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Psu Zajac Examination of Pa Rural County Jails Dec 2012

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An Examination of
Pennsylvania Rural County Jails
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An Examination of Pennsylvania Rural County Jails
By:
Gary Zajac, Ph.D. and Lindsay Kowalski, M.A.
Pennsylvania State University

December 2012

This project was sponsored by a grant from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a legislative agency of
the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
The Center for Rural Pennsylvania is a bipartisan, bicameral legislative agency that serves as a resource
for rural policy within the Pennsylvania General Assembly. It was created in 1987 under Act 16, the Rural Revitalization Act, to promote and sustain the vitality of Pennsylvania’s rural and small communities.
Information contained in this report does not necessarily reflect the views of individual board members
or the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. For more information, contact the Center for Rural Pennsylvania,
625 Forster St., Room 902, Harrisburg, PA 17120, telephone (717) 787-9555, email: info@rural.palegislature.us, www.rural.palegislature.us.

Executive Summary
This study examined the operation
of Pennsylvania’s 44 rural county
jails.
County jails, in general, face a
unique set of challenges, including
large numbers of inmates who spend
a short time in custody, difficulty in
classifying and assessing a shortterm inmate population, providing
treatment services to inmates who
may be in custody for only a short
period, and financial issues related
to inmate medical costs and strained
county budgets.
Pennsylvania county jails, in recent
years, have begun to serve as a relief
valve for the increasingly strained
state prison system. Since 2009, the
state system has transferred hundreds
of inmates to county jails, as many of
these jails have excess capacity.
This research examined trends
in rural county jail populations and
demographics, jail capacity, capital
projects and development (undertaken and planned), budgets, and
staffing from 2004 through 2011.
This study also documented the
types of treatment programs and
services being offered at the jails and
compared them to what is known
about effective offender rehabilitation practices. It also explored fiscal
and other challenges facing the 44
rural county jails.

Table of Contents
Introduction.......................... 5
Goals and Objectives.......... 6
Methodology........................ 6
Results ................................ 7
Conclusions....................... 19
Policy Considerations........ 20
References........................ 21

The researchers used data collected
by the Pennsylvania Department
of Corrections (PADOC) as part of
its annual obligatory inspections of
county jails. The researchers also
conducted a survey of county jail
wardens/sheriffs to collect information on planned major capital projects and financial challenges facing
the jails.
The research found that the
system-wide average annual total
rural jail population (2004-2011)
was 7,520 inmates per year, which is
22 percent of the total Pennsylvania
county jail population in 2009 (that
is all 63 county jails combined). The
rural county jail population grew by
17 percent from 2004 to 2010.
There was significant variation in
the size of rural county jail populations, with the smallest rural jail
housing 26 inmates per year, on average, and the largest rural jail housing
421 inmates per year, on average.
Thus, the largest rural jail housed
more than 10 times the number of
inmates as the smallest.
The rural jail population was overwhelmingly young, white, and male.
While some jails had an excess
of inmates, on average, the rural
county jail system was operating at
84 percent of capacity during the
study period. By way of comparison,
PADOC operated at 113 percent of
capacity.
During the period of June 2009
through December 2010, PADOC
transferred 1,507 state inmates
to nine rural county jails through
contractual agreements to relieve the
burden on the state system.
The average cost-per-day, perinmate in the rural county jail system
was $60.41, and ranged from a low
of $37.54 to a high of $127.71. By
way of comparison, the average

cost-per-day, per-inmate in the state
system was $88.23.
Nineteen of the 44 rural county
jails (43 percent) reported having
undertaken a major capital expansion or restoration project during the
study period. However, 92 percent of
responding jails reported having no
new capital projects planned, in spite
of 44 percent of responding jails reporting a major capital project need.
All of the jails reported offering
some sort of rehabilitative and related programming during the study
period, although two of the most
common types of programming were
educational/vocational and general
psychological counseling, both of
which are generally mandated under
law or as part of accreditation standards. Drug and alcohol programming was also universally offered,
although the most common mode
for the service was self-help groups,
which are not found to be effective,
according to the research literature.
There was less evidence of intensive programs that address key recidivism risk factors, such as programs
addressing anti-social attitudes
and decision-making skills. Only a
minority of jails clearly offered such
programs.
Rural county jails also offered a
wide variety of programs for which
the evidence of effectiveness is unclear (such as general life skills programs), or where the research clearly
indicates no impact on recidivism
(such as meditation and art therapy).
In sum, Pennsylvania’s rural county jails represent a potential source of
bed space for the state prison system.
While rehabilitative programs are offered, county jails could place more
focus on programs that have been
shown to be effective.

