Courts and Jails



The Issue

The overuse of jails is one of the greatest drivers of over-incarceration in the United States.

  • There are nearly 12 million local jail admissions every year, which is almost 20 times the number of prison admissions.
  • Many non-violent offenders are jailed for the inability to pay and jailing those that are not flight risks or threats to public safety results in social and economic costs to families.
  • A lack of mental health and substance abuse treatment in jails and jail populations show an over-representation of people of color.  

About the Safety and Justice Challenge

Across the country, courts and other criminal justice partners are looking at ways to identify the drivers of over-incarceration and engage a diverse set of stakeholders to determine ways to improve local systems.  

The Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) provides support to local leaders from across the country as they rethink jails with strategies that safely reduce jail populations and eliminate ineffective, inefficient, and unfair practices.

As a Strategic Ally to the Challenge, NCSC works with state court leaders and national judicial organizations to build awareness of this initiative and provide courts with resources and strategies they can use to improve effective use of jails and promote the need for jail reform.

NCSC Resources

Evidence-Based Judicial Decision Making Curriculum Toolkit

NCSC developed the Evidence-Based Judicial Decision Making Curriculum Toolkit in response to requests for information about pretrial and sentencing practices affecting persons facing potential local jail sentences. It is based on NCSC’s Evidence-Based Sentencing curriculum, originally developed in 2007, when the Conference of Chief Justices called for the adoption of state sentencing and corrections policies based on “evidence-based practices,” those shown through research to be effective in reducing recidivism. 

The Toolkit is available here and includes the following:

  1. Introduction to the Toolkit: a description of the purpose of the curriculum and considerations for delivering it.
  2. Presentation materials: a PowerPoint slide deck with faculty notes and a complete list of references cited in the faculty notes.
  3. Handouts & other demonstrative materials: sample sentencing scenarios, video clips, and other supplementary materials that may be used in the delivery of the curriculum.
  4. Companion briefs: four companion briefs that summarize current research and best practices. The briefs address effective court responses to persons with mental disorders, persons with substance use disorders, persons charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI), and persons charged with Domestic Violence (DV) offenses.

State Activities to Advance Pretrial Justice Reform

Between May 2016 and November 2018, with SJC support, the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) hosted a series of regional Pretrial Justice Reform Summits. This brief summarizes activities state have taken to advance reform since attending the summits.   


The Challenge Network: 51 cities and counties, across 32 states, are modeling and inspiring reform. 

Data on incarceration rates across the country 



Data on the Problem







Federal Funding Alert: FY 2020 Justice Reinvestment Initiative: Reducing Violent Crime by Improving Justice Systems Performance - Due May 1, 2020. More information available here.



SJC Partners and Strategic Allies

Partners and Strategic Allies in the Safety and Justice Challenge help implement this innovative work. Partners are organizations that provide Challenge Network sites with technical assistance, data analysis, and performance measurement. Strategic Ally organizations help the initiative communicate with important stakeholder groups whose support is needed.