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July 13, 2009

"America's Jail Crisis"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective new piece in Forbes.  Here are excerpts:

Amid budget crises, falling tax revenue and national unemployment approaching 10%, jails — usually city- or county-run holding facilities for those serving short sentences or awaiting trial — saw their populations grow nearly twice as fast as state and federal prison populations during the first half of the decade, according to a 2008 report by the Justice Policy Institute. The report says that local governments spent $97 billion on criminal justice in 2004, up 347% since 1982, while detention expenses climbed 519% to $19 billion.

Between 2006 and 2008, Harris County's jail population grew 21%, adding 1,900 more mouths to feed three times a day. In 2000, there were 621,149 people in America's local hoosegows; by midyear 2008 there were 26% more, or 785,556 inmates housed at an average 95% of rated capacity....

The National Association of Counties is calling on communities to invest more into pretrial services so that people charged with non-violent offenses who don't need to be confined can be quickly vetted for community programs and the mentally ill can be put under health care services or, if needed, placed in a secure health facility.  In Harris County, for instance, some people are detained for speeding tickets, yet potentially could be among those who cost about $485 a day for a bed in a local hospital.

"Many people are in jail because they are too poor to post bail," says Donald Murray, senior legislative director for justice and public safety for the association.  "If you have a first-class pretrial program, a county is often in a better position because they can carefully analyze the individual, can figure out better what needs to be done."

The Justice Policy Institute says eight out of 10 people in jail earned less than $2,000 a month before they were locked up.  Nearly two-thirds of the people behind bars are waiting for trial, while the length of pretrial detention has increased.  Meanwhile, between 1986 and 2005, violent crime arrests climbed 25%, while drug arrests jumped 150%, 82% of them in 2005 for possession (about half for marijuana).  And an estimated six out of every 10 jail inmates have a mental disorder, compared to 1-in-10 in the general population....

As states operate in a drastic budget climate, jails and prisons stand to face cutbacks, despite harsher sentencing guidelines passed in the 1980s and '90s that have glutted cellblocks.  In 2008, the total jail and prison population reached 2.3 million, topping for the first time the ratio of one in every 100 adults.  Meanwhile, in the past 25 years, the number of people on probation and parole has increased from 1.6 million to 5 million.  Many are caught in a revolving door: 40% of probationers don't complete their obligation successfully and more than half the number of parolees land back in jail after three years of being released.  Yet the cost differences in 2008 are clear: $78.95 a day for a prisoner compared to $3.42 for supervising a probationer.

July 13, 2009 at 09:32 AM | Permalink


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i think its disgusting, how america claims to be "free" but incarcerates such a high number of its citizens. no where in the world, do "police" act like they do here in america. when people follow the law, they just make some new ones up to harrass people with.

Posted by: michael | Jul 28, 2009 10:07:48 AM

I this jail crisis affecting our economy

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