New Poll Finds That Urban and Rural America are Rethinking Mass Incarceration

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To accompany the survey results, Vera also released research conducted by Jack Norton, focused on small cities and rural areas. The county-level profiles explore Montgomery County in upstate New York, and Alamosa and Pueblo Counties in Southern Colorado, where incarceration rates are among the highest in the respective states. The profiles elevate the human toll of local incarceration, including the system-wide impacts of a single judge’s punitive approach to sentencing, and the experience of a woman who delivered her own baby in Alamosa County’s jail. Profiles of these counties can be found here.

“As the geography and scale of incarceration shifts, numbers alone cannot tell the full story,” said Jack Norton, Research Associate at Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. “Taking a closer look at the effects of local jails and talking with people on the ground reveal the ways in which incarceration and mass criminalization affect all of us, and the rippling impacts of policies and practices on human lives.”

These stories, along with the new survey research, comprise a more complete and nuanced narrative of incarceration in America, elevating rural areas and smaller cities that are often overlooked. And they speak to a potential for change: as communities across America prepare to elect a range of local officeholders in 2018, polling shows widespread geographic support for a hypothetical reform candidate who emphasizes investing in treatment options for people suffering from addiction and creating educational and economic opportunities—rather than burdening taxpayers with the cost of unnecessary incarceration.

This public opinion and county-level research was undertaken as part of Vera’s In Our Backyards initiative, which is focused on the high incarceration rates in rural counties and small cities across America. While jail incarceration in many big cities has leveled off or decreased in the last two decades, thousands of smaller cities and towns are now grappling with rising incarceration rates, and some of the most outsized jails. Without addressing the shifting geography of incarceration, national gains could be totally eroded by deepening problems in overlooked communities across the country.