Introduction

is roughly the norm of county jails nationwide, and is
a fraction of the size of a typical state prison (Allen et
County jails are becoming increasingly important to
al., 2007). For example, a typical state prison in PennPennsylvania’s overall correctional system, in recent
sylvania houses between 1,000 and 2,000 inmates, with
years housing inmates from the rapidly growing state
some prisons housing more than 3,000. Many indiprison system. However, data and information about
vidual cell blocks in Pennsylvania state prisons house
county jails are incomplete and fragmented, and little
more inmates than the average rural county jail. Thus, it
formal research has been done on services provided by is difficult for many county jails to support specialized
county jails, especially those in rural areas.
staff positions and treatment services.
In Pennsylvania, as in most states, the 63 county jails
However, the populations and capacities of county
operate under policies and procedures promulgated by
jails vary. Urban jails, such as those in Allegheny and
county government. As of January 30, 2009, 44 rural
Philadelphia counties, are often in the same position as
Pennsylvania counties operated their own jails1, with a
large state prison systems – too many inmates and too
total population of 6,995 inmates, representing nearly
few beds. In rural jails, however, the opposite may be
21 percent of the 33,580 total county jail inmates in
true. Bennett and Lattin (2009) found that rural jails naPennsylvania (PADOC, 2009).
tionwide may have excess bed capacity, which provides
In addition to county government, an overlay of state an opportunity to “sell” available bed space to other lolaw and regulations also govern these jails’ reporting re- cal jails or state correctional institutions. In Pennsylvaquirements (37 Pa. Code Ch 952), and the Pennsylvania nia, PADOC has been able to use the excess capacity in
Department of Corrections (PADOC) conducts inspecrural county jails as a relief valve for the rapid growth
tions of county jails and provides training to county
in the state prison population, while also providing revjail staff3. However, Pennsylvania’s 63 county jails still enue to the counties that house state inmates (PADOC,
represent separate correctional systems, which present a 2008, 2010).
challenge to comprehensive jail development efforts.
Act 81 of 2008 established new guidance on which
County jails also face a unique set of challenges
sentenced offenders are committed to state prison
(Allen et al., 2007). Unlike state prisons, which typiversus county jails. Previously, the typical pattern was
cally house only sentenced inmates, county jails are
that offenders sentenced to 2 years or less would be
responsible for a complex mix of sentenced offenders,
committed to a county jail, those sentenced to 5 years
presentenced detainees, and others. Detainees can make or more would go to a state prison, and those with
up half of a jail’s population at any given time (Allen et sentences between 2 and 5 years could go to either, a
al., 2007). Due to the large proportion of detainees, the decision typically left to the discretion of the sentencpopulation of county jails is often less predictable and
ing judge. However, Act 81 requires that, as of Nomore transient than that of state prisons, posing chalvember 2011, offenders with sentences of 2 to 5 years
lenges for proper inmate classification. Moreover, the
be committed to state prison (with some exceptions).
typical sentenced county jail inmate serves a relatively
It is possible that Act 81 will result in more sentenced
short time (less than a year), making it difficult to
offenders being committed to an already stressed state
deliver meaningful treatment and educational and other system (Pew Center on the States, 2010). While it is
services (Allen et al., 2007). Further, it is often difficult unclear how many inmates might then potentially be
to know what type of services to provide to the presen- housed back in county jails under the state-county
tenced detainees, given that some may be released on
transfer mechanism, the policy change reinforces the
bail at any moment, and it is difficult to mandate proneed for research on county jail populations, capacity,
gramming for those who have yet to be convicted since and services.
their status as “offenders” has not been established.
County jails are complex and under-researched
Pennsylvania county jail populations are typically
components of the overall correctional system and are
smaller than state prison populations. This study found often challenging to study due to local control and fragthat the January 31, 2011 average in-house rural county mented data systems (Allen et al., 2007). Pennsylvania
jail population in Pennsylvania was 172 inmates. This
is witnessing an increased use of excess county jail

1. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, the four rural counties that do not operate their own jails are Cameron, Forest, Fulton and Sullivan.
2. For more information about reporting requirements, see http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/037/chapter95/chap95toc.html#95.242.
3. For more information about the county jail inspection process, see http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/hide_county_jails/11433.

An Examination of Pennsylvania Rural County Jails 	

5

capacity to relieve pressure on the growing state prison
population, thus making it important to examine county
jail population trends, operations, cost structures, and
services.

Goals and Objectives
This project, conducted in 2011, examined Pennsylvania’s rural county jails, including population trends
and infrastructure, using data from an 8-year study period, primarily defined as January 2004 through January 2011 (as data permitted).
There were two primary research goals. The first was
to measure population trends for Pennsylvania’s 44
rural county jails over the study period to: determine
the annual population for each rural county jail for each
year during the study period; examine how the rural
county jail population compares to jail capacity, and
how this has changed during the study period; determine the demographic breakdown of the rural county
jail population (gender, race, age), including how it has
changed; and examine the extent to which rural county
jails have been housing offenders from other jurisdictions (state, federal, and other counties).
The second goal was to examine jail infrastructure,
including physical plant, finances, staffing, and programs, over the study period to: determine the major
capital projects4 undertaken at each rural county jail
during the study period; identify planned major capital
projects at each rural county jail; examine each rural
county jail’s perceived major capital project needs;
determine the current operating budget for each rural
county jail, including how it has changed and how per
inmate costs compare to the state prison system; examine each rural county jail’s perceived major financial
challenges over the next 5 years; determine the current
staffing level (including staffing ratios) for each rural
county jail, using the staff categories of corrections officers, treatment staff, jail administration/management,
support staff, and other5; and identify treatment/rehabilitative services/programs (drug treatment, GED, etc.)
offered at each rural county jail.
Finally, the researchers offered policy considerations.

Methodology
This research used the Center for Rural Pennsylvania’s definitions of rural and urban counties, which
identify 48 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties as rural6.
The research used existing administrative data and
collected original data through a survey to compile a
dataset on Pennsylvania’s rural county jails. As previously stated, most states’ county jails are county
controlled agencies with data systems that tend to be
fragmented and incomplete7. Moreover, there is no
comprehensive, national or state-level data source on
county jail populations. Several existing administrative data sources within Pennsylvania, such as Justice
Network (JNET) and PADOC Legacy Data, were either
accessible only to law enforcement (JNET8) or too fragmented to be used (PADOC Legacy Data9). Therefore,
the research used data from PADOC’s Office of County
Inspection Services (OCIS), the U.S. Department of
Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), and an
original, follow-up survey of rural county jails. Table 1
identifies specific data sources for each research question.

PADOC OCIS Data
The PADOC operates the Office of County Inspection and Services (OCIS), which, among other tasks,
conducts an annual survey and physical inspection
of county jails. Information collected in this process
pertains to summary population data, as well as basic
information on staffing, budgets, and related matters10.
PADOC OCIS offered three relevant data sources: the
General Information Form (GIF); the Supplemental
Information Form (SIF); and in-house electronic data
files.
The GIF is a paper survey mailed to each jail annually, with a relatively high response rate from rural
county jails (95-100 percent for 2006-2011). Unfortunately, PADOC’s retention of GIFs was limited to 2006
through 2011. Additionally, the GIF contains some
questions related to a “snapshot date” in the year coincident with when the form is received (e.g., population
on January 31, 2011), while other items ask for data

4. For the research, “major capital projects” were considered to be more extensive building or renovation projects, which may include building a new jail, adding
a new building within a jail, or other related types of construction activities. They would not include minor repairs or small expansions of an existing unit.
5. The staffing categories were based on those derived by Young et al. (2009).
6. The Center for Rural Pennsylvania defines a county as rural when the number of persons per square mile within the county is less than 284. Counties that
have 284 persons or more per square mile are considered urban.
7. County jails are run by the state DOC in the following six states: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Vermont. In all other states,
county jails are locally controlled.
8. For more information on JNET reporting see http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=14682&mode=2&PageID=599922.
9. PADOC Legacy Data refer to data the county jails are supposed to report on a daily and monthly basis to the PADOC pursuant to 37 Pa. Code Ch 95. The
data, however, have been inconsistently reported by counties over the years. The study could not use the data because some data were missing.
10. For more information on the OCIS see http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/hide_county_jails/11433.

