Shelby County, TN

Summary

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.

  • Though jail bookings have declined since July 2014, the average length of stay continues to increase. As of August 2017, the average length of stay has increased 43% compared to 2014.
  • The Shelby County Jail is a pretrial detention facility. The jail population was 2,656 in August 2017; of that, 396 (15%) were long-term inmates—those in jail over 500 days.
  • Despite making up 60.2% of Shelby County’s population, African Americans and Hispanics, on average, make up 86% of the total jail population.
  • African American’s comprise 54.1% of the total Shelby County population, but in 2015 and 2016 made up 83% of all persons entering jail: 87% of jail entries-warrant and 79% of jail entries-probable cause.
  • Case processing times continue to increase; delays in the held-to-state/ grand jury process and lengthy time intervals associated with continuances have been identified as two main factors contributing to this increase.
  • In 2015, roughly 24% of the jail population was identified as having a behavioral health issue.
  • Among the 53 metropolitan areas in the U.S. with populations of at least one million, Memphis has the second highest poverty rate at 18.4% (2015 Census Bureau American Community Survey).
  • Poverty has been linked with involvement in the criminal justice system. Overuse of detention causes disruption in the stability of arrestees’ families and communities, leads to higher re-arrest rates, and produces worse case outcomes with more back-end incarceration.
  • Supported with $350,000 from the Safety and Justice Challenge, Shelby County will implement forward-looking, smart solutions to address the misuse and overuse of the jail and reduce the jail population by 24% over the next two years.
  • To safely reduce the jail population, the county will implement five strategies aimed at addressing system inefficiencies and disparities:

    1. Reduce case processing times, using data to develop solutions that will resolve system processing delays.
    2. Enhance the Pretrial Services’ Jail Intake Unit with a focus on enhancing the pretrial risk assessment and release decision-making framework.
    3. Expand the Pretrial Services’ Behavioral Health Unitincluding implementing a new jail-based behavioral health screening tool and increasing staffing within the Behavioral Health Unit.
    4. Consolidate the misdemeanor citation processing and court appearance dates.
    5. Develop a tool to expedite the appointment of counsel, which will include a comprehensive indigency assessment to be given by the Pretrial Services’ Jail Intake Unit.
  • Using a data-driven approach the county will identify ways to reduce racial and ethnic disparities.
  • Strategies will impact multiple points of the criminal justice system from jail intake to final case outcome; these data-driven solutions were developed by a multi-agency collaborative team. The strategies will reduce jail bed usage while ensuring the county advances its commitment to having only those who pose a risk to the community remain in jail.

Supported with $350,000 from the Safety and Justice Challenge, Shelby County will implement forward-looking, smart solutions to reduce the local jail population by 24% over the next two years.

More Site Profiles

Keyword Search