system has implemented a series of reforms including improved case management, monitoring of inmates awaiting trial, competency restoration programs, and anti-recidivism efforts.
In order to further address these challenges, leaders from the County government and justice system established the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), an effort to continue the County’s progress on developing and implementing system-wide reforms with a particular focus on the criminal justice system. On an ongoing basis, the JRI Council is tracking and managing common performance metrics and performance data by producing a system-wide dashboard of progress against targets. (Action Plan for the Fulton County Justice Reinvestment Initiative, 7/2016, Pg. 2, 26)
The performance metrics are presented below as dashboards organized by desired outcomes.
Desired Outcome #1: Cases are processed and adjudicated in a timely manner
Prompt disposition of criminal cases protects defendants' rights and provides benefits to the prosecutor and crime victims. Both the state and defendants need resolution of criminal cases within an appropriate period of time. Defendants’ rights are specified in the United States Constitution and numerous Georgia statutes including statutes of limitation and general speedy trial rights. Delays can result in difficulties to prosecutors including an inability to secure witness attendance at trial, recantation by domestic violence victims and witness’ memories fading. Delays also risk dismissal due to speedy trial rights. (Justice Management Institute, Fulton County Justice Reinvestment Initiative, 8/3/2016, Pg. 101).
The percentage of in-custody felony defendants indicted within 90 days of arrest in 2017.
The percentage of in-custody misdemeanor defendants accused within 90 days of arrest in 2016.
The criminal case clearance rate in Superior Court in 2017.
The criminal case clearance rate in State Court in 2016.
Desired Outcome #2: Defendants are detained or released in the most appropriate, risk-informed setting in order to balance public safety, court appearance compliance and cost
Currently in Fulton County, the primary factor for determining the conditions of release is the charge filed against the defendant, as determined by the bond schedule. While the nature of the charges is indeed significant, we recognize that it is not necessarily the most important factor to consider when protecting public safety and ensuring court appearance.
Risk-based decision-making utilizes an objective assessment instrument to determine the defendant’s likelihood to pose a risk or significant danger to public safety while awaiting adjudication. Under this approach, accused individuals would be categorized into three groups: low, moderate, and high risk. Low-risk defendants are commonly released on their own recognizance pending trial, while moderate risk defendants are typically given unsecured or secured bonds and specific conditions of release that mitigate their risk factors, such as pretrial supervision or electronic monitoring. High-risk defendants, on the other hand, are usually detained in jail on high secured or cash bond amounts. Only the most serious charges, like murder, rape, or aggravated robbery, are excluded from the risk-based approach. (Justice Management Institute, Fulton County Justice Reinvestment Initiative, 8/3/2016, Pg. 93).
The percent increase in the monthly average jail population since the beginning of 2017.
The number of inmates in jail for over 365 days before their release in 2016.
Desired Outcome #3: Individuals who commit criminal acts are held accountable for their offense and do not re-offend once they are back in the community
Data shows that the percentage of new crimes committed by individuals released from prison has been increasing throughout the U.S. The Fulton County criminal justice system is putting in place mechanisms that will likely deter individuals who commit criminal acts from re-offending once they are back in the community. These mechanisms consists of: expanding crisis intervention training; re-engineering the pretrial release decision-making process; while in jail - improving screening, assessment, and monitoring of individuals with mental illnesses; adopting and reporting performance on agreed upon case processing standards; and expanding enrollment of inmates in benefit programs for which they are eligible. (Action Plan for Fulton County Justice Reinvestment Initiative, July 2016, Pg. 4)
The percentage of individuals arrested and released from jail in 2015 who were re-arrested within 12 months of release.
Desired Outcome #4: Individuals with mental illness who interact with the criminal justice system receive humane and appropriate treatment to address their condition and maintain public safety
To reduce the number of people with mental illness in jail, counties first need to have a clear and accurate understanding of the prevalence of mental illness in their jail populations. This requires the universal screening of every person booked into jail for mental illness, as well as for other behavioral health needs, such as substance use. Additionally, assessing for criminogenic risk (or the likelihood that someone will commit additional offenses) further informs release decisions, such as whether to require supervision or services to reduce the risk of re-offending. Without this foundational information, counties are ill equipped to track whether the number of people with mental illness in jail is actually being reduced, and if those identified with behavioral health needs are getting connected to the right types of interventions. (Stepping Up Initiative - Reducing the Number of People with Mental Illness in Jail: Six Questions County Leaders Need to Ask, 1/2017, Pg.4).
Note: The Fulton County Jail has recently transitioned to a new behavioral health provider and case management system. Efforts are underway to ensure that the metrics under this outcome area are being tracked.
Desired Outcome #5: Stakeholders who interface with the justice system believe that they are treated respectfully and fairly and that they are provided with timely, accurate information and services
In 2016, Fulton County criminal justice leaders received cross system education to ensure that all key stakeholders had a shared understanding and a baseline of knowledge about effective strategies for realizing the systems' shared visions. They must have ownership in the common purpose (court reform). (From Silo to System: What Makes a Criminal Justice System Operate Like a System? Justice Management Institute, 4/30/15, Pg. 17, 19). This systematic approach leads to implementation of court-processing transactions that meet established timeliness and/or accuracy standards; thus, leading to better customer services ratings from court users. (Action Plan for the Fulton County Justice Reinvestment Initiative, 7/2016, Pg. 3).
Desired Outcome #6: The justice system works cost-effectively as it strives to achieve the desired outcomes
Through the use of pre-arrest diversion programs, mental health screenings of inmates in jail (at intake), community and re-entry support, and work towards unification of court management, justice system-wide savings will be noticeable. In achieving the desired outcomes, an estimated $4 to $8 million in savings will be available for reinvestment as a result of a lower jail population and unified court management. (Action Plan for the Fulton County Justice Reinvestment Initiative, 7/2016, Pg. 3).