First of Its Kind Look at 2019 Jail Data Reveals Urgent Need to Address Mass Incarceration in Smaller Cities and Rural Counties
Date:  12-13-2019

The number of people in local jails is estimated to be over in 758,000
From the Vera Institute report People in Jail 2019:

NEW YORK, NY – The nation’s local jails are a huge and consequential component of mass incarceration. Most people in jail have not been convicted of the crime they’re charged with, and many are only behind bars because they can’t afford to pay bail. Others are being detained on civil, not criminal, matters, such as unpaid child support, fines and fees, or immigration charges. While our nation has made strides reducing the national prison population, the number of people in jail, by contrast, is on the rise.

Federal data on jail incarceration has been increasingly delayed, but advocacy and policymaking happens in real time. The last nationwide jail census was conducted in 2013, and the federal government’s most recent estimate of the U.S. jail population is for 2017. To understand jail trends in 2019, Google.org gave $4M in funding to the Vera Institute of Justice’s In Our Backyards project, followed by 12 Google.org Fellows to develop tools for Vera to collect, normalize, and report on public jail population data from hundreds of state and local government websites.

Today Vera is releasing a report, People in Jails in 2019, which shares insights from this data. The national trends are clear: large cities like Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia are reducing jail populations, but over the last several years, rural counties and smaller cities have been sending more people to jail, driving an increase in the nation’s total jail population. The recent rise in jail incarceration underscores Vera’s previous findings about the growing incarceration crisis in smaller cities and rural counties and reveals the urgent need to address mass incarceration everywhere.

Key findings include:

  • Jail incarceration has been rising nationally since 2015. At midyear 2019, there were an estimated 758,400 people in local jails, up 13,200 people (a 1.8 percent increase) from midyear 2017, the most recent available federal data.

  • This is the largest number of people in jail since midyear 2009, and a total increase of 31,000 people since the recent low in 2015 (a 4.3 percent increase).

  • Between 2013 and 2019, jail populations grew 27 percent in rural counties and 7 percent in small and mid-sized metropolitan areas. During the same period, jail populations declined 18 percent in large urban counties and are down 1 percent in the surrounding suburban counties.

  • As a result of these diverging trends, rural counties’ jail incarceration rates were more than double those of urban counties by mid-year 2019.

    Read the full report here.