More than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in American prisons and jails at an enormous cost—both human and financial—and a diminishing benefit to public safety. The Urban Institute is actively engaged in identifying and evaluating the most promising policies for reducing mass incarceration.
Police and Communities
In partnership with police departments and communities across the country, the Urban Institute is examining current and future trends in law enforcement practice and technology. This includes evaluations of efforts to build trust between police and residents of high-crime, marginalized communities; studies of policing strategies; advances in technological tools, such as body cameras; efforts to address crime and safety through administrative records and systems; and work in forensic sciences during criminal investigations.
Our researchers are working on various national and international studies on human trafficking. The research portfolio currently spans the United States and eight countries: Brazil, Cambodia, Colombia, Italy, Norway, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, and Taiwan. Areas of focus include child labor; commercial sexual exploitation of children; forced marriage; immigrants; juvenile justice–involved youth; labor trafficking; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth; and sex trafficking.
Tragic shootings at Newtown and the Washington Navy Yard, chronic neighborhood gunfire across US cities, and ongoing questions about the efficacy and legality of stop-and-frisk policing as a firearm violence prevention tactic have added urgency for public discussion on effective gun violence prevention strategies. Urban researchers are investigating the community and health costs of gun violence and exploring how new technologies may help law enforcement reduce gun violence.
The Safer Return Demonstration Project is designed to address the problems formerly incarcerated people face when returning to their community by bringing together the best and most promising practices into one reentry program. Urban Institute researchers are evaluating how this Chicago-based initiative is affecting former prisoners, families, and the surrounding community.
Urban Institute researchers are conducting a Juvenile Second Chance Act evaluation to assess how national reentry demonstration projects reduce reoffending, increase public safety, and facilitate successful reintegration for high-risk youth offenders through the provision of comprehensive, coordinated transition services. The Urban Institute and RTI International are evaluating programs under the Adult Second Chance Act that target adults returning to their communities from county jails and state prisons. These programs are intended to provide broad-based reentry assistance to participants both before and after release.
In response to the need for jurisdictions across the country to address jail to community transitions, the National Institute of Corrections partnered with the Urban Institute in 2007 to launch the Transition from Jail to Community (TJC) initiative. The TJC model aims to improve public safety and reintegration outcomes.
Criminal justice policymakers, practitioners, and anyone with an interest in prisoner reentry can access strong research evidence on a wide array of programs and practices that most successfully reintegrate returning prisoners. Focus areas include education, housing, employment, and mental health and substance abuse treatment. The What Works in Reentry Clearinghouse was developed for the National Reentry Resource Center by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Urban Institute.
Large US cities need innovative and comprehensive strategies to prevent and respond to the threat of gang violence. In Los Angeles, Urban Institute researchers are evaluating the Gang Reduction and Youth Development program, a large-scale gang prevention and intervention effort in 12 distinct communities throughout the city. In Chicago, researchers are assessing the Chicago Violence Reduction Strategy, which aims to reduce violence by targeting the groups disproportionately responsible for crime.
This project evaluated expanding DNA evidence collection and testing—used mostly in violent criminal investigations—to investigate of property crimes. Researchers found that, in property crime cases where DNA evidence was processed, more than twice as many suspects were identified, twice as many suspects were arrested, and more than twice as many cases were accepted for prosecution compared with traditional investigation.
Federal Justice Statistics Resource Center (1994–2014)
For 20 years, the Urban Institute administered the Federal Justice Statistics Resource Center (FJSRC), a Bureau of Justice Statistics database that contains information about suspects and defendants processed in the federal criminal justice system. Using data obtained from federal agencies, the FJSRC compiles comprehensive information describing defendants from each stage of federal criminal case processing.
The Multi-Site Adult Drug Court Evaluation analyzed the effects of adult drug courts on participants and evaluated the impacts of different drug court models. Researchers found that drug courts produced significant reductions in drug relapse and criminal behavior.
Returning Home was a multistate longitudinal study that documented the pathways of prisoner reintegration, examined what factors contributed to successful or unsuccessful reentry, and identified how those factors couldinform policy.
The Urban Institute evaluated the use of public surveillance systems—once referred to as closed-circuit televisions—to prevent crime and disorder in four US cities. Researchers investigated the role of public surveillance in reducing crime near the cameras and the degree to which these systems support police arrests, investigations, and prosecutions. The study concluded that where cameras were sufficiently concentrated and routinely monitored by trained staff, crime was reduced cost-effectively, with no evidence of crime displacement.