National Criminal Justice Reform Project
A governor’s commitment to remaking the state’s criminal justice system creates the mandate necessary for transformational change. To be enduring, reform efforts must bolster the state administering agency’s capacity to use data to inform policy and promote wider adoption of evidence-based programming.
The NCJA and the National Governors Association are working together on a joint initiative to support system-wide criminal justice reform in five states. Funded by Arnold Ventures, the National Criminal Justice Reform Project (NCJRP) provides long-term technical assistance for the planning and implementation of data-driven, evidence-based reform focused on one or more areas of state policy and practice, including:
Reforming pretrial release and bail;
Improving the reentry process and reducing offender recidivism;
Addressing mental health and substance use disorders in justice-involved populations;
Safely reducing prison and/or jail populations; and
Implementing evidence-based practices, including improving access to data, and strengthening information sharing practices, adopting performance metrics and integrating evaluation.
The overarching goals of the project are to move all states toward wider adoption of evidence-based practices within criminal justice policy-making and to improve public safety by making criminal justice systems smarter, fairer and more cost-effective.
State Strategic Planning and Leadership Summit
To kick off the National Criminal Justice Reform Project, a State Strategic Planning and Leadership Summit was held in Denver Colorado in October 2016. (See press release). Twenty state teams were convened to discuss key areas of reform. Based on that meeting and other planned activities, up to five states were selected for in-depth planning and implementation assistance over the course of the project.
The Summit featured interactive sessions on the state of criminal justice reform; the definition of evidence-based practice; the concepts and principles of statewide comprehensive strategic planning and the importance of data collection, analysis and requirements for sustainability. Subject matter experts engaged participants in dialogue about what states can accomplish in these five areas of policy and what the current research says. The agenda also included multiple opportunities for states to meet as teams to discuss and begin planning efforts in their own states.
Two rounds of competitive solicitations for state participation in the NCJRP were released in November 2016 and February 2017, with the second RFP intended to give states with newly elected governors an opportunity to apply for project participation. In total, 11 applications were received, with five states subsequently being selected to participate in the project. Arizona, Illinois and Oregon were selected in January 2017, and Delaware and Vermont were selected in March 2017. Leveraging their governor’s commitment, the reform effort in each state is led by the governor’s criminal justice policy advisor (CJPA) and state administering agency (SAA) director. 
In early 2017, the NCJRP staff began guiding each of the five states through a data-driven strategic planning process designed to identify the state’s priorities for policy, practice or programmatic reforms. Arizona and Delaware Improving the reentry process and reducing offender recidivism. Illinois is working to safely reduce incarceration. And Oregon and Vermont are focused on reforming pretrial release and bail.
State Strategic Plans
In an effort to address the state’s three-year recidivism rate of approximately 40 percent, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey initiated a recidivism reduction breakthrough project in the fall of 2016. The efforts of the NCJRP Team have been aligned to further the goals of the Recidivism Reduction Breakthrough Project. The NCJRP Team decided to focus initial efforts on Arizona’s offender reentry process as the best opportunity for data-driven, best practice-based improvements that would hopefully lead to a reduction in the recidivism rates. Their work is intended to further integrate data-driven best practices and processes into our efforts to improve our reentry process and reduce offender recidivism and to address mental health and substance use disorders in the justice-involved population.
In mid-December 2017, Delaware presented its strategic plan to improve the prisoner reentry process to Governor John Carney. The Delaware plan was the result of eight months of intensive work as part of the National Criminal Justice Reform Project (NCJRP). Delaware was the first, of the five NCJRP states to complete and submit their strategic plan to the Governor. Christian Kervick, executive director of the Delaware Criminal Justice Council and NCJA vice-president, presented the report at the Governors Cabinet Retreat on December 14, 2017. “We received 100 percent support and buy in moving forward.” Kervick said. “To a Secretary, each pledged whatever staff, collaboration and/or available resources they had available as we proceed. All had words of encouragement.”
As part of the NCJRP, Illinois is working to give state and local criminal justice actors the tools needed to safely reduce overuse of prisons and jails by supporting the formation of Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils (CJCCs). These councils are strategic planning bodies made up local criminal justice policymakers, practitioners, and community members that serve as a forum for collaborating on policy, programs, and operations. The 2018 state plan outlines the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority’s efforts to collaborate with CJCCs throughout the state and support collaborative criminal justice planning between levels of government.
Oregon requested/received a National Criminal Justice Reform Project technical assistance grant to engage in planning for pretrial justice reform in Oregon. A pretrial workgroup was created for this purpose. This report describes the results of the workgroup planning efforts and provides a path forward for Oregon pretrial justice reform. This state plan/ report provides a background on the problem, describes the Pretrial Workgroup activities to date, and includes a list of opportunities to improve the Oregon pretrial justice system. The state plan will be presented to Governor Brown at the conclusion of 2017. It is anticipated that the report will be vetted by Oregon’s Public Safety Task Force when they begin their work in January 2018 and establish a process to implement the plan for Oregon pretrial reform.
The State of Vermont seeks to improve the state’s pretrial justice system through state and local collaboration to increase public safety, improve access to substance use and mental health disorder treatment, strengthen data integration between law enforcement and public health, protect the constitutional and statutory rights of defendants, and protect the statutory rights of victims. As part of the NCRP, Vermont established the Vermont Pretrial Advisory Committee to oversee this work.
The NCJRP Advisory Group to provides expertise throughout the duration of the project. It is comprised of former governors, judges, criminal justice practitioners, and academics that have a breadth of experience in leading, implementing, and advising statewide criminal justice initiatives. The Advisory Group has helped the NGA Center and NCJA to consider and apply lessons learned from past criminal justice reform initiatives, identify potential challenges and opportunities in the states that may be presented during the project, and develop strategies to help states sustain efforts.
Members of the advisory group include:
Tom Corbett, former governor of Pennsylvania
Ed Chung, Vice President of Criminal Justice Reform, Center for American Progress;
Michael Jacobson, Executive Director, City University of New York Institute for State and Local Governance;
Nancy La Vigne, Director of the Justice Policy Center, Urban Institute;
Marc Levin, Policy Director, Right on Crime;
Judge Jonathan Lippman, Latham & Watkins LLP;
Laurie Robinson, Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society, George Mason University; an
Clay Yeager, Senior Vice-President, Evidence Based Associates.
 CJPAs are designated to NGA by each state’s governor’s office and oversee the governor’s criminal justice policy portfolio. SAA directors are designated by the governor and are responsible for comprehensive criminal justice planning and policy development.