Saturday, February 29, 2020

Yet another disappearing rural lawyer story, this one out of Illinois

Ryan Denham for WCBU, a joint effort of Illinois State University and Bradley University, reports from Lincoln, Illinois, population 14,504, on that state's rural lawyer shortage.  The headline is "Legal Profession Tries To Evolve As Rural Attorneys Disappear."  Here's an excerpt from several  paragraphs into the piece:
“Is the small-town lawyer going to exist, 10, 15, or 20 years from now? We don’t have the answer to that, but we do see a need, and we as a firm have a desire to meet that need,” said Amelia Buragas, a partner with Bolen Robinson & Ellis (BRE Law) who is based in Bloomington
Last month Buragas’ firm opened a branch office in Lincoln, where there is a shortage of lawyers. Only two new attorneys have begun practicing there in the past four years. The problem is most acute in the family law area. 
“That’s concerning,” Buragas said. “When you’re dealing with a family law case, those are very serious issues that impact your life and the life of your family. And people trying to navigate that system on their own, we saw the potential need to do good in the community.”
There are less than 25 lawyers in Logan County (population 30,305) ... where Lincoln is the county seat. The historic courthouse in downtown Lincoln remains the center of town. 
After less than two months, demand was so high in the Lincoln area that Buragas’ BRE Law firm added regular office hours starting this week to meet with potential clients.
This story is somewhat unique among the many I've read on the rural lawyer shortage because it provides a trial judge's perspective--in particular the struggle judges face to make decisions in challenging and emotionally fraught cases, such as child custody matters, when litigants are unrepresented.  While not mentioned much in news coverage, the inefficiency of self-represented litigants and how they bog down the justice system is an issue ones hears about frequently in contemporary ATJ discussions.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Sudden U.S. Dept. of Education "bookkeeping" change will hurt remote schools

Erica L. Green reports today in the New York Times under the headline, "Education Department to Cut Off Federal Funding for Some Rural Schools."  Here's the lede:
A bookkeeping change at the Education Department will kick hundreds of rural school districts out of a federal program that for nearly two decades has funneled funding to some of the most geographically isolated and cash-strapped schools in the United States.
The story explains the bookkeeping shift in relation to the Rural and Low-Income School Program, a funding stream that requires districts to report how many of their students live in poverty.  In the past, the percentage of students receiving a free- or reduced-price lunch has been a proxy for high poverty (20% or more) among school-age children because "census data can miss residents in rural areas."  Now, however, the Department of Education has suggested that it must strictly follow the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) rather than rely on lunch program data, though it has been relying on the latter for 17 years.

On bi-partisan pushback against the new interpretation, Green writes:
The department’s decision to enforce the tougher criteria drew swift, bipartisan condemnation, and alarmed lawmakers and advocates who questioned why an administration whose political base includes large sections of rural America would initiate such a change — especially in an election year. Rural school districts, which serve nearly one in seven public-school students, have long been considered the most underfunded and ignored in the country. 
Congressional leaders indicated that they were prepared to take swift action. A spokesman for the Senate committee that oversees education said its chairman, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, was “very concerned” about the change and working with Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, to “solve this problem for hundreds of rural schools around the country.”
Will be interesting to see the outcome of this tussle.   Will rural schools once again be a sacrificial lamb? 

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Susan Collins as "County girl"

That's the label journalist Rebecca Traister uses repeatedly to refer to U.S. Senator Susan Collins in her just published feature in New York Magazine, "The Immoderate Susan Collins."  Why "County girl"?  Well, not only is Maine a pretty rural state, it turns out that Collins grew up in a particularly remote corner, Aroostook County, also known as "the County," hence County girl.  Aroostook is a massive local government unit that borders Canada; its population is 71,872 and falling, all spread across 6,800 acres. 

