American Jails affect more Americans than our federal and state prisons. According to the Vera Institute of Justice’s report, “Incarceration’s Front Door:The Misuse of Jails in America,” our 3,000 jails have daily 731,000 inmates. Although the federal and state prisons have about 1,500,000 inmates during any given year, annual admissions to jails are almost 12 million because of shorter incarceration periods. Our jails have a great impact on many Americans.
The Vera Institute reported that jails were originally: “Intended to house only those deemed to be a danger to society or a flight risk before trial… jails have become massive warehouses primarily for those too poor to post even low bail or too sick for existing community resources to handle.”
60% of jailed inmates were not convicted of any crime, but were too poor to post bail or could not afford to pay their fines. Almost 75% of inmates in jail were convicted or charged with nonviolent offenses. Our jailing practices have had a disproportionate impact on minorities. For example, in New York City, “blacks are jailed at nearly 12 times and Latinos more than five times the rate of whites.”
Like our prisons, jailed Americans have suffered from drug abuse, homelessness, and mental illness. Jails are now our local community’s “de facto mental hospitals.” Jails have taken the place of state psychiatric hospitals that were closed in the 197o’s and 1980’s in a bid to deinstitutionalize individuals with serious mental illnesses. Unfortunately, this mistaken effort “occurred without creating adequate resources to care for those displaced in the community.” The Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs Center reported in a 2014 survey that “The treatment of mentally ill individuals in jails is critical, especially since such individuals are vulnerable and often abused while incarcerated. Untreated, their psychiatric illness often gets worse, and they leave prison or jail sicker than when they entered.”
U.S. Supreme Court Justices Anthony Kennedy and Steven Breyer told a congressional committee that our criminal justice system is broken. The Justices were referring specifically to our mass incarceration crisis and the problem of long mandatory minimum sentences in our federal and state prisons. The Vera Report has revealed a national jail system that is also broken. The United States has 25% of the world’s inmates despite having only 5% of the world’s population. It is time to end America’s addiction to incarceration.
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com