On a Typical Day, more Americans Spend the Night in Jail than in Detroit

Friday, February 13, 2015
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

You could take every single person living in Detroit and lock them up and it still wouldn’t equal the total number of Americans who typically spend the night in jail across the country.

It is estimated that 731,000 individuals are in a local jail on any given night in America, according to a new report from the Vera Institute of Justice. Detroit’s population as of 2013 was 688,701.

The jail population average, which has skyrocketed since 1983 when the number was 224,000, has grown even though violent crime has decreased by nearly 50% during this span and property crime has fallen by 40%. Nearly 75% of those in jail are there for nonviolent traffic, property, drug, or public order offenses.

So who is increasingly winding up in city and county jails?

·         Poor people who can’t make bail

·         People with drug problems

·         People with mental health problems

“It’s an important moment to take a look at our use of jails,” Nancy Fishman, the project director of the Vera Institute’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections and an author of the report, told The New York Times. “It’s a huge burden on taxpayers, on our communities, and we need to decide if this is how we want to spend our resources.”

At the same time that the Vera Institute released its report, the MacArthur Foundation announced that it would award $75 million in grants to 20 cities or counties that create ways to reduce the number of people in jails through social or economic change.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America (by Ram Subramanian, Ruth Delaney, Stephen Roberts, Nancy Fishman and Peggy McGarry, Vera Institute of Justice)

Jails Have Become Warehouses for the Poor, Ill and Addicted, a Report Says (by Timothy Williams, New York Times)

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