New JPI Report on Overuse of Jails

A new report by the Justice Policy Institute, “Jailing Communities: The Impact of Jail Expansion and Effective Public Safety Strategies,” documents the heavy toll paid by communities that have seen a massive expansion of their jail populations in the past twenty years. The report, according to the JPI press release, found that this expansion “is having serious consequences for communities that are now paying tens of billions yearly to sustain jails.”

“Crime rates are down, but you’re more likely to serve time in jail today than you would have been twenty years ago,” said report co-author Amanda Petteruti. “Jail bonds have skyrocketed, so that means if you’re poor, you do time. People are being punished before they’re found guilty—justice is undermined.”

“The more a community relies on jails, the less it has to invest in education, employment and proven public safety strategies,” says Nastassia Walsh, another co-author.

Among the report’s recommendations:

• Improving release procedures for pretrial and sentenced populations. Implementing pretrial release programs that release people from jail before trial can help alleviate jail populations. Reforming bail guidelines would allow a greater number of people to post bail, leaving space open in jails for people who may pose a greater threat to public safety.

• Developing and implementing alternatives to incarceration. Alternatives such as community-based corrections would permit people to be removed from the jail, allowing them to continue to work, stay with their families, and be part of the community, while under supervision.

• Re-examining policies that lock up individuals for nonviolent crimes. Reducing the number of people in jail for nonviolent offenses leaves resources and space available for people who may need to be detained for a public safety reason.

• Diverting people with mental health and drug treatment needs to the public health system and community-based treatment. People who suffer from mental health or substance abuse problems are better served by receiving treatment in their community. Treatment is more cost-effective than incarceration and promotes a positive public safety agenda.

• Diverting spending on jail construction to agencies that work on community supervision and make community supervision effective. Reallocating funding to probation services will allow people to be placed in appropriate treatment or other social services and is a less costly investment in public safety.

• Providing more funding for front-end services such as education, employment, and housing. Research has shown that education, employment, drug treatment, health care, and the availability of affordable housing coincide with lower crime rates.

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