Here's an excerpt from Traister's story focusing on Collins' Aroostook roots:
Collins is from Caribou, a town of just about 8,000 in Aroostook County, Maine’s northernmost region. Aroostook, where my mother grew up on a potato farm about 60 miles south of Collins’s hometown, is rural, wooded, wild, and remote; once you get to Bangor, you keep driving more than an hour to enter it from the south. 
It’s also conservative; Maine’s liberal populations are clustered near Portland and on the coast, while everything north and west in the state is pretty red. When Collins was growing up, the County — as Aroostook is called in Maine — had a robust farming economy that has slowed, as well as military bases and a college that have since closed. 
Collins’s family has run a lumber and hardware business based in Caribou for five generations, and it wasn’t just her mother who was mayor; her father, Donald, was too, before he served five terms as a Republican in the state legislature. (Collins’s uncle was on the Maine Supreme Court and in the state senate.) 
And here's the first reference to "County girl":
Understanding Collins as a “County girl” is key to some of her appeal to Maine voters, at least to some of those who feel a rugged affection for the area and are aware of its rural character and long history of economic decline. 
Don Flannery, the head of the Maine Potato Board, who is a registered Republican (but has seldom voted a straight ticket), described his relationship with Collins as great, in part, because “she came from potato country, and grew up picking potatoes by hand, so she knew a lot about the industry.” Some years ago, when new science about low-carb diets, along with the nutritional advocacy of then–First Lady Michelle Obama, almost got potatoes kicked off school-hot-lunch and WIC programs, Flannery recalled, “Collins went to bat for the potato industry all across the U.S.” 
* * *  
Some swear that her reputation as a tough County girl is key to understanding why Collins is behaving the way she is now, politically. Speaking before impeachment proceedings, one former staffer, also raised in Aroostook, told me, “The way to get her to stand up to Trump is not to criticize her. She’s a kid from the County; she’s stubborn and she doesn’t like to be insulted. The thing to do would be to warmly tell her that standing up to Trump would be five times the courage of Margaret Chase Smith standing up to McCarthy; praise her backbone and challenge her to be great.” 
But having all that County character can be a double-edged sword, especially if part of the suspicion about you is that you’re not being straightforward or available. This is something Collins’s detractors mention again and again.
I'm a fan of Traister (who wrote Good and Mad:  The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger), and according to an NPR interview with the journalist, Traister's mother also grew up in the County.  This personal connection suggests that Traister knows something first hand about the character profile she proffers of the remote region.

Postscript:  This Brookings Institute piece, post-election, also touches on Collins' geographical provenance.  

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Terrific feature on how hunting finances conservation in California, in today's Sacramento Bee

Ryan Sabalow of the Bee writes from the heart, as a hunter himself.   He tells of killing a deer last fall in Modoc County, the first he'd taken since his grandfather died several years ago; Sabalow also writes of a recent duck hunt near Gridley, with his 14-year-old nephew.  Here's an excerpt:
It had been at least a decade since I’d killed a California deer. The last time I did, my grandfather was with me. He died in 2016 at age 80. Ever since, I’d carried around his hunting knife in my gear. I was waiting to use it on the next buck I’d killed.

But before I put blood on grandpa’s knife that frosty morning in October, I pulled out of my backpack an orange piece of state-issued paperwork. A “deer tag.” Through tears, I filled it out and tied it to the four-point buck’s antlers.

In its own way, that act of filling out my hunting permit was profound. It linked me to my past and with it to an American tradition that’s in danger of fading quietly away.
The growth of cities and changing attitudes about the outdoors and animal rights have caused the “sport” of hunting to dwindle across the country. We know from hunting regulators all over the U.S. that the demand for hunting licenses has fallen dramatically.

This has a paradoxical impact on wildlife in California and elsewhere. State agencies in all 50 states collect hunting revenues that pay for habitat programs protecting not just hunted animals like deer and ducks but also endangered species.

In California, around a quarter of the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s budget is paid through hunting and fishing licenses and taxes on hunters’ firearms and gear. California’s 235,000 licensed hunters play an outsized and critical role in supporting habitat and wildlife that our 38 million fellow Californians enjoy. And their numbers are falling dramatically. There were nearly 700,000 hunters in 1970 when there were almost half as many state residents.
The story's photos are fabulous, too.  

Prior posts about hunting by my Law and Rural Livelihoods students are here and here.   You can find other posts about hunting trends and so forth just by using the word "hunting" in the search box.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

On rural transportation infrastructure, specifically roads

The New York Times ran a big feature story today on rural roads.  It's in the Business section under the headline:  "The Struggle to Mend America's Rural Roads."  Patricia Cohen writes:
Wearing bright safety vests, the county highway workers followed the scalding, red tar kettle as it pumped out liquid rubber bandages, thick as melted butter, to cover the pavement’s worst gashes. From above, it looked like the flip side of skywriting — as if yellow cursors on the ground were carefully spelling out a message for unseen readers in the clouds. 
The farmers, truckers and others who traverse these rural roads, though, could quickly tell you what the hieroglyphics mean: Help. 
Like hundreds of other small agricultural counties and towns around the country, Trempealeau County in central-west Wisconsin is overwhelmed with aging, damaged roads and not enough money to fix them.
There is so much to this story that commands our attention, including shifting norms regarding the weight of trucks hauling precious commodities--like food!!!--out of rural America and the impact those shifting norms have on the needs for maintenance and upgrades.

