June 30, 2016; Government Technology

While waiting for Congress to enact national criminal justice reform legislation, the White House is promoting evidence-based efforts to help share innovative solutions to the broken criminal justice system from the ground up. The White House is creating a platform to discuss and share successful criminal justice reform efforts from states, cities, and counties. In fact, the Data-Driven Justice (DDJ) Initiative highlights 67 state and local communities that have engaged in reform efforts to fix a fragmented, inefficient, and expensive criminal justice system (see list here).

“We have engaged local leaders who have adopted data-driven, evidence-based strategies, and we’ve facilitated the sharing of their best practices in order to help other jurisdictions scale up and accelerate their utilization of these success stories,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama.

Nonprofit organizations are highlighted as being important strategic community partners in these initiatives. A major focus area of the White House initiative is to learn how to respond more effectively to people in mental health crisis who are repeatedly receiving police, ambulatory, and emergency department services and redirect them with the behavioral and mental health services that they need. Nonprofits often deliver these social, behavioral, and mental health services that intervene and reduce criminal justice costs in the long run.

One example comes from Knoxville, Tennessee, and includes a partnership between the police department and a local social service nonprofit that provides mental health and substance abuse services. The partnership began with a belief that moving people back and forth between jails and emergency rooms was not effective. David Rausch, Knoxville’s police chief, describes how their new approach is more effective for individuals in crisis and for the Knoxville community.

Eight years ago, the Knoxville Police Department forged a relationship with the Volunteer Ministry Center (VMC), a local nonprofit organization that provides housing and case-management services to people with mental illness, substance use disorders and other issues. My officers now have a place they can refer people to get them the services that they need. Since we first started in 2008, VMC has housed more than 950 people and provided key services to more than 50,000 people.

As NPQ reported earlier this year, any effective overhaul of the criminal justice system needs to include the perspectives of the communities most impacted by incarceration systems. Seemingly, the White House agrees with the grassroots approach to reform and is specifically asking for nonprofit and community organizations to share ideas on programs that work. In a call to action, they ask for nonprofit and community organizations to share innovative, evidence-based strategies that currently exist. To submit your data-driven criminal justice reform program, please use this form.

Curious about successful reform strategies? You don’t need to wait for the White House Initiative to get off of the ground. Check out the Public Safety Performance Project at Pew for information on successful state reforms.—Lauren Miltenberger