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Justice System Mapping

a hand drawing a system of interconnected boxes

One of the most fundamental ways to develop an understanding of a jurisdiction’s justice system is to develop a “system map.” System mapping helps stakeholders create a visual representation of the criminal justice system, noting key decision points and the processes that take place as a result of those decisions. Mapping gives participants an opportunity to identify what is actually happening as individuals move through the justice system, how policies and practices may or may not align with research evidence related to desired outcomes, and what data is collected by various organizations within the system about individuals and actions at key decision points.

There are several ways to map a criminal justice system. Two known justice system mapping processes are the NIC Evidence-Based Decision Making Initiative process and the Sequential Intercept Model mapping process. Some CJCCs have administered their own mapping processes by examining the various decision points in their local systems. In any case, it is recommended that stakeholders from the various justice disciplines representing the decision points are assembled to document and share their processes with the entire group. Mapping the process gives stakeholders an opportunity to step out of their silos and gain awareness of the ways in which the entire system "works" and how different parts of the system interact with one another.

Typically, CCJC members are surprised by how much they learn about other agencies' policies and practices along with identifying areas of incongruence or gaps, sometimes immediately, during this process. Justice system mapping can be a very laborious and time intensive task for a CJCC and is a process that occurs over several meetings. It is recommended to have these mapping sessions facilitated by a trained, neutral third party, e.g., a technical assistance provider.

NIC's EBDM Policy Team Justice System Mapping

In the EBDM initiative, the system map is a critical step in developing a detailed understanding of each justice system decision point and of the evidence that informs these key decisions. Following the completion of the system map, a process to “dig deeper” into these decision points is carried out. This more in-depth analysis includes an examination of the following as they relate to each decision point:

  • Written policies;
  • The application of those policies to practice, as well as to other operational practices that are not formally articulated in policy;
  • The various types of data and information collected at each decision point;
  • The ways in which this data and information inform decisions;
  • The ways in which information is stored and shared; and
  • Other factors related to using data, information, and evidence in the most efficacious ways.


Mapping serves a variety of purposes:

  • It increases awareness of the ways in which the entire system “works” and how different parts of the system interact with one another. (Most people understand quite well their own “part” of the system but have a less detailed understanding of the other parts.)
  • It brings together policymakers and agency staff to articulate the decisions they make, how they arrive at those decisions, and when (i.e., at what point in the process) decisions are made.
  • It surfaces areas of interest for further inquiry.
  • It can sometimes lead to recognition of quick solutions to bottlenecks or inefficiencies.

NIC adapted this process to meet the needs of localities requesting responsive technical assistance that included preparation activities in advance of the system mapping sessions. These sessions include but are not limited to:

(1) Interviews with members of the CCJC and individuals who have different roles and perspectives in the case and decision making processes.

(2) Review and analysis of pertinent criminal justice process data and documents.

Either virtually or in-person, NIC conducts working sessions with CJCC members and individuals who represent different levels of decision making authority. The purpose is to help the CJCC develop a justice system map that reflects key decision points, creating an awareness of how the entire system works and how different parts of the system interact with one another. This is followed by a facilitated debriefing session to discuss mapping outcomes and develop a framework to address identified opportunities and challenges. The map will provide options for advancing the development of action plan for the CCJC, which will allow for the successful achievement of local justice system goals and priorities.

Example:   Criminal Justice System Map

Sequential Intercept Model Mapping

The Sequential Intercept Model (SIM) was developed over several years in the early 2000s by Mark Munetz, MD, and Patricia A. Griffin, PhD, along with Henry J. Steadman, PhD, of Policy Research Associates, Inc. (PRA). The SIM was developed as a conceptual model to inform community-based responses to the involvement of people with mental and substance use disorders in the criminal justice system. SIM purports that people move through the system in predictable ways (sequential) and that there are points of inception at which an intervention (intercepts) can be made to prevent them from entering or moving deeper into the criminal justice system.

SIM is most effective when used as a community strategic planning tool to assess available resources, determine gaps in services, and plan for community change. These activities are best accomplished by a council of stakeholders that cross multiple systems, including mental health, substance use, law enforcement, pretrial services, courts, jails, community corrections, housing, health, social services, people with lived experiences, family members, and others.

As a strategic planning tool, communities can use the Sequential Intercept Model to:

  • Develop a comprehensive picture of how people with mental and substance use disorders flow through the criminal justice system along six distinct intercept points: (0) community services, (1) law enforcement, (2) initial detention and initial court hearings, (3) jails and courts, (4) reentry, and (5) community corrections.
  • Identify gaps, resources, and opportunities at each intercept for adults with mental and substance use disorders.
  • Develop priorities for actions designed to improve the system and service-level responses for adults with mental and substance use disorders.

(Policy Research Associates, Inc, n.d.)

The Sequential Intercept Model (SIM) Diagram

Given the number of individuals with substance use and mental health issues entering the justice system, the SIM is a good way for a CJCC to examine the local process and identify ways to “intercept” persons with severe mental illness and co-occurring disorders to ensure:

  • Prompt access to treatment
  • Opportunities for diversion and community alternatives
  • Timely movement through the criminal justice system
  • Linkage to community resources

Expedited Justice System Process Mapping

Justice system mapping can also be done in an expedited manner. The City of St. Louis CJCC participated in an expedited justice system process mapping workshop using the 6 SIM intercepts above, resulting in a high-level process map of the entire justice system, an inter-working workflow diagram of each criminal justice agency, and the start of a technical capabilities diagram of the manual and automated system and processes involved in and between the criminal justice agencies. The three-hour session resulted in a foundational framework for the stakeholders to increase their understanding of the entire (adult) process, role of respective agencies, and identification of high- level gaps and potential efficiencies for future examination.

The St. Louis CJCC expanded on the initial map and developed a criminal justice data flowchart.