I'm thinking about the analogy to broadband, a 21st century type of infrastructure that's as critical to rural economies as this 20th century artifact.  That said, Cohen's story makes roads seem much less artifact-y.  Surely the ongoing relevance of rural roads, bridges, highways suggests that not everything has changed with the information age and digital economies.  We all still need food, timber, and other products of rural extractive endeavors--and we have to be able to get those products to consumers everywhere or they don't do us any good.

I have written often in my scholarly papers about the challenges of rural transportation, but those musings have mostly involved material distance, much less often the actual condition of rural roads.  This NYT story also reminded me that many rural roads are not paved, which makes getting dirt/gravel/unsealed roads graded of great importance.  A related post is here.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Another farmer suicide feature, this one from the LA Times

Seema Mehta reports from Marcus, Iowa, on the suicide of farmer Troy Sand.  It's a shattering lede: 
On a mild spring day, Troy Sand took his middle son, Connor, out for lunch and to shop for a new laptop for college. Then he returned home, wrapped a single-shot shotgun in a rug, drove to his girlfriend’s house in nearby Cherokee, walked into the backyard and shot himself in the head. 
Sand was 51. His death devastated his large, close-knit family and shattered this tiny community of fewer than 1,200 people in northwestern Iowa. His death also represented a growing manifestation of despair in rural America — farmers taking their own lives. 
“When you have a suicide in your family, that person’s pain ends, but that pain gets put on everybody that’s left behind,” said Jill Vrieze, Sand’s younger sister.
Among the rural themes in this story is lack of anonymity, specifically as related to the stigma of mental health.  One data point included in the story regards the lack of mental health support in rural communities:  76 of Iowa's 99 counties have too few mental health professionals.   

Several presidential candidates passing through Iowa in recent months addressed the phenomenon of rising farmer suicides, which are sometimes framed as deaths of despair.  Here's what Bernie Sanders had to say:
For rural working-class people, life expectancy is going down. Doctors call it the diseases of despair. That means when people feel hopeless … they turn to alcohol, they turn to drugs, and increasingly in rural America, people turn to suicide.
Klobuchar and Booker also acknowledged the phenomenon; indeed, I note that Klobuchar is tweeting frequently about farm and ag issues, not surprising in light of her own midwestern roots.   

More coverage of farmer suicides on Legal Ruralism can be found here, including stories out of Australia and India. 

Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

California's oldest weekly newspaper saved by local man with Citizen Kane complex

Coyoteville Cafe, just south of Downieville, July 2018
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 
The New York Times reported this week on the sale of Sierra County, California's weekly newspaper, the Mountain Messenger by one county elder, 67-year-old Don Russell, to another, 71-year-old Carl Butz.  It's an uplifting story well worth a read, not least because closure of local media outlets is becoming a huge problem throughout the nation.  But the Mountain Mess, as it is affectionately known locally, isn't just any local newspaper brought back from the brink of death.  It's the oldest weekly newspaper in the United States, dating to 1853 when Downieville was a contender to become capital of California.  Equally as extraordinary is that Mark Twain once wrote for the paper breifly, though Twain is perhaps more famously associated with Calaveras County, about a hundred miles south of Downieville as the crow flies, on state highway 49--yes, named for the gold rush era.

The Messenger is based in Downieville, population 282, the county seat of one of the Golden State's least populous counties, just 3,240 residents spread across a sliver of a county stretching from the foothills of the Sierra-Nevada Mountains across the range to the Nevada state line.  It's also home to the Downieville Downhill, a cycling race; when I passed through the town a few summers ago, several vans hauling bikes and riders were crowding the town's little public parking lot.

