A national study shows that between 1970 and 2013 the number of people held in jail before their case was resolved increased at a rate of 436 percent. The 2017 Vera Institute of Justice study “Out of Sight: The Growth of Jails in Rural America” also shows that a growing number of rural counties are renting out jail space for federal and state prisoners and prisoners from neighboring counties.
The South and West regions have the highest pretrial detention rates (at 281and 198 per 100,000, respectively) compared to the Northeast and Midwest (at 177 and 170 per 100,000, respectively).
Two constant and related outcomes explain the expansion of rural jails.
“64% of California’s jail population is awaiting trial or sentencing as of December 2016.” Most remain in pretrial custody because they cannot afford bail. Jail Profile Survey, http://www.bscc.ca.gov/
Generally, rural counties have fewer dollars to spend on services that can keep people out of jail, such as substance abuse or mental health treatment. That leaves jail as the only choice. In addition, the nationwide problem of prison overcrowding creates a financial incentive for rural counties to build more jails and rent out the extra space.
Rural counties build jails as an income stream generated by per-diem payments for each person they board in from other systems. Such payments run anywhere from $25 to $169 per person.
“Drug overdoses have now surpassed heart disease as the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 55.” THE NEW YORK TIMES Dec. 22, 2017
In 2014, more than 30 percent of people incarcerated in jails located in Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and West Virginia were held for other authorities.
The Vera study cites a complex decision-making process, involving four factors, that leads to rural jail growth:
Law enforcement who choose to arrest, release or book people into jail;
Prosecutors who determine whether and how to charge people or whether to divert them from prosecution;
Judges, magistrates or bail commissioners who decide to detain or release people pretrial and under what conditions; and
Jail administrators or county politicians who decide to enter into contracts with other authorities to board in people from outside their jurisdiction (or board out people to other jurisdictions).
Nationwide, crime rates are historically low in all offense categories.
25% drop in state prison incarceration
10% drop statewide average in county jail populations
22% drop in felony filings
California still spends a combined $20 billion in state prisons and county jails, according to “SAFE AND SOUND: STRATEGIES TO SAVE A BILLION IN PRISON COSTS AND BUILD NEW SAFETY SOLUTIONS” by Californians For Safety and Justice Nov. 2017
The Vera study shows that crime rates in rural counties are substantially lower than urban counties. Rural counties have property crime rates that are 25 percent lower than urban counties—violent crime rates a third lower.
Between 2004 and 2014, the number of White people in jail increased 19 percent in rural counties and 15 percent in small and medium metropolitan counties, while it declined 15 percent in urban counties. Meanwhile, although the number of Black people in rural jails also increased, it did so at a slower rate than the number of White people—7 percent—and only increased by 1 percent in small and medium metros. Significantly, the Black jail population declined 26 percent in urban counties, driving an overall decline in the jail incarceration rate of Black people, from 1,138 to 899 per 100,000.
Between 2004 and 2014, the number of women in jail increased 43 percent in rural counties and 29 percent in small and medium metros, while it declined 6 percent in urban counties.
The study notes that most rural jails are very small. However, when adding up the inmate populations of the nearly 2,000 rural county jails across the nation, understanding rural jail growth is an important part in understanding mass incarceration.
PPI’s “Correctional Control: Incarceration and Supervision by State” issued on June 1, is the first report to aggregate data on all types of correctional control nationwide. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/50statepie.html