A Year of Accelerating Impact
2023 brought the Council’s impact and influence to new heights. Amid growing polarization, we redoubled our efforts to tackle some of the criminal justice field’s most urgent problems and forged consensus for solutions rooted in facts, evidence, and fundamental principles of justice. Along the way, we advanced our reputation as a trusted, go-to source of data, ideas, and expertise for journalists, policymakers, and others across the ideological spectrum.
One compelling illustration of our credibility came in the year’s waning days on the most pressing issue of all – saving lives. In early December, the U.S. Department of Justice released a violence reduction roadmap based explicitly on the 10-point strategy produced by our Violent Crime Working Group, recognition that followed widespread uptake of the group’s recommendations by states and local jurisdictions. We built common ground for change on other fronts as well. Our Veterans Justice Commission produced a policy framework adopted as a national model by an influential group of state legislators, while members of our Task Force on Long Sentences bridged their diverse perspectives to reach agreement on a set of recommendations outlining a more effective use of lengthy prison terms.
As always, research drove our efforts. When partisan debates over the First Step Act surfaced in the presidential campaign, we produced analyses of recidivism that equipped policymakers and journalists with facts. Similarly, the disturbing “smash-and-grab” retail thefts caught on video prompted our research team to dig into recent trends in shoplifting, work that produced fresh data on a topic of keen interest to government, the business sector, and the media. Our crime trends reports remained a leading source of information about what is and isn’t happening with crime in our country, generating thousands of references in national outlets such as The New York Times, USA Today, Fox News, CNN, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as state, local, and specialty publications.
We hope you’ll be inspired by the many other highlights detailed below, including the addition of an impressive group of new CCJ members and exciting new projects on the horizon. As our founding mission statement declares, we believe a fair and effective criminal justice system is essential to democracy and a core measure of our nation's well-being. Despite these turbulent times, we’re proud of what we accomplished last year and look forward to 2024 with high energy and optimism. Most of all, we’re grateful for your partnership in working toward a safer, more just America.
President & CEO
Chair, Board of Directors
Shaping the National Conversation in the Media
Council data, research, and expert commentary have become trusted and reliable resources for the media and policymakers alike. In 2023, the Council and its work were cited in more than 11,000 media stories, with coverage appearing multiple times in nearly every major national broadcast and print outlet, as well as regional, local, and specialty outlets. The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News, FactCheck.org, and other leading outlets used CCJ reports and experts to verify crime statements in President Biden’s State of the Union address and presidential candidates’ comments on the campaign trail.
Task Force members and staff published scores of opinion columns in leading media outlets, presented the Council’s work to dozens of major professional and stakeholder associations, and testified to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and other bodies. Many used Council reports in their legislative testimony as well.
Grounding Debates in Facts and Data
CCJ launched the Crime Trends Working Group in the spring, extending efforts by the Violent Crime Working Group and the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice before it to track rapidly changing crime patterns in close to real time. CCJ staff and partners produced reports on trends in ten major crimes with deeper dives into homicide and retail theft as well as examination of possible drivers of the trends. Interest in our analysis of law enforcement shoplifting data was particularly intense, as it helped fill a wide gap in a high-stakes national debate about the nature and extent of the problem.
The overall size, or “footprint,” of the American criminal justice system remains well above historical levels, but it has shrunk substantially in recent years. A series of interactive charts tracing long-term trends, the Footprint provides all in one place a sweeping account of changes over time in rates of crime, arrests, incarceration, and community supervision.
Passed with large bipartisan majorities in both chambers of Congress in 2018, the First Step Act (FSA) was designed to reduce reoffending among people leaving federal prisons. Four years later, the legislation became embroiled in presidential politics. CCJ is anchoring the debate in data with a series of analyses that compare people released under the FSA with similarly situated people released before the act took effect, and the impact on prison time served.