Below is an excerpt from Tim Arango's story for the NYT, the set up being that Russell was retiring, prepared to shut down the paper, before Butz emerged as a last-minute buyer:
[O]ne night Mr. Butz was watching “Citizen Kane” on cable and thought, I can do that. He made the deal quickly, paying a price in the “four figures,” he said, plus the assumption of some debts, without even looking at the books. 
Still, Mr. Russell, an old friend of Mr. Butz’s, was a reluctant seller. “His position was, it’s a losing proposition and someone who’d want it would be crazy,” Mr. Butz said. “He called me a romantic idealist and a nut case. And that’s not a paraphrase, but a direct quote.”
Arango quotes Liz Fisher, who previously edited the Messenger and now runs The Sierra County Prospect, an online news site.
Thank God for Carl, he stepped in It was devastating for everybody that we were going to lose The Mountain Messenger.
Sierra County Courthouse, Downieville
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2018
While this New York Times story has garnered a lot of attention on my Twitter feed since it was published on Monday, it's only fair to note that the Los Angeles Times was all over this story a month ago.  Diana Marcum wrote under the headline, "Whether good news or bad, northern Sierra readers can always blame the Messenger."  Her focus was more on Russell than his successor--who as of her writing had not emerged.  As with Arango's story, Marcum's is partly a tale about the lack of anonymity that marks rural places and shapes relationships there.  Here's an excerpt about how Russell ran the paper, specifically his reputation for telling it like it is:
Russell was never sued, commenting: “If I say it’s a fact, it’s a fact, damn it. I do my homework.” But there have been a couple of times an irked politician drove around and bought all 200 copies as damage control. 
A self-described contrarian, Russell uses every edition to help him prove that a small town’s strength is its common ground. He can call someone an idiot, disagree with their politics, question their good sense and still share a breakfast table or a drink. 
Breakfasts are busy at the Coyoteville Cafe on Fridays, when the latest “Mountain Mess” — as many here call the paper — is first out. 
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2017

“Good ol’ Don Russell, he’s quite the character. He’s so blunt and straightforward, but the funny thing is he’ll come in with someone on the same day he’s bad-mouthing them,” said Patrick Shannon, 38, who works in his mother’s cafe and as a handyman, EMT and the town’s water meter reader.
Both the Marcum and Arango stories are full of so much local color, from a gay county sheriff to "she who does the work," the unofficial title of Jill Tahija, the only other employee of the Messenger.  Tahija will be staying on under Butz's regime.
One of Downieville's lodging options, next to the one-lane bridge on Hwy 49
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2018
I especially love this turn of phrase from Marcum's story, "In a decidedly blue state, this region is as red as a painted barn." But does it really matter, I find myself thinking, when so much (if not all) politics is local?

One change being made with Butz's takeover of the Messenger is a digital presence, which Russell has strictly rejected.  Happy to say that I followed the Messenger on Twitter last night @TheMountainMess, and they just followed me back today.  I also see that the New York Times story is generating lots of press from statewide outlets, including radio.

The Sierra County newspaper is not the only local enterprise recently looking for a new owner.  When I drove through Downieville and neighboring Sierra City in 2018, I noticed lots of businesses for sale, including an inn and a gas station. 
Gas Station for Sale in Sierra City, July 2017
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2017
The innkeeper at the bed and breakfast where I stayed in Nevada City, an hour or so south in Nevada County, said it had been on the market for several years, with very little interest.  I don't know how long the inn I saw in Downieville had been for sale, or if it has since sold.  Certainly I'm hoping it's not out of business.

These "For Sale" signs on businesses in this remote but scenic region got me worrying about how tourism in these places will survive if folks aren't willing to run these crucial businesses.  The Pacific Coast trail cuts through Sierra City, maybe 10 miles up the road from Downieville, and while hikers don't need gasoline, the folks who run the other businesses that support tourists, along with a local resort oriented to trout fishing do.
Sierra City, California
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2017
Locals also occasionally need attorneys and they're in short supply in Sierra County, which as of 2016 had only eight, including just one in private practice, Ingrid Larson, who was admitted to the bar in 1973.  Read more here and here.

I'm thrilled that the Messenger has been saved, and I hope other courageous entrepreneurs like Mr. Butz will step forward to save some of Sierra County's other crucial businesses.
Sierra County's only attorney in private practice was admitted in 1973
(c) Lisa R Pruitt 

Friday, February 7, 2020

Rural access to justice draws significant press coverage

We've seen lots of coverage of access to justice in rural places in the past few weeks, and I'm going to use this post to collect and highlight some of the stories.

