One of the examples offered of small-county jail growth was from Texas:In very small counties, nearly 1,100 out of 100,000 people of color aged 15-64 are behind bars in a local jail on a given day. For NYC and LA, that rate is significantly lower, at just 280. For a national perspective, the jail incarceration rate of people of color is 502 out of 100,000 aged 15-64, which is less than half the rate in very small counties, and significantly higher than the total national jail incarceration rate of 341.This disproportionate growth is further evidence that the era of mass incarceration hasn’t delivered on public safety. It has, however, taken a fiscal toll as well as damaged individuals, families, and whole communities. Jails are under the jurisdiction of local stakeholders, and their day-to-day size and operations are not significantly affected by federal or state legislative proposals to reduce prison populations. As we know from looking deeper into the national data, the use of jail incarceration is embedded in the culture and practice of communities nationwide, large and small.
For example, Gonzales County, Texas—with 20,000 residents between San Antonio and Houston—had 2 people in jail in 1970. But very small counties grew far more. The jail populations in these very small counties grew six-fold from the 1970s to the present—from 9,000 to 62,000—and now hold double the amount of people behind bars as NYC and LA. Gonzales County had 87 people in jail in 2013, for a jail incarceration rate twice the national average.And small counties are a significant source of growing racial disparity in incarceration rates, according to this analysis. "In some very small counties, the change is dramatic: Custer County, Oklahoma held 11 people of color behind bars in 1990 and 114 in 2013—10 fold growth when the resident people of color population had only doubled."
The Atlantic article was based on this fabulous database of national jail population trends compiled by the Vera Institute. Interested readers should dig around that site, lots of good stuff there.
This is also a good time to remind readers that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards last year put their historical county jail population reports online all the way back to 1992, which is a great boon to everyone researching the topic. (Thanks guys!)