Criminal Justice Task Force

CRIMINAL JUSTICE TASK FORCE

The Institute of Politics Criminal Justice Task Force released its final report at a press conference held on Wednesday, November 16, 2016.

Please click here to download a copy.

Background

This study was requested by the Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and reflects a growing bipartisan concern that existing criminal justice practices have been largely ineffective, very expensive, and frequently unfair. The report was the product of an effort undertaken by a 41-member task force that was cochaired by Mark Nordenberg, Chair of the Institute of Politics and Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh, and Fredrick Thieman, who holds the Buhl Foundation’s Henry Buhl Jr. Chair for Civic Leadership and is a former United States Attorney. The task force featured a cross-section of elected officials, academics, practitioners, and community leaders.

The dramatic growth in our country's reliance on incarceration is unprecedented and has created a distinctly American problem -- with incarceration rates that are among the highest in the world, nearly eight times the rates found in the Western European nations that we generally view as peers.(1) Nationally, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has reported that the number of individuals being held in local jails nearly tripled between 1985 (2) and 2014 (3). Such steep increases have led to dramatically escalating costs, but without any evidence that higher levels of incarceration have had any significant impact in enhancing public safety.

There are similar trend-lines in Allegheny County.  In the past twenty years, there has been a 70 percent increase in the population of the Allegheny County Jail (4) even as crime rates have fallen (5), and today, nearly 42 percent of the County's general fund budget is allocated to the criminal justice system (6). Within the population incarcerated in the County, there also are clear disparities. Though African Americans make up only 13 percent of the population of Allegheny, they comprise 49 percent of the population of the Allegheny County Jail (7). Allegheny County jails African Americans at a rate that is 15 percent higher than the national average (8).

In many respects, criminal justice professionals here in Allegheny County have been leaders in reforming the system.  That can be seen in the early adoption of risk-assessment tools, in a strong commitment to the creation and use of modern data systems and in the fact that the rate of growth in the incarcerated population here has been slowed.  Still, there is clear room for further improvement as is described in the report.

Notes

(2) Tracey Kyckelhahn, “Justice Expenditures and Employment, 1982-2007 – Statistical Tables,” U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2011.
(3) Tracey Kyckelhahn, “Local Government Corrections Expenditures, FY 2005-2011,” U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2013.
(4) Analysis by Allegheny County Department of Human Services Office of Data Analysis, Research, and Evaluation for the Institute of Politics Criminal Justice Task Force based on the data from the Allegheny County Jail.
(5) “Crime Reported by Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1995-2012 – Property and Violent Crime Rates.” United States Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation.
(6) Analysis by Allegheny County Department of Human Services Office of Data Analysis, Research, and Evaluation for the Institute of Politics Criminal Justice Task Force based on the data from the Allegheny County Budget.
(7) “Crime in the United States, 2011.” United States Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, September 2012.
(8) “Census of Jails: Population Changes, 1999-2013.” United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. December 2015.

 

©2009 University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics