Safety and Justice Challenge

Ada County S+J Application for Phase 2

This is from the Ada County Sheriff’s Office regarding research/study:

It’s been about a year and half since the MacArthur Foundation selected Ada County as a finalist for it’s The Safety and Justice Challenge and we continue to work closely with them to reduce our jail population and promote social justice in the Treasure Valley.

We’ve identified a 15-to-19% reduction of Ada County’s jail population as our long-term goal and applied for a $3.9 million grant from the foundation to get that done.

A coalition of Ada County law enforcement and court officials are working hard on our plan — and we had a chance to fill in some MacArthur folks who visited Boise this week to get an update on our progress.

Here’s what we are working on:

* Figuring out alternatives to a cash bond system that can make it impossible for people with limited incomes to get out of jail even when charged with misdemeanors while people charged with oftentimes violent felonies who have money can get released — like creating tests that measure a defendant’s potential risk to the community instead of their ability to pay; doing more release on recognizance (ROR) instead of putting low-risk defendants in the jail in the first place; and figuring out ways to remind defendants of court dates so they don’t get arrested later for not showing up.

* The creation of a Community Safety Center that will provide services to people in crisis — like those without homes, or suffering from mental illness or struggling with substance abuse — instead of being booked into jail for lack of other options.

* A renewed focus on interaction between law enforcement and residents of minority communities in Ada County.

Our research revealed trends that need to be reversed, like how homeless African American and Hispanic people stayed in jail longer that homeless people of other races. Research also showed a slightly higher rate of arrest versus citations for African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Local law enforcement agencies, led by the Ada County Sheriff’s Office, are working to find solutions to those issues.

We’ve also created a community advisory team, comprised of representatives from civic groups like the ACLU and NAACP, representatives from Ada County’s vibrant Latino and Hispanic communities, and members of a wide variety of faiths across the county to help with that process.

The structural changes in the bond system have been slightly harder to experiment with because Ada County’s old court software system made it difficult to collect data on specific cases — and we need that data to do risk-assessment work.

That effort got a big boost late this summer when the 4th District Court adopted Odyssey — a new court management software system that will allow us to collect comprehensive court data for the first time.

That information will allow judges and the attorneys who handle criminal cases to predict outcomes and craft plans — both pre and post conviction — that give people the best chances to succeed and stay out of jail.

For instance, one of the areas we’re working on is how to contact defendants who have upcoming court dates to make sure they don’t miss them.

We want to do surveys with defendants and compare those answers to failure to appear data – and then develop a phone/text/email system to contact those defendants most likely to miss a hearing. Having Odyssey allows us to do the surveys and collect court data. So the next move after compiling the data is finding messaging software that works with Odyssey.

Nearly 200 law enforcement jurisdictions from across the U.S. applied for the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge last year.

The organization selected 20 finalists, ranging in size from large cities including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Houston to smaller localities like Ada County.

The challenge for all the jurisdictions is to reduce jail population and address racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system. Each organization received a $150,000 grant from the foundation to formulate a plan — and a chance to ask for more funding to put those projects into action.

Ada County completed our initial plan and applied for a $3.9 million grant earlier this year.

The foundation didn’t approve that request, but gave Ada County an additional $150,000 to continue to work on our plan, so we can — and will — apply for funding again in 2017.

Ada County S+J Application for Phase 2

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