MacArthur Foundation to award grants reducing jail inmate numbers, costs
Jail populations have more than tripled since the 1980s. Unfortunately, so have the costs related to building and managing jails. Local governments throughout the country spend about $22.2 billion per year on correctional institutions.
The approximately 12 million admissions to jails throughout the country each year are almost 20 times the number of admissions to state and federal prisons.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation says jails are at the root of a growing incarceration problem where many individuals are held only because they can’t afford bail or are simply awaiting trial – many for misdemeanors, traffic violations and property offenses that certainly do not make them a danger to the public. The Foundation says that nearly 75 percent of jail detainees who have been sentenced or are being held for pre-trial fall into that category of offenders.
This “over-incarceration,” as the Foundation calls it, is taking a big bite out of the budgets of government entities. The Vera Institute of Justice estimates that from 1982 to 2011, expenditures for building and operating jails increased by nearly 235 percent. Local governments throughout the country spend about $22.2 billion per year on correctional institutions.
In Texas, only 19 of the state’s 254 counties do not have at least one jail. According to figures on the Texas Commission on Jail Standards Web site, the incarceration rates of local county jail inmates in the state has risen from 1.2 per thousand in general population in 1987 to 2.34 in 2012. In January of this year, the 62,360 inmates in county jails represented more than 65 percent of jail capacity of 95,309.
To help reduce the number of people languishing in jails, where little is done to ready them for return to society and even a short period of incarceration can interrupt educational endeavors and jobs, break up families, jeopardize housing and even sometimes promote future criminal behavior, the MacArthur Foundation is prepared to invest money for better outcomes. The Foundation will award $75 million over the next five years to local jail operators who propose new ways to reduce the number of people being held in jails.
Eligible to apply this month for funding are officials from states, cities, counties, tribes and judicial districts with a jail that holds at least 50 people. The Foundation will award planning grants of $125,000 each to up to 20 local jurisdictions and up to 10 will receive $2 million per year to put their proposals into operation.
This could be good news for some Texas jails. In Cameron County, for instance, there were once programs subsidized to help inmates learn skills, but funding for them no longer exists. Sheriff Omar Lucio said in an interview recently that he would like to see some of those programs return. The jail had a very popular GED program that was once funded by the state. And, female inmates worked at several local factories. But those facilities moved to Mexico, which hurt their chances for securing those kinds of jobs once out of jail.
The MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge will support cities and counties across the country seeking to create fair, more effective local justice systems that improve public safety, save taxpayer money and lead to better social outcomes. The Foundation released a request for proposals for the competition this week.