March 21, 2022


Lena Haime |


 Research supported by the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge shows criminal justice reforms not linked to increase in violent crime

CHICAGO, IL — Today, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), in collaboration with the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance (ISLG) and the JFA Institute, released two reports that demonstrate cities and counties can focus on criminal justice reforms that make the system more fair and equitable without compromising public safety. The research identifies no relationship between jail reforms and upticks in violent crime across the United States.

The reports—“Jail Populations, Violent Crime, and COVID-19: Findings from the Safety and Justice Challenge” and “The Impact of COVID-19 on Crime, Arrests, and Jail Populations”—demonstrate that communities across the country can reduce jail populations without endangering the public. This advancement is made possible by providing alternatives to incarceration to individuals who do not pose a risk to public safety. The two reports spanned 23 cities and counties.

“The data are clear. We can reduce the use of jail, the harm of unnecessary incarceration, and lower the number of people in jail without compromising public safety,” said Laurie Garduque, MacArthur Foundation’s director of criminal justice. “We cannot accept false narratives that blame reforms to the criminal justice system for increases in crime. We will continue to conduct research that supports reform, debunks harmful myths, and provides us with the information we need to fix our broken criminal justice system, while safely reducing the nation’s jail population.”

“While it’s easy to blame upticks in violent crime on reforms, the data says otherwise. Our analysis of jail data from SJC cities and counties shows that people who were released pretrial were very unlikely to return to jail for any reason, and extremely unlikely to return for a violent charge,” said Reagan Daly, research director at the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance. “Reducing jail populations safely is not only possible, but a key part of meaningful efforts to keep people connected to their communities, families, and other critical networks.”

“Both of these important reports show that jail populations can be reduced without compromising public safety,” said Wendy Ware, president of JFA Institute. “Now, we need policy- and decision-makers to translate these findings into action and work to safely reduce jail populations in communities across the country.”

The ISLG and JFA reports come at a time where jail reforms are being blamed for nationwide upticks in crime, despite a clear lack of evidence to back that claim. Both reports observed that increases in violent crime occurred in communities with and without jail reforms. The reports recommend additional research to examine the increase in violence as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and its relationship to increasing economic disparities.


About the ISLG Report

To explore whether increases in violent crime during the COVID-19 pandemic were caused by criminal justice reforms, the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance (ISLG) analyzed violent crime, incarceration, and rebooking data from sites participating in the SJC. “Jail Populations, Violent Crime, and COVID-19: Findings from the Safety and Justice Challenge” used case-level jail data collected from 2015 through April 2021 to show that it was extremely rare for people released from jail pretrial to be rebooked on a violent charge; this was true both before and after reforms were implemented. This indicates that people released from jail due to reforms were not driving the increases in violent crime and homicides seen in 2020.

Key findings include:

  • There is no apparent correlation between reducing jail populations and upticks in violent crime;
  • Most individuals released on pretrial status were not rebooked into jail — this has remained consistent before and after reforms were implemented, as well as after the start of COVID-19;
  • Only one of four people released pretrial was rebooked into jail for any reason. Of the people rebooked, only 2-3% returned with a violent crime charge, and less than 1% returned with a homicide charge.

About the JFA Report

The findings from the “The Impact of COVID-19 on Crime, Arrests, and Jail Populations” found the overall jail population in SJC sites dramatically declined in the early months of COVID-19 restrictions, rebound late in 2020 but have sustained historic low levels through 2021.

 Key findings include:

  • Even considering the effects of the pandemic, most SJC sites continue to out-perform non-SJC jurisdictions in reducing jail populations;
  • Dramatic reductions in jail populations were fueled by decreased booking and lower reported crime rates, particularly property crimes;
  • As mitigation efforts for the COVID-19 pandemic wane, the SJC initiative has shown that jail population reductions can be maintained even in the wake of smaller increases in certain crimes.

The MacArthur Foundation, which supported the research behind these two reports, has invested over $323 million through the Safety and Justice Challenge to support communities’ efforts to rethink their local justice system and implement strategies to safely and equitably reduce their jail population. Since the SJC began in 2016, participating cities and counties have collectively reduced their jail populations by 20 percent as of October 2022. This reduction resulted in over 18,000 fewer people held in jail on any given day—individuals who were able to remain with their families, communities, and in their jobs while their cases were pending.

For more information on SJC, visit and follow the Safety and Justice Challenge on Twitter.

About The MacArthur Foundation

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including advancing global climate solutions, decreasing nuclear risk, promoting local justice reform in the U.S., and reducing corruption in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program and the global 100&Change competition, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsive democracy as well as the vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago. Learn more by visiting and follow MacArthur on Twitter and LinkedIn.


About the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance & the SJC Consortium

The City University of New York’s Institute for State & Local Governance (CUNY ISLG) is a good governance think-and-do tank driven by the idea that data-informed approaches can measurably improve the way government and public institutions operate, equitably serve all constituents, and ultimately solve social policy problems. Since 2013, ISLG has worked with communities across the country to develop and implement the necessary research, policies, partnerships, and infrastructures to help government and public institutions work more effectively, efficiently, and in the interest of all communities.

In 2015, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation selected CUNY ISLG as the national intermediary and primary data and analytic partner for the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC), a multi-year initiative to reduce populations and racial disparities in American jails. To advance knowledge grounded in a research agenda that explores, evaluates, and documents site-specific strategies to safely and effectively reduce jail populations and address racial and ethnic disparities, CUNY ISLG established and oversees the SJC Research Consortium. Consortium members are nationally renowned research, policy, and academic organizations collaborating with SJC sites to build an evidence base focused on pretrial reform efforts.

About the JFA Institute

The JFA Institute was founded in 2003 and is a non-profit multi-disciplinary research center. Its mission is to conduct research on the causes of crime and the justice system’s responses to crime and prisoners in order to provide technical assistance to criminal justice agencies that will serve to improve current practices and policies. JFA receives funding from federal, state, and local governmental agencies, as well as from foundations interested in developing and evaluating innovative crime prevention, law enforcement, sentencing and correctional policies and programs designed to reduce crime and to improve the quality of the adult and juvenile justice systems. JFA disseminates its studies and policy recommendations through research reports, criminal justice and criminology periodicals, books, and seminars.