The Council’s Admissible Evidence project summarizes high quality studies on topics spanning the full range of criminal justice issues. With more than a dozen briefs produced in 2023 on issues ranging from bail reform to electronic monitoring of girls and factors influencing confidence in law enforcement, the project identified and elevated academic research that has immediate implications for policy and practice.
Building Actionable Policy Roadmaps
Multiple jurisdictions have drawn on the group’s Ten Essential Actions framework to strengthen their violence reduction efforts, and in December, the U.S. Department of Justice released a violence reduction “roadmap” based explicitly on the strategy. The roadmap organizes the department’s grant programs, training and technical assistance, and other resources by the ten action steps; under a new grant award, the Police Executive Research Forum will provide assistance to jurisdictions seeking to implement the recommended strategies.
“Violent Crime Working Group members took great care in crafting a clear set of actions local jurisdictions can take to stop serious violence right now. It’s an honor for our work to be recognized by the Department, but more importantly, it’s exciting to see the possibilities for scaling up this life-saving work around the country.”
- Thomas Abt, Working Group Chair
Led by former U.S. Defense Secretaries Chuck Hagel (chair) and Leon Panetta, the Veterans Justice Commission published its first report in March with three recommendations focused on the front end of the justice system. Based on the second recommendation, the commission convened a committee to create a policy framework that expands opportunities to divert veterans from incarceration; over the summer the framework was adopted as model policy, the Veterans Justice Act, by the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Military veteran Hector Matascastillo, who got a second chance after a harrowing combat-flashback incident with police, was an inspiration for the commission’s policy framework and was honored by the Minnesota Vikings as part of the NFL’s Salute to Service.
“These recommendations are a call to action. Too many veterans are ending up in our criminal justice system, and while they must be held accountable for their behavior, our nation has a responsibility to honor their service and help them address the factors that often drive them to break the law.”
- Chuck Hagel, Commission Chair
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) used two Health and Reentry Project briefs as support for its landmark decision to approve state Medicaid waivers to provide coverage to people exiting prisons and jails. CMS has granted waivers to California and Washington State; 15 other states have filed waiver proposals.
The White House cited briefs from the Health and Reentry Project, as well as the Veterans Justice Commission, in its strategic plan to improve post-incarceration outcomes.
“Justice-involved people have higher rates of physical and mental health problems, from hypertension to asthma, cancer, infectious diseases and substance use disorders. Once released from jail or prison, they lose medications for such conditions, and reestablishing prescriptions, supportive care and health coverage is a slow and frustrating process.”
- Vikki Wachino, Health and Reentry Project Executive Director
Two Council initiatives spun off in 2023 and established themselves as independent organizations. The Health and Reentry Project (HARP) is now a freestanding, self-supported project of the same name, under the leadership of Vikki Wachino. And Thomas Abt, chair of the Violent Crime Working Group, launched the Center for the Study and Practice of Violence Reduction (VRC) at the University of Maryland.
The task force, co-chaired by former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and former U.S. Representative Trey Gowdy, released its final report in March. It outlined 14 recommendations to enhance judicial discretion in sentencing, promote individual and system accountability, reduce racial disparities, and better serve victims of crime, all while increasing public safety. The report garnered coverage in TIME, USA Today and other outlets, and the chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission cited task force research in announcing amendments to federal sentencing guidelines. The consensus findings and recommendations from such a diverse group of members should help guide deliberations in many states now considering enhancements to criminal penalties.
“Why would we even discuss the nation’s use of long prison sentences now, amidst a rise in homicide rates and legitimate public concern about public safety? Because this is exactly the time to examine what will actually make our communities safer and our system more just.”
- Sally Yates and Trey Gowdy, Task Force Co-Chairs
Released in 2021 and early 2022, the work of the task force continues to shape policing reforms. Shortly after the police killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis in January, the Shelby County Commission directed its Sheriff’s Department to follow the task force’s reform strategies.
