National Criminal Justice Reform Project

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 the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, 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.

For questions about the project, please contact Senior Staff Associate, Tammy Woodhams.

Project Activities

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.

The agenda and presentations from this event are available here.

State Selection

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. [1]

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.

Advisory Group

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. 

[1] 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.