Mecklenburg County, NC

Summary

Mecklenburg County is the most populous county in North Carolina, whose county seat and principal city is Charlotte. The jurisdiction is engaged in several collaborations aimed at improving the local criminal justice system. Since implementing evidence-based practices, such as using risk-based rather than charge-based release decisions, Mecklenburg County has succeeded in significantly reducing its jail population. 

In 2017, Mecklenburg County was awarded $2 million from the MacArthur Foundation as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge to help support the county’s efforts to develop and implement strategies capable of positively impacting the main drivers of the local jail population.

To continue reducing the jail population safely, the county plans to implement new strategies capable of enhancing existing services, expanding the utilization of non-jail alternatives for low-risk defendants, and increasing the community’s involvement in the process of local justice system reform. This will include enhancing services provided to defendants pretrial, improving current bail policy, and partnering with community residents to identify and implement community-led programs and policy interventions.

  • Between 2014 and 2017, Mecklenburg County reduced its jail population by 11%. While these numbers are worthy of celebrating, Mecklenburg County’s Department of Criminal Justice Services continues to search for ways to reduce the use of incarceration for low-risk, non-violent defendants.
  • Too often, a jail stay depends on an ability to pay. As a result, many individuals spend time in jail awaiting trial because they cannot afford bail or other fines and fees.
  • For example:

    —Pretrial release and length of stay are main drivers of the jail population. The average pretrial population alone was 64% of the total average daily jail population in 2016.
    —Despite making up approximately 33% of the local population, African Americans and Hispanics account for approximately 76% of the jail population (as of April-June 2017).
    —In 2016, the County released 36% of booked defendants on financial bond, and 35% in 2017 (to date). Automating the completion of the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) tool will help ensure that judicial officials are able to access each defendant’s individualized assessment of risk when determining their conditions of release.
  • Implement new strategies designed to enhance existing services and activities, such as the provision of non-jail alternatives for low-risk offenders, and enhance community engagement in the process of local justice system reform.
  • Expand pre-arrest and pre-trial diversion strategies for low-level, nonviolent defendants.
  • Partner with residents to identify and implement community-led programs and policy interventions.
  • Develop and implement a workforce development curriculum focused on implicit bias and its corresponding impact on disproportionate criminal justice outcomes among minority and majority populations.
  • Improve case processing procedures and reduce time to disposition.

Supported with $2 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge, Mecklenburg County will implement forward-looking, smart solutions to further reduce the local jail population by 13% over the next two years.

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