New research shows that in recent decades, the number of defendants being held in rural county jails has increased by more than 400 percent. The reasons are multifold but predominantly hinge on the few pretrial services available to defendants in rural areas and the money to be made by jails “renting” space to federal officials for their defendants.
The study looked at counties with fewer than 250,000 residents. Even though these rural counties have lower crime rates, researchers found that pretrial incarceration rates in the nearly 2,000 rural counties increased by 436 percent between 1970 and 2013 — a percentage far greater than urban jails.
Many of these defendants — though presumed innocent under the law — were being held in jail while awaiting trial because they could not afford bail; bail was not offered; or the county in which they were arrested lacked pretrial services that would allow defendants charged with nonviolent and low-level offenses to be released while awaiting trial.
In Washington State, 40 percent of the jail population in 2014 were defendants and detainees being held for other authorities, including overcrowded state prisons, federal prisons, and federal immigration authorities. County jails have used funds to expand their facilities to accommodate space for these state and federal prisoners, yet many still fail to provide adequate funding for criminal justice personnel, pretrial services and diversion programs that would ease pretrial incarceration for many of the rural defendants in their custody.
According to the Safety and Justice Challenge, an initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails, the overuse of jails carries significant costs to individuals, families, communities, and society. According to the Safety and Justice Challenge website:
- There are nearly 12 million jail admissions annually, nearly 19 times the annual admissions to state and federal prisons.
- Three out of five people in jail are legally presumed innocent, awaiting trial or resolution through plea negotiations.
- An estimated 14.5 percent of men and 31 percent of women admitted to jail have a serious mental illness, rates that are four to six times higher than the general population.
- Nearly 75 percent of sentenced offenders and those detained in jail before trial are there for nonviolent traffic, property drug or public order offenses.
- Nationally, African Americans are jailed at almost four times the rate of white Americans.
- From 1982 to 2011, local spending on corrections — primarily building and operating jails — increased by 235 percent. Annually, $22.2 billion is spent by local jurisdictions on correctional institutions.
“Stemming the flow of people into jail begins by building knowledge and awareness through stories and data that document the human toll of jail and track local incarceration trends across the country,” according to the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice, which strives to improve the justice system. “That must be paired with on-the-ground, comprehensive work: expanding alternatives to arrest, prosecution, and bail as smart, safe ways to downsize jails.”
Regardless of the circumstances, everyone deserves the best defense. If you have been arrested or are facing criminal charges, call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.