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April 1, 2008

New JPI report on the impact of jails on local communities

The Justice Policy Institute released today this report, titled "Jailing Communities: The Impact of Jail Expansion and Effective Public Safety Strategies," that looks at the realities of local jails and the negative impact that jail expansion has on counties and communities.  Here is a summary of the report I received via e-mail:

Communities are bearing the cost of a massive explosion in the jail population which has nearly doubled in less than two decades, according to a new report released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI).  The research found that jails are now warehousing more people -- who have not been found guilty of any crime -- for longer periods of time than ever before. Jails are filled with people with drug addictions, the homeless and people charged with immigration offenses. The report concludes that jails have become the “new asylums,” with six out of 10 people in jail living with a mental illness. In 2004, local governments spent a staggering $97 billion on criminal justice, including police, the courts and jails.  Over $19 billion of county money went to financing jails alone. By way of comparison, during the same time period, local governments spent just $8.7 billion on libraries and $28 billion on higher education.

April 1, 2008 at 02:52 PM | Permalink


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Thanks for pointing out this report. They did a lot of work collecting and analyzing data on jails and I think for the most part they did a good job. Most of the research in recent years has been done on large jails (a thousand or more beds) and small (300 and under beds) and medium sized (300 to 1000 beds) jails have received very little attention.

From a purely cost of government point of view a county with fewer than 10,000 residents should not have a jail. The operating cost per prisoner is too high. The minimum annual operating cost of a jail is about $1 million (if you spend less than this you are taking a too big risk with respect to staff and prisoner safety) and if your average daily population is 10 the cost per prisoner is $275 per inmate-day and you can house the prisoner in a regional jail for about $60 per inmate-day. Community pride trumps fiscal responsibility in such cases. I think the state should step in an put a stop to such waste.

One of the problems with jail analysis is the prisoners are there for such a short time. If you take all persons in a jail on a particular day and you track them to see how long it takes for half of them to be released it takes three weeks. The corresponding time for a prison is 18 months.

The ones held three weeks or longer are responsible for 85% of the bed use and the judges won't release them because the risks are too large. Jail alternatives do work because were have a well established community based correction program in our county and only 2% of those persons under the jurisdiction of the court are incarcerated . We also have one of the lowest incarceration rates in the country. OTOH we house 25% of our jail inmates in other county jails because our jail has overflowed.

Posted by: John Neff | Apr 2, 2008 10:43:54 AM

Doug, I recently participated in an excellent symposium sponsored by Bexar County (San Antonio) on the subject of jail overcrowding, and they've put the speakers' presentations online here, fyi. As in the JPI report, excessive pretrial detention and how to deal with the mentally ill were two very hot topics of discussion.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Apr 2, 2008 11:23:48 AM

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