6
The State of Jails

Reformers Look to Jails as a Key to Ending Mass Incarceration

Recently, attention to the problem of mass incarceration in the United States has broadened beyond a concentration on state and federal prisons to include local jails.Ram Subramanian, Christian Henrichson, and Jacob Kang-Brown, In Our Own Backyard: Confronting Growth and Disparities in American Jails (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2015), 2 Unlike prisons, which hold those who have been convicted of crimes, jails primarily hold individuals awaiting trial (called the “pretrial” population) or serving short sentences (typically less than one year).Brian Albert, State Prisoners in County Jails (Washington, DC: NACo, 2010), 1

The focus on jails as a driver of mass incarceration is warranted: jail admissions are 18 times that of state and federal prisons, at approximately 11 million jail admissions annually.For 2015 jail admissions data, see Todd D. Minton and Zhen Zeng, Jail Inmates in 2015 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2016), 8. For 2015 prison admissions data, see E. Ann Carson and Elizabeth Anderson, Prisoners in 2015 (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2016), 11. Because of the vast number of admissions, far more people will see the inside of a local jail in any given year than will be sentenced to a term in prison.For 2015 jail admissions data, see Todd D. Minton and Zhen Zeng, Jail Inmates in 2015 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2016), 8. For 2015 prison admissions data, see E. Ann Carson and Elizabeth Anderson, Prisoners in 2015 (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2016), 11. Even when those stays are short, they can have far-reaching impacts not only on the individuals themselves, but also on their families and communities.For 2015 jail admissions data, see Todd D. Minton and Zhen Zeng, Jail Inmates in 2015 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2016), 8. For 2015 prison admissions data, see E. Ann Carson and Elizabeth Anderson, Prisoners in 2015 (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2016), 11.

The large number of people in local jails, and the often overcrowded facilities that sit in the backyards of every community in the United States—a growing percentage of them rural—are symptomatic of the poor health of those local justice systems as a whole, and a problem in their own right.Jacob Kang-Brown and Ram Subramanian, Out of Sight: The Growth of Jails in Rural America (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2017), 6. The increasing concern about the role of jails in the country’s incarceration problem has encouraged recent activism and new policies with the potential to change the landscape of jail incarceration.

Top Things to Know

Facts and Figures

  • There are nearly

    11 million admissions

    to local jails in any given year, nearly 18 times the annual number of admissions to state and federal prisons.For 2015 jail admissions data, see Minton and Zeng, Jail Inmates in 2015 (2016), 8. For 2015 prison admissions data, see Carson and Anderson, Prisoners in 2015 (2016), at 11.

  • 60%

    Unconvicted

    More than three-fifths of those held in jail are unconvicted individuals who are awaiting trial, typically because they cannot make bail.Subramanian, Delaney, Roberts, et al., Incarceration’s Front Door (2015), at 4-5.

  • Black Americans are jailed at

    4x

    the rate of white Americans; in New York City, the rate is almost

    12x

    that of whites.Subramanian, Delaney, Roberts, et al., Incarceration’s Front Door (2015), at 4-5.

On Our Radar

Discussion

Contributors

Vera Staff