Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Rural prison building boom evolves into rural jail expansion boom?

That seems to be the second headline of the NYTimes Upshot story that I wrote about here regarding the fact that small-population counties are now sending folks to prison--or jail--for longer terms than their urban counterparts.  In fact, those being sentenced are not just going to prison--in some instances they are being sentenced to time in the local jail. This is being facilitated by jail expansions in places like Dearborn County, Indiana, which Josh Keller and Adam Pearce feature in their story.  Dearborn County, they report, has doubled the capacity of the local jail and also expanded the capacity of county courthouse, at costs of $11.5 million and $11 million, respectively.  Yet "money for drug treatment is scarce."  Keller and Pearce note that incarceration is frequently the "only well-funded response to a range of social ills, including drug abuse and mental illness" in places like Dearborn County.  Funding for drug treatment is scarce.  (I have written about this as a rural phenomenon here and here).  Although the vast majority of inmates (225 of 250) in the Dearborn County jail suffer from drug addition, the county's drug treatment program can serve only about 40 of them.

All of this makes me wonder about the extent of the "rural" jail building/expansion boom, a phenomenon that was the topic of earlier blog posts here (based on a story in the Times-Picayune, out of New Orleans, in 2012) and here (based on what has happened in my own home county in rural Arkansas).  This raises the question: to what extent are local governments being co-opted by private prisons and other forces to keep incarceration steady, if not on the rise, even as a "bipartisan campaign to reduce mass incarceration has led to enormous declines in new inmates from big cities."

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