MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge: Year One Results are in for Charleston, S.C.
May 25, 2018
The MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge is a series of grants to many local jurisdictions to reduce jail populations and basically reduce mass incarceration. It is thought that by implementing a bunch of new “best practices,” designed by ivory-tower criminologists, it would simultaneously reduce racial bias and disparities within the criminal justice system.
According to the Safety and Justice Challenge website…
The Safety and Justice Challenge is providing support to local leaders from across the country who are determined to tackle one of the greatest drivers of over-incarceration in America—the misuse and overuse of jails.
As a result of acceptance in the challenge – and millions in grant money – these jurisdictions have spent countless hours and dollars to implement the various changes.
They wrote grant applications, had to track and provide data presumably, and had to expend other state and local resources to set up the changes.
In this report from one of their “challenge” sites, Charleston, S.C., Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council Phase One Summary, you’ll get an idea of just how many hours this new program cost state and local governments to implement, which the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee describes as “exhaustive efforts.”
Of course, as noted in the report, the County got $3.4 million to get it done over the first two years. The Council asked for 20 new full-time employees get the monumental task accomplished.
Since public taxpayer funds were spent, we thought it was time to find out one key fact. Does it work? Is it worth the public funds and time?
So, we set out on a mission to find out and requested public records from all of the MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge sites.
Of course, the word on the street is that the Pretrial Justice Institute’s “ninjas” are crying foul, accusing us of engaging in some kind of “tactic.” Instead, this is an issue of basic governmental accountability—i.e., finding out if creating massive new government programs is working. It’s called calling out waste, fraud, and abuse.
As the results have started to trickle in, one thing is abundantly clear: the Challenge, along with their key implementing partners who they also fund, the Pretrial Justice Institute, are completely and totally failing on their mission of reducing pretrial detention by using risk assessments and a decreased reliance on cash, property and surety bonds.
While sentenced population data shows single digit drops overall quarterly among the eight representative jurisdictions, some jurisdictions have increased both the pretrial and sentenced populations.
Overall, in one report on the eight representative sites, it was learned in the first year of operation these eight representative programs reduced the pretrial jail population by a minuscule 1.5%.
Turning the focus back to Charleston, after many hours of government time, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council , decided that they could reduce the jail population by 25% over three years.
Aggressive, yes, but the use of a new risk assessment tool to decide bail and help officers decide when to arrest and help set bail was supposed to help drive these so-called data driven solutions and create the new Shanghai of pretrial justice.
On the reduction in the total jail population, the County would need to reduce average daily population 8.33% on average over three years. Instead, the data shows that the County increased the jail population by 1.6% over the first year of the grant. In other words, $1.7 million in grant funding bought a bigger average daily jail population.
On solving racial disparities, there were small increases and small decreases in some categories, but overall, it fair so say there was virtually no over reduction in racial disparities. The disparity against black defendants increased slightly in terms of bookings, with the ratio of blacks to whites booked going from 2.63 to 2.69. The disparity in the pretrial population decreased slightly, but it should be viewed a paltry decrease from a ratio of 2.07 to 1.97. That is a 4.8% decrease in the ratio, which has very little overall effect in the roughly 2:1 disparity.
And yet, if you called down to the Charleston County, you find out they are saying the jail population is down 7% since 2016:
Reports: Fewer people behind bars in S.C. prisons, Charleston County jail amid ongoing reforms
“In Charleston County, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which is working to reduce the jail population at the Al Cannon Detention Center, among other efforts, reported a 7 percent drop in inmates since 2016.”
We don’t know where these numbers are coming from, but we are guessing that the County is looking at the sentenced population, which did show a modest decrease of 6.4%.
Of course, the Coordinating Council wants to completely mislead the public by failing to mention that the average daily jail population was 1,738 in 2010, and according to the report, the population was down to a baseline of 999 when the Challenge started. In other words, the jail population dropped 42.5% over the six years before big grant dollars started flowing in.
At the end of the day, the MacArthur Foundation spent $1.7 million to increase the jail population. That increase, at an average daily rate of $75, would cost the County $427,000. Add that to all of the staff time and other out of pocket expenses from all of these agencies, and we have managed to spend over $2 million dollars to have no impact on racial disparities in the system and to increase mass incarceration.
We can think of only one word to describe these kind of results: boondoggle.
1.work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value.
Who’s next on the Safety & Justice Challenge report card? Stay tuned…