Allegheny County in southwestern Pennsylvania encompasses the Pittsburgh metropolitan area and is the state’s second-largest county. The county has a long history of working to improve the operation of the criminal justice system, including developing evidence-based offender reentry programming, implementing a locally-validated pretrial assessment tool, and building dashboards that integrate various data to monitor key points in the criminal justice system. Key stakeholders convene to review real-time data and use it as a basis for decision making and problem solving. Through this effort, Allegheny County has come to more clearly understand the main drivers of the jail population and has taken data-driven action to safely reduce this population. This has resulted in projects to test jail population reduction strategies, such as a pilot for the Public Defender to provider representation at preliminary arraignment. The pilot resulted in an estimated 2,216 fewer jail bed days during the first six months of implementation.
To build on past efforts, Allegheny County was awarded $2 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2018 to implement strategies that address the main drivers of the local jail population in the area, including unfair and ineffective practices that take a particularly heavy toll on people of color, low-income communities, and people with mental health and substance abuse issues.
To continue safely reducing the jail population, the county plans to implement at least seven key strategies aimed at addressing system inefficiencies and disparities, reducing length of stay in the jail, better meeting the needs of those with behavioral health and substance abuse issues, and increasing access to non-jail options for lower-risk offenders. These strategies include expanding public defense, diverting individuals to behavioral health and substance abuse treatment, expediting the resolution of cases involving people detained for probation violations, improvements to case processing efficiency, expanding and enhancing pretrial services, and increased community engagement.