Understanding the Population of People with Frequent Jail Contact was mixed-methods project that examined the flow of people with frequent jail contact through the criminal legal system across three counties in the United States. The project assessed the counties’ strategies to reduce frequent jail contact, especially the impact that those strategies had on People of Color and people with behavioral health conditions.

Through their analysis, the authors developed the following recommendations:

  • Create a Data Sharing Ecosystem: Criminal legal and behavioral health professionals need to establish a common, shared understanding of who is interacting with their systems at a high rate to focus efforts.
  • Establish Formal, Jurisdiction-Specific Definitions: Jurisdictions should create shared definitions and criteria to identify people with frequent jail contact, gaining input from impacted parties.
  • Use Validated Behavioral Health Screening Tools: Universal screening policies using validated screening tools should be applied during entrance into and out of the criminal legal system.
  • Implement Psychiatric Advanced Directives: Encouraging the creation of Psychiatric Advanced Directives could reduce the need for coercive interventions and accelerate the process of receiving mental health treatment.
  • Facilitate Jail In-Reach Programs: Connecting people in jail with providers before reentry can facilitate coordinated, continuous support as people return to their communities.
  • Increase Peer Support Programs: People with lived experience of behavioral health treatment and the criminal legal system can provide supports in jail and upon reentry into the community.
  • Improve Access to Housing: Safe, affordable, and supportive housing should be expanded and made as low-barrier as possible.
  • Increase Utilization of Community-Based Services: People should be provided with the supports needed to be successful through strategies including warm handoffs, integrated treatment options, and connections to social services.
  • Center and Evaluate Efforts for Racial Equity: Jurisdictions should develop, with input from impacted parties, specific strategies to reduce racial inequities for people who experience frequent jail contact.


Podcast: Breaking the Cycle of Frequent Jail Contact

In this episode of the Data Points podcast, Senior Research Associates Samantha Zottola, PhD, and Lisa Callahan, PhD., discuss key takeaways from their recently finished project, “Understanding and Preventing Frequent Jail Contact,”

  • Why it’s important to focus research on people who frequently cycle through jail
  • How lack of housing influences jail contact
  • What’s been done to interrupt the cycle of frequent jail contact
  • Who is impacted and any racial disparities in their study’s findings

Policy Brief: Recommendations to Reduce Frequent Jail Contact

This policy brief provides additional context for the recommendations provided above.

Fact Sheets: Understanding the Population of People with Frequent Jail Contact

County-specific fact sheets, which provide demographic information and trends in bookings over time.

Graphic Recording Notes: Lived Experience Interviews

County-specific graphic recording notes, which provide excerpts from interviews conducted during this research study.

This research was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, through the Safety and Justice Challenge Research Consortium, which is managed by the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance.