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Jails, Pre-trial Detention, and Short Term Confinement

Abstract and Keywords

This article views America's jails using a practitioner's perspective. It first describes how local jails were developed, how they are managed in an overcrowded environment, and how they are trying to provide inmates with programs and the community with public safety. It then discusses how jails have been affected and coped with the pressure-cooker effect experienced in overcrowded prisons. This article also includes sections on the development of the mega jail, the ever-evolving nature of the inmate population—and its implication for jail security—and the increasing importance of privatization.

Keywords: jails, practitioner's perspective, overcrowded jails, public safety, pressure-cooker effect, mega jail, inmate population, jail security, privatization

Jail—the word brings to the minds of most people visions of brick buildings with bars and heavy padlocks on the doors. Every jurisdiction in the United States—whether a city, county, or town—either operates a jail or has combined resources with other jurisdictions to have access to a jail. The local jail—whether a county jail, regional jail, or city jail—is the first stop on the incarceration highway for adult offenders and in some cases for juveniles. Jails in many ways are visible to the public through the Internet, news media, and so on. While some are located outside urban or dense population areas, some are located in the heart of cities and towns. Some modern jails do not look like correctional facilities; some resemble office buildings. Many are old, outdated facilities, built decades ago. The goal of this chapter is to give the reader an overview of the American jail, from its early beginnings in colonial America to the modern, efficient, well-staffed facilities of today.

To fully understand the jail, one must understand what it is not. There are three main correctional facilities in the United States: prisons, jails, and lockups. Jails are not prisons. A prison is defined as a correctional facility, administered by the federal government or a state government, that confines adult offenders who are sentenced to terms of confinement for more than one year. A lockup is a temporary holding facility, usually operated by the local police or sheriff’s office, and is located in a station house, police station, a sheriff’s substation, a municipal building, or a courthouse. Due to the vastness of the criminal justice system (p. 390) and the fact that some lockups are as small as one cell, the exact number of lockups cannot be ascertained. Lockups temporarily hold offenders until they are taken before a magistrate, a judge, are released on bail or personal recognizance, or are transported to a main jail facility. Lockups also hold inebriated offenders who are released when considered sober. Lockups also hold juvenile offenders, if permitted by statute, until such time that the juvenile courts place them in a juvenile detention facility, a jail if certified as an adult offender, or are released to parents or guardians.1 Staffing and maintaining lockups require creativity. In some jurisdictions, the local sheriff’s office supplies corrections deputies for lockups operated in local county police substations. If the offender does not make bond, bail, or is released on recognizance, he or she is transferred to the local jail.

A jail is a unique correctional facility. According to the Justice Policy Institute, the definition of jails is simple, but changing. Jails are defined as locally funded and operated correctional facilities that are centrally located in a community. While prisons hold long-term adjudicated offenders, jails hold pre-trial offenders and offenders sentenced to less than one year; many pre-trial offenders held are considered at risk to commit new crimes and are unlikely to return for a court date.2 A recent trend is for jails to hold sentenced inmates awaiting transport to state departments of corrections. As the state correctional facilities become backed up and overcrowded, jails are forced to hold state-ready inmates, creating a backlog.

Philosophy and Functions of Jails

According to the American Correctional Association, there are 3,751 jails in the United States, divided into four categories based on size: mega jails (1,000 plus beds), large jails (250–999 beds), medium jails (50–249 beds), and small jails (1–49 beds). Most jails fall into the medium (1,487) and small (1,433) categories. There are 630 large jails in the United States and 201 mega jails.3

While the philosophy of jails has been to provide a place of incarceration in local communities for offenders awaiting trial or serving short periods of confinement, the functions of local jails have evolved from the simplistic view of “lock em’ up” until court into a listing of multiple functions to assist various components of the criminal justice system and to lend support to community agencies.

Throughout U.S. history, jails have held offenders for short periods of time, and generally were not concerned with rehabilitation or programs. Rehabilitation of inmates is difficult inside jails due to short sentences, frequent court appearances, inmates being released on bond, and inmates finishing sentences and being transferred to other jurisdictions. By the time that inmates are classified, housed, and screened for participation in programs, many are gone. However, (p. 391) with a changing society come difficulties in the criminal justice system, and jails often must deal with them. Foremost is the overcrowding in U.S. correctional facilities. Jails hold offenders in cell space leased to state and federal governments and also can hold offenders for other jurisdictions. Jails also hold offenders who are awaiting transfer to federal facilities, state facilities, mental health facilities, and to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Jails also provide secure housing for people found in contempt of court and in protective custody.4

Other functions of jails include the following, according to the U.S. Justice Department:5

  • Receive and incarcerate offenders who are pending court arraignment, trial, and sentencing if convicted;

  • Incarcerate violators of probation, parole, and bail/bond violators and absconders;

  • Hold offenders who are mentally ill, pending transfer to treatment facilities or court actions;

  • Release convicted offenders into the community per completion of sentence;

  • Operate community-based programs (work release, community service, inmate labor, etc.) as alternatives to traditional incarceration;

  • Hold offenders arrested on warrants from other jurisdictions (detainers) pending extradition.

Prison population growth and resulting overcrowding have affected jails by forcing them to hold more inmates for longer periods of time. Many jails incarcerate “state-ready” inmates—those inmates waiting transfer to departments of correction. Other inmates who are incarcerated longer have a variety of problems, including alcohol abuse, drug abuse, medical problems, and mental illness. According to the National Association of Counties (NACo), jails are providing programming and services in psychiatric, vocational, substance abuse, and educational areas, usually without any funding or compensation from the state.6 Other programs in jail include library services, law library, and religious activities. The number of inmates who participate in programs varies from jail to jail, as not all jails offer the same number and type of programs. For example, in 2006 the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania reported that 144 inmates earned their general equivalency diplomas (GED), the highest success rate to date.7 The number of inmates who participate in jail programs varies among jails, as not all jails offer the same programs due to the physical plant and philosophy of the jail management. For example, a small rural jail may offer four or five programs—basics like Alcoholics Anonymous, Adult Basic Education, Sunday church, GED testing, and so on. A larger jail with classroom facilities may offer many more programs. Program availability for inmates primarily depends on how programs are viewed by agency heads. Some staff in jails consider programs a waste of time.

(p. 392) History and Development of the American Jail

The American jail can trace its roots to the jails (originally called gaols; pronounced the same) of England. Gaols were locally operated, administered, and held the misfits of society, namely vagrants, drunkards, the poor, homeless, thieves, prostitutes, orphans, trespassers, children, debtors, murderers, and dissenters with the Church.8 Each locality (shire) was responsible for the operation of the jail, a practice that has continued through today. The head public official, the shire reeve (now sheriff) could run the jail at his discretion and received reimbursements from taxes levied as fees on the wrongdoers in the jail. Corruption was rampant, as funds that were to be used for food, shelter, and so on, were pocketed. Conditions in jails soon became squalid; food was poor and jails became known for death, disease, and misery.9

The fee system had three negative aspects. First, jail keepers were allowed to charge inmates for admission, release, type of housing (such as open area or private cell), beds, mattresses, food, and so on. Second, the jailor could sell goods to inmates and use inmate forced labor to make a profit. Jailors were not obligated to maintain the jail, and their only responsibility was to prevent inmates from escaping. The lives of inmates were horrible. They were required to support themselves, meaning that they begged for help from family, friends, and anyone willing to help. Third, a system of extortion developed. Inmates had to pay the fees demanded upon them with whatever means they had; if they could not pay, punishments could be painful, resulting sometimes in death.10

The traditional practices of English jails continued in America. The earliest jail system is attributed to colony of Virginia, specifically the settlement of Jamestown Colony, later known as James City. By the seventeenth century, the Virginia colony pattern of jail construction in counties was followed by most colonies.11 The fee system continued, and inmate labor developed from the concept of the English workhouse, resulting not in rehabilitation of inmates through work, but the pocketing of monies from such labor by corrupt jail officials. Regardless of age and gender, early American jails held orphans, prostitutes, thieves, robbers, murderers, and inebriates; all were placed in large rooms with hay and straw mattresses. Jails had no procedures for rehabilitation, treatment, or medical care. Punishment was the guiding philosophy.12

Jails at this time were typically small (15 feet by 10 feet), built of wood, needed constant upkeep, followed English traditions of imprisonment, and saw little progress.13 William Penn, the Quaker governor of Pennsylvania, supported the enactment of laws requiring each county to build houses of corrections. Inmates would not be charged fees for food and lodging but would be required to perform useful work; stocks and pillories were no longer to be used. Bail was introduced. After Penn’s death, these laws were repealed, but after independence was gained, a large part of these measures were restored.14

(p. 393) John Howard, the High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, England, published his recommendations for penal reform in the State of Prisons (1777) after being appalled at penal institutions in Europe. His far-reaching views, the forerunner of jail standards, influenced the correctional facilities of America today. According to Howard, prisons should be clean, with inmates who bathed daily and were separated by age, gender, and degree of criminal behavior. A system of inmate discipline was deemed necessary. Improved medical care, food, and laundry were recommended. Jailors should be persons of good character, sober and well paid. Random, unannounced inspections by magistrates should occur. Inspectors should hear inmate complaints and grievances and correct what is “manifestly wrong.” Jailors should perform daily inspections and, with the chaplains, act as positive role models.15

The design and management styles of jails in American began to change, intermingling with the development of prisons. Due to the efforts of John Howard, William Penn, and Dr. Benjamin Rush (one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence), conditions in jails improved and different ideas were tried concerning how inmates were to be supervised and treated. Dr. Rush became the leader of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons. In 1790, both the Society and Dr. Rush were instrumental in the opening of Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Jail, following Penn’s Quaker laws and John Howard’s ideas. This jail was revolutionary—inmates were subjected to a regimen of hard work, reflection, and penance for their crimes.16

The Walnut Street Jail, while strict, established the early principle of prisoner classification. First constructed in 1773 as a city jail for Philadelphia, it had housed misdemeanants, debtors, and criminals who were awaiting trial or sentencing on serious charges. With the reform movement by Dr. Rush, a wing of the jail was used to house convicted felons separately from the inmate population. Some were housed in individual cells. Work programs allowed inmates to work on handicrafts, shoemaking, weaving, grinding plaster of paris, and cutting and polishing marble. As inmates hopefully were learning work skills and reflecting on their crimes, the Walnut Street Jail was termed the world’s first penitentiary.17

The three eras of American penal development influenced how many jails were designed and operated from the 1820s through today. The Pennsylvania system, developed from the Walnut Street Jail, advocated keeping inmates in solitary confinement, reflecting on wrongdoing with little or no activity or work. Offenders were not to communicate or come into contact with each other. It gave way to the Auburn system, which housed inmates singly at night, but placed them in congregate daytime work groups. Silence and strict discipline were prevalent in the Pennsylvania and Auburn systems. In the late 1800s, the Reformatory era advocated education and vocational training for inmates, and indeterminate sentencing whereby inmates could earn an early release for good behavior and rehabilitative activities.18

While prisons in the United States made reforms that have resulted in the generally secure and humane facilities of today, jails were the “stepchild” of American corrections, described as a variety of buildings and practices, both lacking in uniformity. Michigan jails were described as having “no work, no instruction, no discipline, and (p. 394) no uniformity of structure” by penal reformer Enoch Wine in 1880. Jail inmates in Michigan were not classified and were just thrown together. Small rural Iowa jails were called “calabooses.” The town of Grand Mound, Iowa, rented out jail beds to travelers.19

Jails varied by region. In the northern United States, jails were built of wood or stone, depending on the views of the authorities and costs. Many were built adjacent to the local courthouse and housed the jailor and his family. Stone gradually became the norm, but many jails built originally in the colonial era saw use for many years. Corrupt financial practices still existed. In a New York jail, inmates could get good food and bedding by paying the jailor a weekly sum. New York’s Tombs had squalid conditions. In the Midwest, Hannibal, Missouri’s jail was a one-room building. Council Bluffs, Iowa, boasted of its rotary jail, called a squirrel cage jail, which rotated the inmate housing area so staff could have access. Jails of the American West were “whatever works.” Jails in frontier boom and mining towns ranged from brick to wood to basements and were so small and squalid that all the sheriff had to do was “hose it out.” In the post–Civil War South, inmate labor was leased or contracted out to farms and businesses to replace slavery; inmates were transported to work sites in caged prison wagons.20

Through the twentieth century, conditions in jails improved but varied. For example, the Fairfax County (Virginia) Adult Detention Center underwent four major renovations from 1978 to 2000, resulting in being one of the few jails with single cell, linear, podular, and direct supervision housing. Communications equipment, security hardware, and medical services improved. But a “snapshot” of Virginia jails listed in Who’s Who in Jail Management indicated that jails in that state range widely in age. The oldest listed was built in 1822; several others were built in 1900, 1937, 1951, and 1953.21 In any discussion of the conditions of jails in the United States, mention must be made of the various ages of facilities. While closings and renovations of old jails and openings of new jails improve conditions for staff and inmates, the ability to effectively deal with old, substandard jails depends on the funding capability of the jurisdictions and their ability to convince taxpayers that improvements—including the building of new facilities—are desperately needed.

Though the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports on jails are helpful to administrators, researchers, and trainers, the first jail statistics were compiled in 1880 by the U.S. Census Bureau, focusing on race, gender, age, and ethnicity. Statistics were compiled every 10 years. However, in 1923, federal jails inspector Joseph Fishman inspected 1,500 American jails and found conditions to be “horrible.” In the decades after Fishman’s observations, jails have varied in size and design. Organizations such as the American Correctional Association (ACA) and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) have developed standards for jail operations, training, inmate management, and health care.22 By 2005, most states had adopted some type of jail standards, subject to inspection for compliance by auditors experienced in corrections. Audit teams from the American Correctional Association comprise three highly experienced jail corrections professionals. Examples of clear and detailed jail standards include those of the states of Illinois (p. 395) (29 sections that cover jail operations, including the detention of juveniles) and Tennessee, which categorizes three types of jails, depending on their functions, with applicable standards. Jails do not have to comply with ACA standards, but ACA has paved the way in creating effective jail standards with performance-based elements, designed with input from the National Sheriff’s Association and the American Jail Association. Complying with well-written and researched jail standards, based on good correctional practices and case law, can protect jail staff from litigation and inmates from mismanagement.23

Some jail staff complain about jail standards, but in reality a well-written jail standard protects the jail. For example, a serious area of liability is the problem of fire, especially when the jail is old. A well-written mandatory ACA standard is 4-ALDF-1C-08, which reads: “The facility’s fire prevention regulations and practices ensure the safety of staff, inmates and visitors. These include but are not limited to: an adequate fire protections service [and] availability of fire hoses or extinguishers at appropriate locations throughout the facility.” Required by the jail to meet this standard are written policies, procedures, maintenance and testing records, facility logs, staff training records, incident reports dealing with fire emergencies, and staff interviews.24

Jail Architecture and Supervision

In today’s jails, we see influences of the Pennsylvania, Auburn, and Reformatory era correctional intuitions in jail architecture and management. The Pennsylvania system institutions, such as Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, housed inmates individually in cells at right angles off a central corridor (commonly known as linear supervision); many jails, particularly older ones, continue to use this architectural style. Cell blocks are at right angles to a central corridor; each cell block has a main door for staff and inmate entry. Off a central dayroom there are 4 to 5 individual cells. Each dayroom has toilet and shower facilities, a table for eating, and a television hookup. While many jail staff favor this style as being secure, both communication and observation are limited to the correctional officer speaking to inmates through a food tray slot or Plexiglas window in the cell block door.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a second generation of jail housing design was developed, called podular. Podular supervision has the correctional officer posted in a central control booth, monitoring the inmates in housing units around him or her. Based on the concept of the panopticon, developed by penal reformer Jeremy Bentham in 1791, the goal of this supervision is to observe the inmates as much as possible, though communication is limited to conversing by intercom.25

The Auburn system’s main contribution to jail architecture was the interior cell block, or the construction of a cell block area within a building. Having a cell block and cells within it prevented inmates from having access to outside walls. Also, cell blocks were stacked in tiers, thereby saving space. This style has been used in jails, where each floor of a jail contains an interior cell block. Under certain guidelines, inmates in jails can earn time off their sentences for participation (p. 396) in rehabilitative programs, many staffed by personnel in the educational, vocational, substance abuse, and mental health areas. This concept of “good time” can be traced back to the Reformatory Era where inmates could earn early release by program participation.26

Period of Jail Improvements

A student of jails could view the period of 1980 to the present as a time of improvement. Not only did jail standards develop and continue to be refined, training and security procedures improved for jail staff. The architectures identified as linear and podular have been described as the first generation and second generation of jail design, respectively. The third generation, direct supervision, was devised as a more humane method to supervise inmates. Direct supervision requires the jail officer to constantly observe, supervise, and communicate with inmates in a housing unit without any physical barriers (such as windows or cell block doors). The purpose of such management is to be proactive and to defuse any tensions among inmates or between inmates and staff. Studies of direct supervision jails have indicated that control of inmates is better maintained, violence is at a lower level, and the overall climate of such units is safer.27 The greatest contribution of direct supervision is arguably that staff is proactive rather than reactive. In the linear and podular styles, jail officers react to inmate misbehavior, while in direct supervision officers can walk up to inmates and investigate questionable behavior before it worsens. Also, direct supervision can serve to better classify inmates. The classification process assesses inmates’ behavior, criminal history, and needs and assigns them to the best housing possible considering their needs and the security needs of the jail. Direct supervision can be used as a “carrot and stick” approach—inmates know that direct supervision is comfortable and more humane than linear or podular. They know and are frequently reminded that if they misbehave they can be segregated or placed into the older generations of housing; some jails have all three generations in one system.

Another development during this period was the pooling of funding and resources by jurisdictions to construct regional jails, or holding inmates from the several jurisdictions involved. Through the 1980s and 1990s the number of jails declined in the United States. Counties with small jails holding a few inmates began to find it economically unfeasible to fund, staff, maintain, and operate these facilities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. As a result, several states, including Virginia and West Virginia, began moving to a regional jail system. Also, as smaller jails close and their inmates are absorbed into regional jails, responsibilities and operations change from sheriff’s offices to regional jail authorities that hire staff and administrators and coordinate training.28

Conditions in American jails are for the most part humane, safe, and have procedures to meet the needs of the inmates as well as securely supervise them. Does that mean that jails have become a correctional utopia? No. It was not that long ago when jails in the United States subjected inmates to horrible conditions. (p. 397) This was illustrated clearly in an August 1980 Newsweek report describing some jails as obsolete, unsanitary, and places where inmates are warehoused without any treatment or programs to address their needs. It also showed the variety of jail conditions. A jail in Colorado was described as having a humane atmosphere, compared to a jail in Alabama under court order to not feed inmates dead animals that had been scraped off the local highways. Many jails were old—a Mississippi jail described as having poor toilet facilities was built in 1845 and last renovated in 1980.29 The nature of U.S. jails is that they vary by age, design, and conditions.

One indication of the state of jail conditions is the use of court orders. According to Dr. Richard P. Seiter, Saint Louis University, in 1999 the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 15 percent of jails surveyed reported that they were under directives of a consent decree or court order to reduce crowding and improve confinement conditions; 11 percent were court ordered to avoid overcrowding by lowering population. These rates are lower than were reported in 1993 due to the construction of new jails, renovation of older ones, successful inmate litigation, and compliance with jail standards.30

Court orders, especially when enacted through the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) and letters of findings issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ), have some “teeth” to them. An example of this compliance is the Cook County Jail (CCJ) in Illinois, which has been under CRIPA and DOJ scrutiny, faced with a choice of compliance with federal recommendations or being subject to litigation. Conditions were described by correctional experts as egregious. Deficiencies were reported in staff supervision, training, and visibility of inmates in housing areas, grievance system, medical care, mental health care, and suicide prevention. One CCJ official conceded that a “culture of abuse” existed among staff.31

Another indication that jails are struggling is an examination of inmate litigation. While the frivolous nature of some inmate lawsuits has been curtailed by the Prison Reform Litigation Act (PRLA), some inmate lawsuits illustrate the mismanagement and faults found in some jails. For example, in September 2008, a jury awarded $900,000 to a man who, while at the Dallas (Texas) County Jail had been denied proper medical care, resulting in a paralyzing stroke. In 2007, the jail settled for nearly $1 million with the families of three mentally ill inmates who had been denied medication. In 2000, the DOJ, acting under CRIPA, issued a very negative report citing serious problems in the jail’s medical and mental health care. As of late 2009, the jail was under federal court order to improve conditions.32

Excessive use of force, inadequate classification, and jail staff being criminally charged are other indicators that jails have continuing problems that need to be corrected. Corrections law expert William Collins cites several examples in which the courts have agreed to substantial settlements in cases alleging excessive force by jail officers—a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. An Arizona jail agreed to an $8.5 million settlement after a jail inmate died as a result of being pushed into a restraint chair, gagged, and shot with a “stun” gun. A Utah jail inmate died after spending 16 hours restrained in a restraint chair; the primary cause of death was blood clots. A Florida court agreed to a $2.2 million settlement in a case involving an inmate (p. 398) who was beaten while in a restraint chair and subsequently died in the chair. Three jail officers were convicted of criminal charges in this case. While the misuse of restraint devices may not be viewed by some as problematic, Collins asks that the large amounts of settlements be considered as indicative of a larger problem of high liability.33 One could ask: Are these negative (and expensive) occurrences, which have resulted in inmate injuries and deaths, due to a lack of professionalism in hiring, training, and supervision? Jails must undertake procedures and practices to address these deficiencies.

Another negative aspect of jail staff is sexual misconduct with inmates. With the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in 2003, the problems of inmate-on-inmate sexual assault and staff sexual misconduct were addressed. PREA established a zero tolerance policy for sexual misconduct in jails and mandated its prevention as a top priority. Corrections officials are held accountable through existing law and federal funding.34 Inmate lawsuits alleging staff sexual misconduct can be embarrassing and costly. As a result of this legislation, staff sexual contact with inmates is improper and criminal, and jail officers have been prosecuted.

Some proactive jail professionals do not wait for litigious inmates or the courts to mandate action. In 2002, an interim warden commissioned his own study of a problem-ridden Pennsylvania county jail. An audit was also performed by a county corrections department supervisor in neighboring New Jersey. Previously, in 2001, reports criticizing the jail were issued from a county grand jury and state inspectors, resulting in a federal court-ordered task force. Among deficiencies cited were staff sexual misconduct with inmates, lack of teamwork, poorly structured management, inmates “baby sitting” mentally ill inmates, inadequate training, and a poor physical plant. The interim warden made improvements that resulted in praise from the county district attorney.35

Even though many jails are not new, many are clean, well managed, and safe, and offer programs and treatment for inmates. For example, the Bristol County (Massachusetts) Ash Street facility opened in 1826 and is still in operation today. The Norfolk County (Massachusetts) Correctional Center was constructed in a median of a major interstate highway and is a clean, modern facility. The county transitioned from a 175-year old linear jail to the “median strip” jail in 1992.36

A Look at the Jail Populations

The offenders in our nation’s jails are a mixture of serious felons, misdemeanants, some juveniles, the elderly, female, the undereducated, substance abusers, ethnic minorities, and the mentally ill. Jails were once viewed as holding the “dregs” of society; we now realize that many offenders in jail have serious problems and need specialized management from a well-trained staff. We know more about jail inmates now than at any time in the history of U.S. jails. The following is a statistical “snapshot” of the United States jail population:37

  • (p. 399) At mid-year 2008, American jails held 785,556 inmates, with an average daily population of 776,573. The incarceration rate was 258 per 100,000 citizens.

  • The rated capacity of American jails at mid-year 2008 was 828,413 with 94.8 per cent of capacity occupied.

  • Statistically, 62.9 percent of jail inmates are unconvicted and 37.1 percent are convicted.

  • In 2008, 87.3 percent of jail inmates were male and 12.7 percent were female.

  • Juveniles can be held in adult jails awaiting trial and charged as adults or sentenced as adults (making up 0.8 percent of the jail population in 2008).

  • At mid-year 2008, almost 48,000 non–U.S. citizens were held in adult jails; 20,785 persons were held in jails for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

  • To combat overcrowding, jails supervise offenders outside the jail facility. At mid-year 2008, 72,852 inmates were supervised in community corrections programs such as weekend confinement programs, electronic monitoring, work release, and day reporting. Statistically, 18,475 jail inmates were participating in community service programs.

Combating recidivism involves attempting to get inmates in jails to become sober, educated, to receive training in a marketable job and to think in a non-criminal way. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics:

  • Reported by BJS in 2002, almost 70 percent (68.7%) reported regular drug use; 33.4 percent used alcohol at the time of the offense. The most commonly used drug was marijuana or hashish, followed by cocaine or crack.38

  • In 2002, approximately 77 percent of convicted jail inmates could be considered alcohol or drug involved.39

  • Only 57.4 percent of jail inmates in 2002 were employed full-time.40

  • Concerning education of jail inmates reported in 2003, 46.5 percent of jail inmates had some high school, 25.9 percent had a high school diploma, and 13.5 percent had some post-secondary education.41

  • Jail inmates are not strangers to the criminal justice system: in 2002, 39 percent had served three or more sentences of incarceration or probation; 46 percent of inmates were on parole or probation status at the time of their arrest.42

  • Approximately one-half of inmates held in jail in 2002 were incarcerated for a violent or drug offense.43

  • In 2002, over one-third of inmates reported having a current medical problem; approximately 5 percent of females admitted to jail reported being pregnant.44

  • Based on BJS statistics issued in 2006, the Justice Policy Institute reported in 2008 that 60 percent of the jail population suffers from a mental health problem, including major depressive disorders, mania disorders and psychotic disorders.45

  • (p. 400) Concerning inmates held in jail in 2002, BJS reported that offenders were incarcerated in jail the longest for violent and drug offenses. The average maximum jail sentence length for all offenses was 24 months; for drug offenses it was 35 months, and for violent offenses it was 33 months.46

The problems of jail populations give rise to two things: programming for jail inmates on the positive side, and logistical problems on the negative side. Statistics aside, the various workers in the jail staff, from officers to counselors to medical personnel, see firsthand the dysfunctional lives that offenders lead. Those observations and dealings with substance abusing, sick, violent, and mentally ill inmates result in a stressful occupation. Jail populations are a mix of young and old offenders, substance abusers, mentally ill, violent, nonviolent, weak, predatory, mothers, fathers, unemployed, illiterate, undereducated—you name the type of offender and the jail population will have it.

There are distinct differences between prison and jail inmates. Lockups and the local jails represent the first experience of incarceration for many offenders and a return to custody by repeat offenders. By the time the prison receives the inmate, he or she has adjusted somewhat to being incarcerated; anxiety and fears have subsided, and the process of prisonization is well underway. By the time that the inmate is transferred to a prison, much information is known and documented about the offender, including criminal history, prior incarcerations, mental health status/treatment, medical status, and institutional behavior. Conversely, when an offender is booked into the local jail, behavioral issues such as violent resistance to arrest and incarceration, substance abuse effects and withdrawals, and unmanaged mental illness are very prevalent and must be managed by the jail officer. As one veteran jail training instructor tells new recruits in basic training: “You never know who is going to come through the jail door; be ready for anything.” Until the inmate is properly booked in, screened by medical and mental health personnel, interviewed, and classified appropriately into the jail population, various problems arise and must be dealt with. In that regard, some can argue that jails are more dangerous than prisons. The volume of admissions to jails is staggering. In the last week of June 2008, an estimated 260,075 were booked into local jails. Based on that, an estimated 13.5 million admissions occur annually. Also, an estimated 66.5 per cent of the local jail population turned over weekly in 2008.47


Programs in jails vary in number and size due differences in funding from rehabilitative agencies and the philosophy of the agency or staff that is heading the jail facility. Jail programs have one main goal: to work with the offender and address the problems that resulted in criminal behavior. In some jails, sheriffs and jail boards may encourage volunteers and community agencies to come into the jail and work (p. 401) with the inmates in such areas education/tutoring, substance abuse, vocational skills, life skills, parenting, and religious matters. It is becoming more evident to those who work inside jails that programs are an important safety valve. Inmates who participate in programs can get away from the boring, noisy, tense, and tedious climate of the cell block or housing unit. While it is hoped that inmates who attend programs receive the direction that they need to stay crime free, some will say that fights and arguments were avoided because they “got out of the [cell]block” for a while and calmed down. The benefits of jail programming are under fire from jails trimming budgets and trying to stay fiscally healthy. Examples of this are the Rehabilitation Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT) and Staying in Touch programs at the Wicomico County Detention Center in Salisbury, Maryland. In May 2010, the Maryland Department of Corrections announced an estimated $660,000 budget cut for the following year, thereby ending the two programs where inmates could learn to stay drug free and to reconnect with their families.48

Due to the fluidity of the jail population and frequent releases of inmates while they are participating in a program, there is no set formula for jail programming. In the May 2008 Urban Institute report, Life after Lockup, data on jail program availability was published based on Bureau of Justice Statistics data collected in 1999 and released in 2001. Concerning educational programming, 60 percent of U.S. jails reported having education for inmates. Alcohol programs dealing with dependency, counseling, or education/awareness were offered in 62 percent of jails; drug programs were offered in 55 percent of jails. Inmates need personal development, and jails have progressed in that area. Religious programming is offered in 70 percent of jails. Life skills training and parenting training exists in 22 and 12 percent of jails, respectively.49 It will be interesting to see in future jail studies whether programming trends continue to be positive. Chaplains from such organizations as the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry and rehabilitation staff and volunteers from agencies such as Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) give inmates hope and a chance through programs and volunteers to begin crime-free lives. However, there are some jail officers who, though properly security minded, are of the opinion that the chances for rehabilitation of jail inmates are minimal and that programs are a waste of time.

A transition planning approach is taking root in jail programs, preparing inmates for life on the outside, using in-house jail programming and community corrections. Most jail inmates will be released eventually; the politically popular “lock em’ up and throw away the key” does not make sense. According to the Urban Institute, approximately 34,000 jail inmates are released each day; an estimated 230,000 are released each week.50 An example of this is provided by Auglaize County, Ohio, a rural county with a population of 46,000. Its jail is a 72-bed facility that holds pre-trial, pre–sentenced, and sentenced inmates up to a maximum of 18 months. The 11-year-old facility receives between 1,200 and 1,300 inmates annually. Over half are released within 72 hours. Approximately 600 inmates remain, and about one-third participate in programs offered by the jail every year. The county took a revolutionary approach in 2003 and formed the Auglaize County Transition Program (A.C.T.), which is a joint combination of the Auglaize County Sheriff’s (p. 402) Office and the Community Connection for Ohio Offenders, a nonprofit private organization that focuses on inmate reentry services throughout Ohio. Taking a case management approach, the program develops a reentry program that targets offender problem areas, develops reentry plans, and provides job placements.51

Inmates in the A.C.T. Program can participate in GED classes, drug and alcohol counseling, mental health counseling, religious programs, anger management, life skills, parenting, employment readiness, job placement, work release, school release, and an in-house inmate worker (trustee) program. It is the goal of the facility to have, at a minimum, one-third of jail inmates involved in some type of work program, such as trustee positions, community service workers, and work release. Upon release, offenders are eligible for continuing programming in the community under the supervision of a case manager, the municipal court probation department, and the Ohio Adult Parole Authority. The program has had noteworthy results; from 1999 to 2008, over $390,000 in room and board fees have been collected from work release inmates, and serious incidents in the jail have been reduced by 80 percent.52 To combat the frustrating cycle of jail inmates going out and coming in over and over, this could be the approach of the future.

The effect of jail programs on inmates is being examined. Since 2001, inmates incarcerated at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center in Fairfax, Virginia, have been studied by researcher Dr. June Tangney and staff from George Mason University (GMU). The GMU Inmate Project is a longitudinal multiphase study that examines selected inmates from the jail, focusing on factors that may reduce criminal recidivism, substance abuse relapse, HIV risk behavior, and may enhance crime-free behavior post-release. A critical part of the study was looking at short-term intervention—namely, inmate participation in jail programs. Researchers also focused on the effects of interventions on inmates’ feelings of shame, guilt, and criminogenic beliefs. Dr. Tangney and staff believe that inmate participation in jail rehabilitative programs may cause inmates to adapt feelings of guilt and reduce their criminogenic beliefs. This ongoing study will examine post-release behavior of inmates in the study.53

Jail programs vary in intensity, depending on the curriculum, the training of the program staff, and the disciplinary policy of the jail. Some programs are court ordered, and staff is required to report the inmate’s progress or lack of progress to the sentencing judge. Examples of programs with strict curriculum are substance abuse, education, and cognitive behavioral programs. Inmates are required (under threat of removal) to behave, actively participate, complete assignments, and follow a set of strict guidelines. If they do not, reports are sent to the sentencing judge and/or the probation/parole officer assigned to write the pre-sentence evaluation report.

Jail programs are primarily staffed by civilians. In some jails, civilians and volunteers have minimal training in jail security and interacting with inmates. In other jails, program staff and volunteers are required to undergo mandatory lengthy training sessions in which security, what to do in emergencies, and offender manipulation are discussed. Also important is the disciplinary policy and tolerance of the jail. Concerning programs, if inmates violate jail rules or prove to be management problems, they can be barred for a period of time or permanently from programs participation.

(p. 403) Sentences, Parole, and Overcrowding

It is impossible to predict sentencing patterns that would apply to all of the jails in the United States. A jail could be located in a jurisdiction with a judiciary that is open to sentencing nonviolent offenders to community corrections programs such as community service, fine options, electronic monitoring, day reporting, and work release. Some judges, working with district and defense attorneys, may use probation, may be open to using electronic detention where the offender does time at home via electronic surveillance, or may sentence offenders to diversion. Any of these methods keeps offenders from doing time in the local jail. Also, some jail systems, such as the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center, Virginia, have a separate work-release facility apart from the main jail. That does not mean that the work release facility does not get overcrowded, but screened offenders who qualify to be released into the community to work do not take up housing space in the main jail.

Keeping offenders locked up in jail appeals to the public. Since 1980, the American public has become more supportive of tougher sentences, more fearful of crime and less tolerant of criminals. A Gallup poll conducted in 1989 indicated that 84 percent of Americans surveyed said that there was more crime than in the year before; crime rates, especially violent crime rates, increased during the 1980s. Since 1993, crime rates have decreased, but 44 percent of Americans surveyed in a 2008 Gallup poll believed that there was more crime than in the previous year. These beliefs have manifested themselves in public opinion: criminals should be sentenced for longer periods, and offenders should be accountable for their actions.54

The American public sees these views put into practice. In Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio prides himself for operating inmate chain gangs and a jail facility consisting of tents. Some jails have decreased the number of inmate programs and/or the number of volunteers conducting mentoring and programs. In state legislatures, laws are passed that fix determinate punishment for certain crimes (mandatory sentencing), removing discretion from judges. Other laws mandate a long prison term for the third felony conviction (“three strikes and you’re out”).

The average length of stay varies from jail to jail, depending on the volume of court activity, the nature of the crimes that inmates are charged with or convicted of, the ability of pre-trial inmates to make bail, and so on. Inmates charged with felonies will be held longer than inmates charged with misdemeanors. Complicating this view are inmates charged with both felonies and misdemeanors, or inmates held on charges from other jurisdictions (detainers). The differences in the average length of stay can be seen in almost every state. In Pennsylvania, for example, the average length of stay at the Columbia County Prison is 24 months; at the Philadelphia Prison System it is 88 days, and at the Centre County Correctional Facility it is 46 days.55

Issues concerning parole illustrate the increasingly conservative views about crime and punishment from the American public. In 1977, parole reached its zenith (p. 404) as over 70 percent of inmates were released on discretionary parole (parole granted by a parole authority or parole board based on an inmate’s conduct, program participation, etc.). From 1977 to 1997, 15 states and the federal government ended the practices of discretionary parole and indeterminate sentencing. Inmates can continue to work toward earlier releases by earning good time for positive behavior and program involvement. Twenty other states placed strict limits on inmates who were eligible for parole; only 15 states still practice discretionary parole.56

Jail staffs must contend with inmate populations affected by these decisions. As state prison facilities become more overcrowded, the flow of inmates being transferred to them slows down. Simply put, new beds cannot be made available for incoming offenders from the street after arrest and from the courts. If inmates who are “state-ready” are languishing and waiting in the local jail to, as jail officers say, “go down the road,” frustrations can build. Convicted inmates sentenced to prison time generally want to get on with their sentences. Jails are more restrictive than prisons. For example, in one Virginia jail, inmates in the general population are locked out in the cell block/unit dayroom from after morning inspection (9 a.m.) to after dinner (5 p.m.). This process means that inmates cannot have access to their individual cells and must bring all items (programs materials, legal material, hygiene items, etc.) necessary for the day with them. Exceptions to this policy would include inmates with medical problems who need bed rest and pregnant female inmates. There are several reasons for the lockout policy; most importantly, inmates can be more readily observed from the officer’s post or from a corridor. Also, inmates can be pulled more easily for court, programs, recreation, medical sick call, visiting, and staff counseling. Inmates who have done time in prisons or have been transferred to a local jail from prison may find this policy constricting; prisons allow a higher freedom of movement and access to recreation. Due to the changing nature of the jail populations, the acute nature of inmates’ problems, the fact that many inmates have not yet become adjusted to incarceration, and short staffing, jails restrict inmates’ movements. Program and recreational activities are more restrictive and limited in jails than in prisons.


With almost 95 percent of capacity occupied, according to BJS, many jail administrators are scrambling to find beds. In California, for example, jail overcrowding has reached a critical mass. Out of the state’s 460 local jails, 12 percent are over 60 years old, and almost one-half are 30 years old or older. Not meeting state and federal standards and regulations have resulted in court-ordered population caps in 20 counties. Twelve counties, in order to escape litigation, have self-imposed population caps. The result is that for every inmate admitted to those jails, an inmate must be released. In 2005, 9,148 jail inmates in California were released every month due to pre-trial release; 9,323 were released per month per early release from their sentences, due to lack of jail bed space. In times of peak demand for jail space in 2005, the state was experiencing a shortfall of, at a minimum, 12,800 jail beds.57 (p. 405) As a jail fills up, the ability to classify inmates into the best housing assignments for staff supervision, inmate welfare, and rehabilitation becomes limited. Classification officers do the best that they can, but extremely limited bed space results in some inmates living together and sometimes not getting along. Jail staffs can “double bunk” inmates in cells originally designed for single occupation as long as inmates are afforded sanitation facilities, food, medical/dental care, recreation, hygiene items, and are safe from harassment and assault, including sexual assault. Areas such as gymnasiums can be converted into dormitories, such as in the Norfolk County facility in Massachusetts. Another problem is segregation. Several years ago, one mega jail did not have enough available bed space to house incoming females, as the female receiving unit was also used for female administrative segregation and disciplinary segregation. Classification staff took the time to talk to all females on administrative segregation about moving back to general population. Many moved back and readjusted to general population, under close staff monitoring. Jails may “farm out” or transfer inmates to other jails to reduce overcrowding, meaning that jail administrators or sheriffs agree to house inmates for each other. This is due usually to overcrowding, but “farmed out” inmates may include those who are security problems or are charged with infamous crimes such as killing a police or correctional officer. Accusations of revenge, mistreatment, and retribution can be avoided if such inmates are not held in the jurisdictions where they are charged.

Overcrowded jails can be tense powder kegs, where safety of staff and inmates can be in jeopardy. Violence in jails exists in large urban mega jail systems as well as smaller county jails, sometimes operated by private corrections corporations. Of utmost importance is training—training of the jail staff to recognize signs of inmate unrest and to defuse inmate tensions through quick intervention, good interpersonal communications, practicing of effective security procedures such as thorough searches, using the disciplinary and criminal codes, and monitoring security threat groups such as race supremacist groups and gangs. Jail officers realize that a calm jail climate can turn volatile in a second—they are packed facilities full of offenders who do not want to be there.

Violence and overcrowding can have tragic outcomes. In 2006, approximately 500 inmates rioted at the overcrowded Los Angeles (LA) County Pitchess Detention Center, one of five in the LA jail system. In five days of inmate violence involving over 1,000 inmates, one inmate was killed, at least 28 hospitalized, and 90 others injured. Officials suspected racial tension was a causative factor. The available beds in the LA system require most of the general population to live in dormitories, which left only about 1,000 cells available to be used to separate inmates and troublemakers. At the time, the LA jail system was estimated to hold 21,000 inmates.58 Jail overcrowding puts a strain on the physical plant, staffing, and morale of the jail. To solve this problem, all of the “stakeholders” in jail operations and goals—the courts, probation, local governments, sheriffs, and correctional departments—must step up and offer their part of the solution. While the public might support a tough outlook and “lock em’ up” view of criminals, solutions and safety valves, such as more use of (p. 406) electronic monitoring, probation, work release, suspended sentences, and so on, may be unpopular but necessary in keeping the jail population at lower, safer levels.

Special Populations

Jail inmates are not typified as a group that obeys the orders of officers and has no problems. Due to the acute nature of jail inmates and the fact that they are brought fresh from the “street” after arrest to the local jail, jail staffs have to contend with different groups, each with their own behaviors that present management problems for officers.

Security Threat Groups

The most realistic definition of a security threat group is a group that causes disruption of the orderly operations of the jail, due to its organization, views, and ability to recruit members to carry out illegal actions and activities. Security threat groups (STGs) can be criminal street gangs, such as the Bloods, the Crips, or MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha-13), just to name a few. They also can be race supremacist groups, such as the Aryan Nation and Klu Klux Klan. While the exact number of jail inmates who belong to STGs is hard to predict, research by William Triplett published in 2004 in the Congressional Quarterly Review said that there were an estimated 21,500 gangs with a membership of 731,000 members in the United States.59 As STGs engage in criminal activity, the members are arrested and incarcerated in local jails.

Jails are taking steps to combat the STG problem. If not closely monitored and securely managed, inmates in STGs engage in assault, homicide, extortion, prostitution, and drug smuggling inside the jail. Racial violence among inmates occurs; officers are caught in the midst of riots and disturbances. Two approaches that have taken hold in recent years are the zero tolerance policy, whereby criminal and unauthorized activities by STGs are not tolerated. Tools to enforce this are in-house inmate disciplinary procedures, use of administrative segregation, increasing custody levels, and criminal prosecution. The second method is the use of gang intelligence units consisting of specially trained correctional officers who work with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in identifying STG offenders, tracking their activities in the jail, enforcing the zero tolerance policy, and taking action based on law enforcement intelligence reports.60

Mentally Ill Offenders

To those who work in a local jail, it is no secret that jails have been described as the “biggest mental home in the community.” One of the most stressful situations presented to jail staff is how to safely and humanely manage the wide variety of mentally ill offenders who are booked in—from personality disorders, bipolar offenders, to paranoid schizophrenics. According to BJS reports in 2005, 64 percent of jail (p. 407) inmates had a mental health problem. For the studies, BJS examined two criteria: a recent history or symptoms of a mental health problem. More than half of inmates in jail reported experiencing symptoms of mania; approximately 30 percent reported symptoms of major depression. Jail officers are aware of the fact that mentally ill inmates are unpredictable and dangerous. Almost half (49.4 percent) of inmates in the BJS study reported symptoms of persistent anger or irritability.61 The majority of mentally ill jail inmates (73.5 percent) are incarcerated for property, drug, or public order offenses.62 They may have a longer stay in the jail than other inmates; for example, 1990s studies of New York’s Riker’s Island jail indicated that the average stay for mentally ill inmates was 215 days, compared to just 42 days for non–mentally ill inmates.63 Mentally ill inmates are sometime uncooperative with attorneys or have to be stabilized on medication so as to understand court proceedings.

Jails continue to struggle with this problem. While more training becomes available on dealing with mentally ill offenders, jails will continue to receive them, house them, and manage them. While the larger jail systems generally have support from community services boards who supply trained mental health staff, smaller jails must rely on mental health staff from local clinics and hospitals, many of whom have limited experience in jail security and operations. Courts are taking more of a protective role concerning mentally ill offenders, including revising procedures in disciplinary hearings, housing mentally ill inmates in special observation units with specially trained jail officers, and reaching decisions protecting mentally ill inmates from undue excessive force.

Most promising is the mental health court, defined as a specialized court docket for defendants with mental illness that affords opportunities for court-approved and supervised treatment, in conjunction with the judge, court personnel, and treatment providers. The case is resolved upon the offender successfully completing the treatment plan. According to the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), there are more than 90 mental health courts in operation. In 2004, 37 mental health courts were funded by BJA, each ranging a participant load of 15 to 800. Results look promising; in Broward County, Florida, defendants are twice as likely to receive treatment for mental illness and are less likely to reoffend. Mental health court defendants in Broward County spend 75 per cent fewer days in jail, compared to non–mental health court defendants.64

Suicidal Inmates

Suicide is always on the mind of the jail officer as it is the second leading cause of death (32.3 percent) in jails, after illness (47.6 percent). Thanks to training and increased staff awareness, jail suicide rates have steadily declined since 1983. The Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2000 enabled the Bureau of Justice Statistics to study in-custody jail deaths.65 More data is now known about suicidal methods, settings, and symptoms. Suicidal inmates are vulnerable to substance abuse, mental illness, shame/guilt over the offense, a fear of loss of loved ones, a job, or other (p. 408) stabilizing resource, or simply an inability to cope with the stress of being incarcerated, especially around violent and predatory inmates.

Jail staffs have a moral and legal duty to protect inmates from each other and from themselves. Suicides in jail can result from hanging, slashing, jumping from a high area (such as a stairwell or tier), or ingesting a substance such as drain cleaner. The possibility of litigation against the jail by the family or estate of a dead inmate is high, and staff must have regular, periodic training, and must follow procedures to prevent suicides. An example of this is taking place in the Orange County, California, jail system. Between 1993 and 2003, only five jail suicides occurred in a five-facility jail system that houses between 5,000 and 5,500 inmates daily. This resulted from collaborative efforts between mental health and custody staff, intense training, and improved screening procedures. For example, each custody deputy carries a card listing suicidal behaviors, high-risk factors, and symptoms of sudden custody death syndrome.66

Jail Costs

Jails are not inexpensive. According to the Justice Policy Institute, local governments had an increased spending rate on criminal justice spending of 347 percent between 1982 and 2003. Included in this period was a 517 percent increase in corrections spending. In 2004, local jurisdictions spent $97 billion on criminal justice; $19 billion was spent just on corrections, compared with $8.7 billion on libraries and $28 billion on higher education.67

To examine the cost effectiveness of jails, the costs of main jail incarceration versus community corrections must be compared. Based on data from the 2002 Corrections Yearbook, an inmate incarcerated in the nations’ largest jail system averages approximately $68.58 per inmate per day; the national average for all U.S. jails is $58.64 per inmate per day. The average annual minimum cost per jail inmate for a one-year jail incarceration is $21,403. The average annual cost per offender in a community-based substance abuse treatment program is $2,198; intensive supervision using surveillance (such as electronic monitoring, etc.) ruins about $3,296 per offender per year.68 Not every offender incarcerated inside a jail is eligible for such community-based programs, but efforts need to be made to place more low-risk offenders in such programs to reduce jail costs. Offenders in residential community corrections programs can be charged for room and board; offenders in electronic incarceration programs are charged a daily fee. A popular movement is to charge jail inmates a daily fee for their incarceration. Any fee charged to inmates will help to recoup the expenditures and costs of incarcerating them. One view is that a way to get offenders’ attention and make them think about the consequences of the criminal lifestyle is to “hit them in the wallet.”

There are collateral costs to the jail. If an inmate becomes seriously ill or is injured, the local jurisdiction operating the jail must pay for hospitalization, medicine, and so (p. 409) on. Some inmates receive the best medical care of their lives when they become incarcerated. One way to thwart malingerers and to cut costs is to charge jail inmates a fee for sick call visits. However, indigent jail inmates cannot be denied medical care.

Jails will continue to struggle in fluctuating economic times and will continue to fiercely compete for taxpayer dollars. Inmate services and safe confinement costs will increase as funding decreases. An example can be found in Harris County, Texas, a three-facility jail system that saw an average 2008 daily population of 10,000 inmates, plus 1,100 inmates transferred to northern Louisiana due to extreme overcrowding. Harris County has an annual $1.5 billion budget, and 25 percent of it is designated to law enforcement, including the jail. From 2006 to 2008, the jail population increased 21 percent. The annual jail expenditure of $200 million strains resources such as jail programs and services. Staff shortages force a payout of $35 million a year in overtime. The costs can be viewed in the medical service area, where jail physicians write $1 million monthly in prescriptions.69

The Future of U.S. Jails

Jails will continue to modernize as the corrections field moves through the twenty-first century. New security hardware, computerized booking systems, better audio and video surveillance systems, and online connections with local, state, and federal law enforcement will only continue to improve jail operations. Budget shortfalls and increased costs will affect the speed of that modernization. Jail agencies and the courts will have to be creative. In Georgia, for example, a pilot program in four courts utilized probation and parole to supervise offenders more and spend less time waiting for a judge. Jail time of offenders awaiting court appearance was reduced over 70 percent, with a two-year savings of $1.1 million.70

Training of jail officers has greatly improved in the last 30 years, thanks to several developments. One has been the development of jail standards from state departments of corrections and organizations such as the American Correctional Association and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC). In 2004, the American Correctional Association published its Performance-Based Standards for Adult Local Detention Facilities (4th edition), revolutionizing standards and accreditation for local jails. Jails seeking ACA accreditation must provide clear documentation that supports compliance with ACA’s expected practices. To meet accreditation is not an easy task; there are a total of 384 expected practices, formerly called standards. In 2004 there were 62 mandatory and 322 expected practices.71 The number of standards can change as corrections progresses. Jails benefit from specification of the training that all jail staff (sworn and civilian) are to receive, as well as (p. 410) recommended procedures. Jail administrators would be wise to follow ACA’s lead. Expected practices are regularly reviewed and updated as necessary by experienced corrections professionals and experts. While some jail staff may feel that ACA jail accreditation is unnecessary and expensive, adherence to standards can enhance operations and provide an effective defense in inmate litigation. The development of standards is not confined to general jail operations. Standards have been and are being developed for ICE detainees and jails’ adherences to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

In many states, jail training is mandated by a state-level criminal justice agency, and officers must pass initial training to be certified and attend periodic in-service training to maintain that certification. Closely tied to this are the many aspects of the jail population, such as the mentally ill, the elderly, female offenders, juveniles held in local jails, offenders who belong to security threat groups, and sex offenders. Each group has its own characteristics and may pose security problems for the jail staff. Training also involves the latest in jail hardware and security systems.

To combat overcrowding, jails must concentrate on improving their community corrections programs where the least-risk offenders are turned away from being incarcerated in the jail, but no less placed under some type of correctional supervision. Work release, community service, fine options (performing community service instead of paying fines), electronic surveillance, and offender labor programs serve as correctional sanctions for offenders who are not behavioral problems and are convicted of public order offenses, nonviolent felonies, and misdemeanors. As a general rule, offenders placed in community corrections programs pose little or no risk to the public; sex offenders are usually excluded.

The new frontier for jails may be in the area of privatization. While the majority of American jails are operated by government entities—regional jail boards, cities, and counties—some jurisdictions have contracted with correctional firms in the private sector, such as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), to operate and staff the local jails. The debate continues whether private businesses can perform more efficiently than sheriffs’ offices or local correctional departments. This is not a clear area. According to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report released in 1996 to Congress, there are several areas of contention. Local sheriffs and correctional departments are responsible for local jail operations by statute; questions arise as to how to turn over such authority to the private sector. Also, local correctional agencies have been responsible for screening, hiring, promoting, and retaining staff, as well as enforcing staff discipline. Professional organizations such as the American Jail Association (AJA) have gone on record opposing jail privatization.72

Some jail operations have been privatized due to cost-saving measures. Food, medical, commissary, and mental health services have been transferred to the private sector in many jails. However, the staff in those areas should undergo security training.

(p. 411) Conclusion

Jails in the United States have had an interesting evolution from their roots in colonial times. Though jails at that time were squalid, harsh, and corrupt, U.S. jails have evolved into modern, clean facilities staffed by professionally trained men and women. Jails are different in many respects from prisons. Jail populations are more fluid and the problems are acute and fresh off the street, adding to the dangers and difficult nature of offenders’ problems that jail officers must face. Jails vary in size and function, but mainly serve to hold offenders in the short term—awaiting trial, sentenced to short periods of confinement, or awaiting transfer to a prison system.

More data have been and are being collected on the characteristics of jail offenders, from lack of vocational skills, low education levels, and substance abuse. This data, along with a look at the mentally ill jail offender, can provide treatment specialists with information to plan jail programs and court intervention strategies, such as mental health courts.

Recently, jails have come under more scrutiny as they have had to deal with security threat groups, such as gangs and racial supremacist groups, and arrests linked to terrorist activities. More jail officers must also undergo specialized training to handle mentally ill offenders and to prevent suicides. While three designs of jail housing have developed that improve staff/inmate contact, jails are offering more programs and administrators are realizing that community corrections programs can serve as an effective safety valve for jail overcrowding.

While there have been many improvements in jail conditions and staff operations, several problems continue to appear, namely inmate litigation in staff sexual misconduct, mistakes in medical care, excessive force by staff, and substandard jail conditions. These problems can be mitigated through the courts, but some proactive jail administrators are using standards compliance and audits to head them off.

Jails must offset costs and take steps to save taxpayer dollars as much as possible. Budget cuts are affecting rehabilitation programs for inmates. While inmate fees for incarceration, medical services, and community corrections participation help somewhat, it will be a large expansion of community corrections and community-based treatment programs that will keep the most offenders out of jail. This is a hard sell to a public citizenry who view incarceration as the most effective way to deal with lawbreakers.


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                                      Lynch, Joseph P., and Charles “Mark” Fuerstenau. 2008. “The Auglaize County Transition Program.” American Jails XXII(5) (November/December): 25–27.Find this resource:

                                        Maruschak, Laura M. 2006. Medical Problems of Jail Inmates, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Washington, DC: GPO.Find this resource:

                                          Minton, Todd D., and William J. Sabol. 2009. Jail Inmates at Midyear 2008 Statistical Tables. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.Find this resource:

                                            Mumola, Christopher J. 2005. Suicide and Homicide in State Prison and Local Jails. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. Washington, DC: GPO.Find this resource:

                                              Petteruti, Amanda, and Nastassia Walsh. 2008. Jailing Communities: The Impact of Jail Expansion and Effective Public Safety Strategies. Washington, DC: Justice Policy Institute. Available at: this resource:

                                                Press, Aric, Jonathan Kirsch, Vern Smith, Michael Reese, and Eric Gelman. 1980. “The Scandalous U.S. Jails.” Newsweek, August 18, 1980, 74–77A.Find this resource:

                                                  Pierson, David, and Megan Garvey. 2009. “More Rioting Erupts at Jails.” Los Angeles Times, February 9, 2009. Available at: this resource:

                                                    Roberts, John W. 1997. Reform and Retribution: An Illustrated History of American Prisons. Lanham, MD: American Correctional Association.Find this resource:

                                                      Seiter, Richard P. 2011. Corrections: An Introduction, 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.Find this resource:

                                                        Sigal, Peter. 2002. “Report Confirms Faulty Conditions at Prison,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 14, 2002. Available at:… (accessed July 23, 2002).Find this resource:

                                                          Solomon, Amy L., Jenny W. L. Osbourne, Stefan F. LoBugliuo, Jeff Mallow, and Debbie Mukamal. 2008. Life after Lockup: Improving Reentry from Jail to the Community. Washington, DC: Urban Institute. Available at: this resource:

                                                            Tangney, June Price, Debra Mashek, and Jeffrey Steuwig. 2007. “Working at the Social-Clinical-Community-Criminology Interface: The George Mason University Inmate Study.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 26(1: 1–28.Find this resource:

                                                              Who’s Who in Jail Management. 2007. Hagerstown: American Jail Association.Find this resource:


                                                                (1) . Gary Cornelius, Jails in America: An Overview of Issues, 2nd ed. (Lanham, MD: American Correctional Association, 1996), 2.

