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.  

News and Updates

In 2016, the Urban Institute partnered with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to host an “Innovation Fund” under the Safety and Justice Challenge and support a cohort of jurisdictions implementing ideas to reduce over-incarceration. New case studies explore early results of these ideas.

MacArthur Foundation announces expansion of The Safety and Justice Challenge, committing an additional $22M to support criminal justice reform. The funding will support 12 new cities working to reduce jail incarceration and counties and 13 sites already part of the Challenge. Read more about this exciting development.

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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 Resources

The Evidence-Based Judicial Decision Making curriculum resources were developed by the National Center for State Courts in response to requests for information about pretrial and sentencing practices affecting persons facing potential local jail sentences. It is a follow up to the 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.

These resources include an introduction to the curriculum, PowerPoint slides and faculty notes for the curriculum, and companion briefs on effective court responses.

The Challenge Network: 34 counties, four cities, and two state-wide systems are working on jail reform strategies 

Data on incarceration rates across the country 



Data on the Problem







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.