Poverty, Mental Illness Abound in Broken Jail System: Report

Inmates face longer time because they can't pay bail, analysts find
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 11, 2015 12:44 PM CST
Poverty, Mental Illness Abound in Broken Jail System: Report
Low-income and mentally ill people are becoming victims of the American jail system, a report finds.   (Shutterstock)

It's not just federal and state prisons that need scrutiny: The country's local and county jails are being "misused," and it's time for reform, a new report finds. Those held in the facilities are typically there for minor infractions, and over the past three decades, they've been kept inside longer and longer. Many simply lack the money to post bail, the report finds, and many are living with mental illness or struggling with drugs, leaving them unable to take care of themselves, the New York Times reports. Most inmates with mental illnesses don't get help in jail, and seeking it out can actually result in more time spent behind bars.

Though violent and property crime plummeted between 1983 and 2013, the nationwide jail population on any given day surged over the 30 years, rising from 224,000 to 731,000, the Times reports. On an annual basis, the number of jail admissions approximately doubled over the same period, to 11.7 million, and many of those held are repeat offenders. The yearly cost of all this? Some $22.2 billion, the AP reports. But some help is on the way: The MacArthur Foundation is giving $75 million to jails seeking to cut back on the jailing of the groups identified in the report. "We've seen dramatic decreases in the number of people who go to jail in particular jurisdictions," a MacArthur rep tells the Huffington Post, "so we know that it can be done. It just has to be done on a broader scale and nationally." (More jail stories.)

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