                                                                (2) . Amanda Petteruti and Nastassia Walsh, Jailing Communities: The Impact of Jail Expansion and Effective Public Safety Strategies (Justice Policy Institute, April, 2008), 5,–04_REP_JailingCommunities_AC.pdf.

                                                                (3) . American Correctional Association, 2009–2010 National Jail and Adult Detention Directory (Alexandria: American Correctional Association, 2009), 10.

                                                                (4) . Petteruti and Walsh, 5.

                                                                (5) . Doris J. James, Profile of Jail Inmates, 2002, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, July 2004, 2.

                                                                (6) . Petteruti and Walsh, 5.

                                                                (7) . Allegheny County Jail, 2006 Annual Report, p. 21.

                                                                (8) . Dean J. Champion, Corrections in the United States: A Contemporary Perspective, 4th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005), 202.

                                                                (9) . Champion, 202.

                                                                (10) . Tod Kemble, “Jails in America,” Texas Journal of Corrections (May-June 1996), 14.

                                                                (11) . Kemble, 14.

                                                                (12) . Champion, 203.

                                                                (13) . Kemble, 14.

                                                                (14) . John W. Roberts, Reform and Retribution: An Illustrated History of American Prisons (Lanham, MD: American Correctional Association, 1997), 14.

                                                                (15) . Gary F. Cornelius, The American Jail: Cornerstone of Modern Corrections (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008), 13–15.

                                                                (16) . Richard P. Seiter, Corrections: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2011), 21.

                                                                (17) . Roberts, 26, 27.

                                                                (18) . Seiter, 22–24.

                                                                (19) . Cornelius, The American Jail, 23.

                                                                (20) . Cornelius, The American Jail, 23–31.

                                                                (21) . American Jail Association, Who’s Who in Jail Management, 5th ed. (Hagerstown: American Jail Association, 2007), 413–422.

                                                                (22) . Cornelius, Jails in America, 4.

                                                                (23) . Cornelius, The American Jail, 378–383.

                                                                (24) . American Correctional Association, Performance-Based Standards for Adult Local Detention Facilities, 4th ed. (Lanham, MD: American Correctional Association, 2004), 12.

                                                                (25) . Cornelius, The American Jail, 15–16.

                                                                (26) . Cornelius, The American Jail, 24.

                                                                (27) . Seiter, 86–89.

                                                                (28) . Kenneth Kerle, Exploring Jail Operations (Hagerstown: American Jail Association, 2003), 276–277.

                                                                (29) . Aric Press, Jonathan Kirsch, Vern Smith, Michael Reese, and Eric Gelman, “The Scandalous U.S. Jails,” Newsweek, August 18, 1980, 74–77A.

                                                                (30) . Seiter, 95–96.

                                                                (31) . “Cook County Jail Fails,” Correctional Mental Health Report 10, no. 4 (November/December 2008), 49, 50, 56, 58, 60.

                                                                (32) . “Dallas County Jail: No Place to Be,” Correctional Mental Health Report 11, no. 3 (September/October 2009), 48.

                                                                (33) . William Collins, Esq., Jail and Prison Legal Issues: An Administrator’s Guide (Hagerstown: American Jail Association, 2004), chapter 3, p. 57.

                                                                (34) . Captain Frank Leonbruno, “How to Reduce Inmate Sexual Assault and Coercion: Part 1: How Prevalent Is Sexual Assault Behind Bars?” The Corrections Professional 14(3) (August 2008): 1, 6.

                                                                (35) . Peter Sigal, “Report Confirms Faulty Conditions at Prison,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 14, 2002, … (accessed July 23, 2002).

                                                                (36) . Cornelius, The American Jail, 26, 42.

                                                                (37) . Todd D. Minton and William J. Sabol, Ph.D., Bureau of Justice Statistics, Jail Inmates at Midyear 2008 Statistical Tables. Tables 1, 2, 7, 8,9,11.

                                                                (38) . Doris J. James, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Profile of Jail Inmates, 2002, revised 10/12/04, Washington, DC: GPO, 2004, p. 8.

                                                                (39) . Ibid, 8.

                                                                (40) . Ibid, 9.

                                                                (41) . Caroline Wolf Harlow, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Education and Correctional Populations, Washington, DC: GPO, 2003, 1.

                                                                (42) . James, Profile, 1.

                                                                (43) . James, Profile, 1.

                                                                (44) . Laura M. Maruschak, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Medical Problems of Jail Inmates, Washington, DC: GPO, 2006, 1.

                                                                (45) . Petteruti and Walsh, 9.

                                                                (46) . Petteruti and Walsh, 24.

                                                                (47) . Minton and Sabol, Jail Inmates at Midyear 2008, Table 4.

                                                                (48) . Greg Latshaw, “Jail’s Substance Abuse Program Will Get Axed.”, May 7, 2010, (accessed May 28, 2010).

                                                                (49) . Amy L. Solomon, Jenny W.L. Osbourne, Stefan F. LoBugliuo, Jeff Mallow, Debbie Mukamal, Life after Lockup: Improving Reentry from Jail to the Community, Urban Institute, 2008, 12

                                                                (50) . Solomon et al., xv.

                                                                (51) . Joseph P. Lynch and Charles “Mark” Fuerstenau, “The Auglaize County Transition Program,” American Jails, November/December 2008, 25–26.

                                                                (52) . Ibid., 26.

                                                                (53) . June Price Tangney, Debra Mashek, and Jeffrey Steuwig, “Working at the Social-Clinical-Community-Criminology Interface: The George Mason University Inmate Study,” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 26(1) (2007): 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 13.

                                                                (54) . Seiter, 143.

                                                                (55) . American Correctional Association, 2009–2010 National Jail and Adult Detention Directory (Alexandria: American Correctional Association, 2009), 426, 427, 432.

                                                                (56) . Seiter, 176–177.

                                                                (57) . California State Sheriffs’ Association, “Do the Crime, Do the Time? Maybe Not in California,” June 2006, (accessed May 29, 2010).

                                                                (58) . David Pierson and Megan Garvey, “More Rioting Erupts at Jails,” Los Angeles Times, February 9, 2009,

                                                                (59) . Cornelius, The American Jail, 109, 111.

                                                                (60) . Cornelius, The American Jail, 110, 114.

                                                                (61) . Doris J. James and Lauren E. Glaze, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Mental Health Problems of Prisons and Jail Inmates, (Washington, DC: GPO, 2006), 1, 2.

                                                                (62) . Petteruti and Walsh, 16.

                                                                (63) . Ibid, 16.

                                                                (64) . Domingo S. Herraiz, Mental Health Courts Program, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Washington, DC: GPO,–10–08 (accessed April 6, 2010).

                                                                (65) . Christopher J. Mumola, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Suicide and Homicide in State Prison and Local Jails (Washington, DC: GPO, 2005), 1.

                                                                (66) . Erin Guidice, “Inmate Suicides at a Record Low for Orange County, California, Jail System,” American Jails, January/February 2003, 69–71.

                                                                (67) . Petteruti and Walsh, 18.

                                                                (68) . Ibid, 18.

                                                                (69) . Jesse Bogan, “America’ Jail Crisis,”, July 13, 2009, (accessed December 15, 2009).

                                                                (70) . Bogan, “America’ Jail Crisis.”

                                                                (71) . American Correctional Association, Performance-Based Standards for Adult Local Detention Facilities, 4th ed. (Lanham, MD: American Correctional Association, 2004), xxviii, xxix.

                                                                (72) . Cornelius, The American Jail, 45.