“The analyses produced by this Task Force will serve as essential resources for policymakers, advocates, and others striving to ensure police provide effective, equitable, and respectful services to those they are sworn to protect.”
- Michael Nutter, Former Philadelphia Mayor and Task Force Member
Fostering a Community for Collaboration
By combining a think tank with invitational membership, the Council has established a platform for collaboration among leading experts, innovators, and influencers across the varied sectors and disciplines in the criminal justice field. The election of new members in 2023 brought our total membership to 284 of the nation’s top criminal justice thinkers and doers, expanding the creative dialogue and lasting connections that drive large-scale change.
Throughout 2023, we convened members in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities, and hosted a series of virtual member conversations on issues ranging from the role of incrementalism in criminal justice reform to policing in the wake of Tyre Nichols’ death and what the U.S. can learn from European prison models.
We continue to prioritize inclusion of formerly incarcerated individuals, directly impacted people, victims and survivors, women, and LGBTQ+ people as organizational leaders, task force members, and vital contributors to our work. And we help build connections among our members through our video profile series, UpClose.
Demonstrating the possibility and power of building common ground through the Centering Justice initiative, Marc Levin, a veteran conservative analyst, and Khalil A. Cumberbatch, a leading progressive advocate, co-authored a dozen op-eds on timely and polarizing topics that were featured in news outlets across the political spectrum. The duo convened a panel of experts to explore examples of state-level cooperation on pretrial justice, sentencing, and corrections and led a discussion of how bipartisanship played a key role in passage of the First Step Act.
The Path Ahead
Women's Justice Commission
A multi-year project launching in early 2024, our Women’s Justice Commission will document and raise awareness of the unique challenges facing women in the justice system and build consensus and political momentum for reforms that enhance safety, health, and justice for women and their children, families, and communities. It will span the full scope of the adult justice system—from arrest and diversion through prosecution, incarceration, release, and community supervision—with a particular focus on trauma-informed and gender-responsive prevention and intervention strategies.
Artificial intelligence (AI) holds enormous potential to advance the twin goals of safety and justice. Deploying AI throughout the criminal justice system, however, also raises serious questions. There is a critical need for a nonpartisan organization to serve as a hub for serious discussions about the issues and to produce credible guidance for policymakers and practitioners as they navigate the challenges. The Council is developing a project to do just that.
Implications of AI for Crime and Criminal Justice
Veterans Justice Commission
Following the publication of recommendations for improving veterans’ transition from military to civilian life in early 2024, the Commission will begin focusing on veterans’ experiences during incarceration and reentry, culminating in a sweeping final report on veterans and the criminal justice system. Throughout the year, CCJ will publish research briefs to inform the Commission’s work, including analyses on the denial of VA benefits, suicide risk assessment among justice-involved veterans, and the provision of health care for incarcerated veterans.
In the coming months, CCJ will publish a multi-state analysis of disparity trends, with the goal of identifying what, if any, changes to policy and practice may have contributed to reductions in racial disparities across a dozen selected states. Additional publications will address disparity trends for women in state prisons and explore how divergent methods for measuring racial and ethnic identity make it difficult to discern whether the Hispanic-White gap is widening or nearing parity.
Crime Trends Working Group
In early 2024, the panel plans to release a set of recommendations to improve the country’s capacity to produce a timely, accurate, and complete picture of nationwide crime trends. The group will also produce a series of research reports and bulletins on topics such as gun theft, juvenile crime, and domestic violence.
Thank You, Funders
CCJ deeply appreciates our institutional and individual donors, who made our progress possible. Our major organizational investors in 2023 include:
The Annie E. Casey Foundation
Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation
Bank of America
Craig Newmark Philanthropies
Eugene M. Lang Foundation
Georgia Power Foundation
Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation
The Just Trust
LinkedIn MacArthur Foundation Microsoft National Football League The Navigation Fund Southern Company Foundation Stand Together Trust #startsmall Wilf Family Foundations