Most prominently, the ABA Journal has run its second cover story this decade on the rural lawyer shortage.  This one is by Wendy Davis, and the headline is "No Country for Rural Lawyers."  The last one was by Lorelei Laird and appeared in October 2014.  That story was headlined "In rural America, there are job opportunities and a need for lawyers."  Sadly, these stories, put side by side, suggest that little has changed in five years.  This month's story is more focused on the economic challenges of practicing law in rural America, a matter I have written about here and here.  Indeed, I note that Wendy Davis uses the title my co-author and I selected for my first rural ATJ piece, "Law Stretched Thin" as subhead in her story (and she mentions that 2014 article, though not by name, early on as the source of a data point about 2% of small law practices being in rural America).  Here's what Davis writes under "Stretched Thin" regarding Alaska, which is one of several states from which Davis draws anecdotes:
Vast swaths of Alaska are so remote they are only accessible by plane or boat. Often those areas lack any private attorneys or police officers and jails—a situation prompting Attorney General William Barr to declare a public safety emergency for rural Alaska in January 2019. 
Nelson estimates that the Alaska Legal Services Corp., which represents low-income individuals, turns away one potential client for each one that’s accepted.
I and my students have written about justice in Alaska here and here.  Other states featured in the ABA Journal cover story are Iowa, Arkansas (a rural incubator based at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law) and South Dakota.  Data from New York and Nebraska are mentioned.  Davis does mention both my (co-authored) Legal Deserts piece, while borrowing that phrase, too, for a subhead. 

Also in this month's ABA Journal (online) is this piece by Pamela Metzger of SMU's Deason Center for Criminal Justice Reform, writing about what it's like to be an urban person (and, ultimately, an urban lawyer) discovering the range of different (and similar) issues implicit in criminal justice reform.  Spoiler alert:  among these is the burden of distance, a challenge that exists with respect to getting access to all sorts of services.

Many of the other rural ATJ (access to justice) issues in the news recently are out of New Mexico, where the state has undertaken a multi-pronged approach to rural access.  Law 360 did a story this week, and before that there were court press releases and a story in the Houston Chronicle and by the Associated Press.  I'll just note that the Chronicle story is surely in part a reflection of the lack of a law school in southern New Mexico or, for that matter, neighboring west Texas.  That practical reality has consequences, as Hannah Haksgaard of the University of South Dakota has commented upon. 

Finally, a January story about rural ATJ in North Dakota is here.

Are the Democrats giving up on rural America?

I sure hope not.  Read Tom Philpott for Mother Jones here.  The second paragraph of the story is excerpted below and it is, quite frankly, disappointing:
Democratic Party decision-makers have decided that the 2020 nominee can’t compete with Trump for rural votes, as recent pieces by veteran Politico and Washington Post reporters laid out.”A new sentiment has echoed throughout recent conversations with Democratic strategists, activists and campaigns, a consensus that would have been unthinkable just eight years ago: Iowa is no longer a battleground,” Politico‘s Tim Alberta reported. “Not in 2020, anyway.” Iowa is a relatively rural state, and the Dems feel like there’s a bigger payoff to be found in more metropolitan-heavy regions, the articles report.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Trump budget (says it) attends to rural

Here's an excerpt from the story by David Jackson of USA Today about the Trump administration's Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which will be released next week.
"Many Americans living in rural communities continue to face barriers that prevent them from attaining the quality of life they deserve," said a Trump budget document provided to USA TODAY.
* * * 
Discussing the rural plan on condition of anonymity because the budget has not yet been released, officials pointed to several proposals in the budget, including: 
– A $1.5 billion loan level for rural business and industry guaranteed loans; $8.9 billion in farm loans; and $25 billion for a new "Revitalizing Rural America" grant program to help areas with broadband, transportation, water and road and bridge projects. 
-$614 million in funding for water and wastewater grants and loans, and $5.5 billion in rural electric loans. 
– $250 million for a Department of Agriculture Rural e-Connectivity "ReConnect" pilot program, $690 million in loans to finance broadband infrastructure deployment of rural telecommunication facilities, and $30 million for the "Community Connect grant program" that targets remote areas. 
– Funding for health care programs that include what the budget plan calls "telemedicine services," rural health clinics, and new emergency hospitals. The proposed budget will also call for the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide more programs in rural areas. 
– $13.5 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education to expand broadband access in areas that are home to Native Americans.
Needless to say, Democrats are skeptical, pointing out the ways in which Trump's trade policies, among others, have hurt farmers and other rural folks.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Impeachment and the rural-urban divide

