Shelby County, which contains the city of Memphis, is the most populous county in the state. Shelby County’s mayor, sheriff, and public defender, along with the mayor of Memphis, have a long history of cooperation to improve the operation of the criminal justice system. The most enduring product of these relationships came out of a dismissed legal case against Shelby County regarding the Shelby County Jail. The case was dismissed after an improvement plan was developed, with one component being an improved jail population management strategy involving data, a jail population management analyst, and cross-system coordination with stakeholders. As a result, criminal justice partners undertook a coordinated effort to address jail population management. The value of collaboration and regular examination of local processes to identify efficiencies or practices that would result in better outcomes for defendants also grew out of the work and remain in place today.
To build on past efforts, Shelby County was awarded $350,000 from the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2017 to implement strategies that address the two main drivers of the local jail population: 1) The average length of stay continues to increase despite jail bookings declining, and 2) Case processing times continue to rise.
To safely reduce the jail population, the county will implement five strategies aimed at addressing system inefficiencies and disparities: 1) Reduce case processing times, 2) Enhance the Pretrial Services’ Jail Intake Unit, 3) Expand the Pretrial Services’ Behavioral Health Unit, 4) Consolidate the misdemeanor citation processing and court appearance dates, and 5) Develop a tool to expedite the appointment of counsel.