The local jail populations in rural counties have grown dramatically over the past 45 years, both in absolute numbers and as a driver of mass incarceration nationally. Data that would shed light on the source of this growth, however, are limited and research rarely focuses on rural justice systems. Further, their small size, large number and geographic dispersal makes rural places hard to reach and hard to engage in national justice reform initiatives.

To address this problem, the Vera Institute of Justice—with support from Arnold Ventures—will form a Rural Jails Research and Policy Network through the creation, in two states, of Rural Jails Research and Policy Hubs.

Based in universities, the hubs will work to build a knowledge base of local justice issues and jail data in nearby rural areas, engage local stakeholders in discussion and analysis of their systems, and build capacity in rural areas for local leaders to make informed and data-driven policy decisions. This approach will create a model for rural areas across the country to engage in meaningful reform of their own local justice systems.

Project Objectives

  • Advance local-level justice research.

  • Drive policy and practice reform.

  • Reduce the use of jails.

Key Fact

Between 2003 and 2013, pretrial incarceration rates increased 26% in rural counties while they declined 13% in large urban counties.