Like many jurisdictions across the country, Harrisonburg and Rockingham county jails experience high recidivism rates and substantial overcrowding. As of September 2018, 89% of the total jail population of Rockingham-Harrisonburg Regional Jail and Middle River Regional Jail had been previously incarcerated. This is cause for concern and raises the question of what underlying factors exist to lead to such high recidivism rates. In an effort to identify these underlying causes, the “Frequent Utilizers” population has been identified. This population cycles in and out of jails, hospitals, shelters, and other social service programs at alarmingly high rates. They have a combination of issues that are difficult to treat such as drug or alcohol addiction, mental illness, homelessness, etc. In our current system, these agencies act as silos and operate within their own spheres. There is no collaboration or data sharing and they seek to only address isolated problems rather than identify and treat the larger, multi-faceted issues in a holistic manner.
In an effort to solve this problem of high recidivism affecting the Frequent Utilizer population, interagency collaboration and data sharing within Harrisonburg and Rockingham County’s local criminal justice system is necessary. Based off the system present in the Charlottesville and Albemarle area, data management practices must be addresses and new systems must be implemented. A more functional and comprehensive local criminal justice system will better serve the Frequent Utilizers population by developing a more in-depth understanding of their multiple concerns and needs, but also the broader community as a whole. Ultimately, this data-driven approach to justice will help develop strategies that promote better outcomes for Frequent Utilizers by aligning justice, health, and human services systems around data. Proper collaboration and data sharing will help agencies find ways to divert this population from the local criminal justice system to services that will more adequately meet their needs.
Important agencies within the criminal justice system that are impacted by these issues include, but are not limited to the Rockingham-Harrisonburg Regional Jail, Middle River Regional Jail, Harrisonburg City Police department, Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office, Harrisonburg Emergency Communications Center (911 center), District 39 Probation and Parole, Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Services Board (CSB), Virginia Department of Corrections, Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Criminal Justice Board (CCJB), and local hospitals and mental health facilities. This list provides insight into the magnitude of organizations that can be impacted by such a system and shows that this system will affect many organizations in the broader community.
The Valley Justice Coalition is currently working to create data sharing agreements among these local agencies to create a more cohesive and collaborative system. Our goal is to reduce the high rates of recidivism by providing these individuals with the proper resources they need rather than have them cycle through the various social service agencies. The new data software system is slated to be online in November of 2019, and we are working hard to build the partnerships so we can utilize this system to the fullest.