NACo Announces Collaborative Criminal Justice Program for Counties

Back to Spring 2022: Volume 111, Number 1

This article was written based on the National Civic League’s February 2022 interview of Tara Kunkel, a former drug court administrator, probation officer, and criminal justice planner.

mikemfm72 · Tara.K

In January 2022, NACo, the National Association of Counties, launched a national initiative called “Convening County, Court and Justice Leaders” in a partnership with two consulting groups—Rulo Strategies, and Praxis Consulting, and support from the State Justice Institute.

The purpose of the project is to assist county officials, the criminal courts, and public safety leaders in partnering to establish priorities and better align available resources, including funding from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Thus far, five localities have been selected to participate in the initiative: Albemarle County and Charlottesville, Virginia; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; Lake County, Colorado; Navajo County, Arizona; and Potter County, Pennsylvania.

The counties will receive free consulting service from experts to help them navigate the program and get the court system and other elements of the justice system to work together. The first step will be to identify and prioritize local needs and review the available resources. Next, they work together to develop “evidence-based” strategies to address the challenges they face.

At the end of the process, the participants will produce a written implementation plan to achieve their goals. It is hoped that the program will help create national models for criminal justice collaboration that can be shared nationally.

“We have announced five of the sites so far, and we have seen prosecutors engaging, we have seen law enforcement and sheriffs on the teams, we’ve seen treatment providers, some of the communities have somebody that’s already in a coordinating role,” says Tara Kunkel, founder of Rulo Strategies.

“We’ve seen a lot of diverse interests, and they’ve done a very good job putting together their teams based on their priorities,” she said. “Each community could choose their own priority goals, so whereas one community might want to think a lot about racial justice, or another community might really be prioritizing mental health and homelessness. We were deliberately open to whatever was going on within that community.”

To qualify for the program, counties had to write down their ideas about what they would do if they were selected to participate. Cuyahoga County, Ohio, for example, is planning to use the program to use its Corrections Planning Board to build a “more robust” criminal justice planning group to address community violence, especially gun violence and gun related murders. The county jail team hopes to improve its transition services for people leaving jail.

Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville, Virginia, officials hope to establish a strategic planning framework designed to reduce reliance on incarceration and address local public health and safety challenges. “As part of this effort, the team will support additional community-based services and improve community members’ access to appropriate mental health and substance abuse services,” said a recent press release.

Lake County, Colorado, has plans to improve collaboration between county leaders, the courts and community stakeholders by developing a community justice plan. Among other things, the group hopes to improve data collection and share practices between agencies to inform effective policy making.

Navajo County, Arizona, seeks to develop and action plan to “bridge the gap between community behavioral health providers and the criminal justice system to better address the needs of people with mental health disorders. The planning team will examine opportunities to expand law enforcement and court diversion programs and develop and implement policies and procedures that will support communication and coordination across CJCC member agencies and community stakeholders.”

The Potter County, Pennsylvania, team will “establish a data-driven road map that takes a systematic approach to criminal justice and prevention activities. The goal is to unify existing county and justice-related efforts and enhance services and programs to improve outcomes for people involved in the justice system. The planning team will examine opportunities to build an aftercare program that assists people in jail with reentry into the community to reduce recidivism and improve individual outcomes.”

Update: In April 2022, NACo announced the selection of a second round of participating counties. Read about the five new counties here.

More from the issue

The mission of the National Civic League is to advance civic engagement to create equitable, thriving communities.

View All

Thank You to Our Key Partners