How Are U.S. Cities Reforming Their Criminal Justice Policies?

Expert insights on effective criminal justice reforms 


How Are U.S. Cities Reforming Their Criminal Justice Policies?

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How Are U.S. Cities Reforming Their Criminal Justice Policies?

The number of people in county jails on any given day has tripled over the past 30 years in the U.S., growing by about half a million. And even more people, 4.5 million in 2016 alone, are on probation or parole.

With national momentum building on criminal justice reform efforts, many cities, local jurisdictions, and states are looking to incorporate and apply successful approaches to their justice systems. 

On April 12, The Pew Charitable Trusts hosted a live webcast on ways that Philadelphia and other urban areas are working to reduce incarcerated populations and improve community corrections—particularly through pretrial and community corrections reforms. Experts discussed the latest research and shared experiences and strategies used in Philadelphia; Cook County, Illinois (Chicago); New York City; Harris County, Texas (Houston); and New Jersey.

The event also featured a brief overview of key findings from Pew’s annual “State of the City” report, which was released on April 11. The report provides a comprehensive look at the major demographic, economic, and social indicators of life in Philadelphia—including the dramatic drop in the city’s jail population over the past few years. 

The Pew-hosted discussion featured two panels offering important perspectives on the topic:

Panel 1: How Philadelphia and other regions are working to reduce their jail populations through pretrial reforms

Featured panelists

Keir Bradford-Grey
Chief defender, Defender Association of Philadelphia

Keir Bradford-Grey, Philadelphia’s public defender, serves the citizens of Philadelphia through innovative programs that empower communities and ensure that justice is fair and final. In her role, she spearheads initiatives to help clients develop skills to successfully re-enter their communities after serving their time in the justice system. Bradford-Grey devotes much of her time and resources to pretrial—or pre-entry, as she refers to it—services so that people facing charges receive critical assistance and services to support fair and just outcomes rather than routine incarceration before trial.

Rachael Eisenberg
Project manager, MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge, Philadelphia Managing Director’s Office of Criminal Justice

Rachael Eisenberg manages the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge project for the city of Philadelphia, where she coordinates the city’s efforts to safely reduce the local jail population by 50 percent in five years and lower the rate of racial, ethnic, and economic disparities in the criminal justice system. Since 2015, the city’s jail population has decreased by 43 percent and, as of January 2019, the city has seen a 54 percent drop in people being held in jail pretrial and a 69 percent reduction in people in jail due to the inability to pay a bail amount less than or equal to $50,000. Previously, Eisenberg worked as a law clerk for the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania and served as a policy assistant for the Defender Association of Philadelphia’s Juvenile Unit. Eisenberg graduated magna cum laude from Temple University Beasley School of Law and holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Cornell University.

Jennifer M. Perez
Director, trial court services, New Jersey Judiciary

Jennifer M. Perez oversees the New Jersey Judiciary’s five case management divisions—criminal, civil, family, municipal, and probation—in addition to the automated trial court services and the programs and procedures units. She plays a critical role in strategic planning, project implementation, and monitoring for the judiciary, including the rollout of initiatives related to pretrial reforms (e.g., removal of cash bail). Perez has worked on the automation of key components of the crimi­nal justice process to increase efficiency and the development of an objective and reliable risk assessment tool.

Cara Smith
Chief policy officer, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Illinois (Chicago)

Cara Smith advises Sheriff Thomas J. Dart, who is involved in and oversees the development and execution of strategies that address and aid vulnerable populations, both at the jail and in the community. Previously, she was chief of staff at the Illinois Department of Corrections and deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The sheriff’s office has supported policies and practices to ensure that low-income populations are not further affected financially by the justice system.

Panel 2: Reducing violations and supporting individuals in community corrections at the city and county levels

Featured panelists

Ana M. Bermúdez
Commissioner, Department of Probation, New York City

A graduate of Brown University and Yale Law School, Ana M. Bermúdez began her professional career representing children in family court cases with the Legal Aid Society. With her appointment as commissioner in March 2014, Bermúdez leads the department in its mission to enhance public safety through appropriate, individualized, and community-based interventions in the lives of people on probation to enable them to permanently exit the justice system.

Robert Listenbee
First assistant district attorney, Philadelphia Office of the District Attorney

Robert (Bob) Listenbee serves as first assistant district attorney in the Philadelphia Office of the District Attorney. The district attorney’s office has also worked in partnership with other divisions of the city through the MacArthur Foundation’s work in Philadelphia, which includes moving away from cash bail and instituting other pretrial reforms as well as addressing violations in community corrections. Listenbee served as administrator of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention beginning in 2013.

Teresa May
Director, Community Supervision and Corrections Department, Harris County, Texas (Houston)

Teresa May has over 20 years of experience in criminal justice. In 2013, she was appointed director of the Harris County Community Supervision and Corrections Department. She has worked extensively in the development, operation, and implementation of innovative strategies and reforms to reduce revocations and recidivism in Harris County. She implemented two comprehensive assessment centers and several evidence-based programs in Dallas and Harris counties. In collaboration with colleagues, May led a statewide initiative to revalidate and implement the Ohio Risk Assessment System community supervision tool on the diverse Texas population. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and serves as an expert trainer in evidence-based practices both nationally and across Texas.

Michael D. Thompson, Pew’s vice president and head of government performance, will facilitate both conversations.

Larry Eichel, project director of Pew’s Philadelphia research initiative, will deliver opening remarks.

Frazierita Klasen, vice president, Pew’s Philadelphia programs, will make closing remarks.

Date: Friday, April 12, 2019
Time: 8:00 to 11:00 AM EDT
Location: Return to this page to view the webcast.

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