Sunday, March 27, 2016

Small-county incarceration rates rose faster than cities

There's a nice article in The Atlantic about rising incarceration rates in small counties:
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.
One of the examples offered of small-county jail growth was from Texas:
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!)


Anonymous said...

So, people of color should not follow our laws? Or, should they get a pass because of their skin color? Why not just admit they are more inclined to commit crimes at a higher rate than other races? Book'm Dan'o!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

One can admit that fully, 11:49, as I did here, for example, and also understand middle-school math. That doesn't explain all the disparity, especially on drug crimes, where white folks are more likely to offend.

What's more, since county jail populations are mostly pretrial detainees, most of the folks in the small county jails haven't even been convicted of anything yet.

Anonymous said...

As a white guy, I think we're probably going to just have to decide it's okay that black people benefit from #cjreform and move forward. I'm not for bad stuff happening just because it happens more often to black guys. There but for the grace of God ...

Anonymous said...

I'm curious to find out if these incarceration rates take into account the number of inmates being housed in small county jails due to overcrowding in nearby larger counties or federal inmates being housed in county jails while being transported to different federal detention centers and camps.

Grandmom said...

Why are there so many people in jail? I have been astonished every legislative session when I look at the lists of bills filed by certain legislators. So many of the bills' captions begin with: "creating a new offense" and end with "creating a new punishment". It's a wonder we can live in a house or drive down the street, rent out a room, do business, cut down a tree, walk downtown or build a shed or dog house without breaking the law or having to buy a permit. Is there some way to get a book detailing all those laws? It looks like the laws and ordinances most affecting many of us, involving our houses, automobiles and yards, are passed by neighborhood associations - charging us big fees to do so. They must be the "Big Government" conservatives want to do away with.

Lee said...

Grandmom, The vocabulary word for that is called overcriminalization.

Not only is it present in the legislature but also on the street too. Instead of being police officers (cops just keeping the peace and letting people do their normal business) they have turned into the industry of law enforcement (harassing and micromanaging behavior to boost their revenues and careers).