Deason Center Rural Criminal Justice Summit


Two-day workshop brought together criminal justice stakeholders from across the county to address criminal justice needs of rural communities


On November 29th and 30th, the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at SMU Dedman School of Law brought together a diverse group of national rural criminal justice stakeholders from across the country for the first time this week to address criminal justice needs in rural communities. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, sheriffs, victims’ advocates, re-entry experts and rural community researchers worked to identify the unique institutional, structural and demographic characteristics of rural criminal justice reform systems throughout a two-day seminar, an important first step in creating conversation about rural criminal justice reform. 


“As our country experiences an increasing criminal justice reform movement, this important work can often focus on the issues as they appear in urban communities and overlook the unique criminal justice challenges that confront rural areas,” said Pamela R. Metzger, Director of the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center. “Research shows that contrary to popular belief, incarceration rates and the jail population in major cities has fallen while rural communities have seen the highest growth. These leaders from across the country are committed to working together to find a path forward by locating system strengths, describing common concerns, identifying research opportunities and developing strategies for true reform.” 


According to research from the Vera Institute of Justice, America holds 1.5 million people in prison – 2.2 million when jails are counted. Despite rural areas having substantially lower crime rates than cities, jail populations continue to rise as rural counties have the nation’s highest rate of pretrial incarceration, are renting out jail beds to hold people for other government agencies and have fewer resources than their urban counterparts – all of which are contributing to the overuse of incarceration. 


Stakeholders at the Summit discussed access to justice in rural communities, resource challenges and solutions, systemic challenges including adequate funding, staffing and operating core aspects of the criminal justice system, and ethical challenges in rural communities. Stakeholders also identified the challenges they see in their specific communities and worked to develop potential solutions that can be implemented to address these challenges. The Deason Center will issue a public report on the summit’s findings. 


National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Association of Prosecuting Attorneys


The Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center promotes criminal justice reform by conducting, supporting, and disseminating data-driven criminal justice research. By using a “Stats and Stories” model to advocate for change in the criminal justice system, the Deason Center collects, analyzes, and assesses the hard data that drives smart, sane, and sensible criminal justice reform. The Deason Center then uncovers, recounts, and amplifies the stories of people who live, work, and struggle in our criminal justice system. Together, these Stats and Stories make a compelling case for compassionate criminal justice reform. By educating law students in this innovative Stats and Stories approach, the Deason Center is building a new generation of lawyers who are engaged in the social enterprise of criminal justice reform.