Everyone talks about the rural-urban divide in politics a lot more than they used to, in part because of Trump's presence on the national stage and the disproportionate support he has garnered from rural America.  The same is true now that Trump's impeachment trial is over and he has been acquitted.  The headline I just saw in the Washington Post is "69 million Americans voted for senators who supported impeachment," and the subhead is "Or about 55 percent of the votes received by sitting senators."  Phillip Bump's story is to contrast citizen support for impeachment with citizen opposition to it, responding to a figure oft-quoted by Republicans in recent weeks--that 63 million citizens voted to put Trump in the Oval Office.  Bump writes: 
The charges against Trump must be so robustly proved, Trump attorney Robert Ray said last month, that “the 63 million people like me who voted for President Trump accept his guilt of the offense charged” — enough to “overwhelmingly persuade a supermajority of Americans and thus their senators of malfeasance warranting his removal from office.”

Those 63 million people, the people who backed Trump in the 2016 presidential contest, were presented as being at risk of having their presidential vote thrown out.
Bump also contrasts the number of votes that put the Democratic senators in office with those that put the Republican senators in office, which of course highlights the fact that "rural states" get two senators each just like urban ones do.  Here's Bump's data point:
Nearly 69 million votes were cast for senators who supported removing Trump from office based on that first article of impeachment, about 12 million more votes than were received by senators who opposed his removal.
That's the count in the Senate.  Over in the house, members "who supported the first article of impeachment received about 38.5 million votes in 2018 — over 6 million more votes than were cast for members who opposed the article."

All of this reminds me of a funny piece a few days weeks ago about whether cows are better represented in the Senate than people, also from the Washington Post

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Vera Institute, Arnold Ventures partner with WSU and U of Georgia to study rural jail expansion

Last week, the Vera Institute of Justice, with support from Arnold Ventures, announced new partnerships with research teams at Washington State University and the University of Georgia to address rising jail incarceration rates in rural areas to form a Rural Jails Research and Policy Network.  Regular readers will know that I've devoted a lot of reporting here on Legal Ruralism to goings on with rural jails, including here, here and here (all collecting sources and prior posts), so I'm excited to see what these new partnerships will reveal.

Over the course of a year-long grant, the researchers at WSU and U of Georgia will form partnerships with criminal justice stakeholders in rural counties surrounding each university.  These partnerships will permit researchers to collect and analyze jail data to identify drivers of jail growth in rural areas.  The researchers will also host convenings of stakeholders to discuss unique issues facing rural criminal justice systems. They will also work to develop rural-focused policy and practice solutions to reduce jail incarceration and help to bring those solutions to the attention of state-level policymakers. The project will conclude with a national convening where the researchers and stakeholders will share their findings with a larger audience.

According to Vera, the selection process for this grant was quite competitive.  Vera received applications from university-based researchers in 24 states, and from many different disciplines: sociology, public policy, government, criminal justice, public health, and psychology. This wide response is encouraging and shows that academics from a broad range of study recognize the need to invest research and resources in rural areas around the country.  The robust response also suggests that many researchers understand the impact of criminal justice systems on the wellbeing of entire communities.

From the Department of Sociology at Washington State University, Dr. Jennifer Sherman and Dr. Jennifer Schwartz will work in a group of rural counties on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains. Divided physically from the more urban western side of the state, rural communities in eastern Washington often report that their voices are not well-represented in state government, an issue I've written about here. As a result, well-intentioned criminal justice reform policies often are not workable for their smaller systems.

From the Department of Sociology and the Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, Dr. Sarah Shannon and Dr. Beverly Johnson will lead a team of researchers who will work in clusters of rural counties in southwest and northeast Georgia. The UGA team will focus on the specific impact of private probation services and lack of mental health resources on growing rural county jail populations, as well as on the effect of state-level criminal justice reforms on local systems.

In both Washington and Georgia, many rural counties have experienced steadily rising jail populations in recent years. Local governments in both places indicate that they do not have the time or resources to develop sustainable solutions tailored to their rural environments. This project aims to help change that, and to develop a method for developing reforms that can be replicated in other rural areas of the country.

I am looking forward to hearing more as these research projects progress, and I'll be sharing periodic updates here.