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The Center for Rural Pennsylvania

Table 1: Data Sources for Each Research Question of these national data collection efforts are dependent
upon the willingness of each county jail to respond.
Data from these sources were used to run quality assurance checks and to fill in data gaps wherever possible.

Primary Survey Data

from the previous year (e.g., total annual admissions
2010). Thus, a missing GIF would impact data collection for both the given year and the previous year.
PADOC OCIS also provided the two relevant SIF
sections, related to staffing and services/programs. The
SIF is a longer inspection form that an OCIS inspector completes during the inspection process. While the
PADOC maintained SIF records for 2004-2010, the SIF
is only conducted (and available) for a county if the
county was not 100 percent compliant with OCIS regulations in the previous year. Therefore, if a county was
compliant in one year, the SIF for the following year
would be unavailable. In no year were there SIF data
missing for more than 19 counties (43 percent).
Finally, the PADOC provided its in-house 2004-2011
electronic data files, which augment data available in
the GIF. These electronic files were used to run quality
assurance checks and fill data gaps where possible.

BJS Data
BJS conducts an Annual Survey of Jails, and a National Jail Census, and from this data, produces various reports11. These datasets are accessible through the
National Archive of Criminal Justice Data12. The Annual Survey of Jails was available for a good portion of
the relevant study period (2001-2004 and 2006-2009).
One limitation of this source, however, is that it uses a
representative sample, and does not capture every jail.
Therefore, only 15 Pennsylvania rural county jails, or
34 percent, were included each year. The National Jail
Census is more comprehensive, reaching all relevant
jails, but was only available for 2005. Moreover, both

The researchers conducted a mail survey to capture supplementary or missing information related to
approved/planned capital projects, perceived capital
project needs, and perceived financial challenges. The
survey also requested respondents to include GIFs that
were missing or other documents/records with similar
data. This item was unique to jails, based upon which
GIFs were missing for that jail13.
The survey was mailed to the 44 wardens/sheriffs14
of each rural county jail. The final response rate was 82
percent (36 jails). There was no pattern to the non-respondents in terms of geography or jail characteristics,
so the non-responses appeared random. From a methodological point of view, random non-response is much
less problematic than systematic non-response.

Codebook and Database
The researchers created a codebook and database to
manage and analyze the data. The database included
all relevant research items: inmate population and
demographic trends, infrastructure and financial issues,
staffing and programming statistics. The original study
period was to cover a 10-year span of January 2001
through December 2010. However, a combination of
data limitations and the availability of some data for
2011 resulted in adjusting the study period. Generally,
however, the study period was limited to January 2004
through January 2011.

Results
In general, the results are presented according to
overall rural jail system findings, such as for all 44 rural
county jails combined and denoted as “system-wide”
or “overall,” and average rural county jail findings,
denoted as “per jail.” This allows for an understanding
of the rural county jail system as a whole, while also
creating a profile of a typical rural county jail. As noted
in the findings that follow, there is substantial variation

11. For more information on these reports visit http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=1.
12. For more information on the NACJD visit http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/NACJD/.
13. GIFs were missing for every jail for 2002-2005. GIFs were also missing from Franklin County for 2006 and 2008; Lawrence County for 2009; Montour
County for 2010; and Schuylkill County for 2009. GIFs for 2001 were not requested as the 2011 GIFs were available, thus providing the sought-after 10-year
study period.
14. In most states, jails are run by the sheriff’s office. Pennsylvania jails, however, are typically run by wardens, who are not associated with the sheriff’s
office, except for McKean and Potter county jails, which are run by the dually titled warden/sheriff.

An Examination of Pennsylvania Rural County Jails 	

7

Figure 1: Overall Annual Rural Jail Inmate Population
(2004-2011)

Source: PADOC, BJS

among county jails, as some house only a few dozen
inmates while others house hundreds. Thus, the portrait
of a “typical” rural county jail should be understood in
light of these variations.

Jail Population

in-house population, there were an average of
3,536 presentenced detainees per year, and an
average of 3,739 sentenced inmates per year
(2006-2011). In other words, approximately
one-half of the overall in-house population
was comprised of presentenced detainees.
The average in-house population per jail
was 162 inmates per year (2004-2011), with
a minimum average of 26 inmates per year in
Montour County, and a maximum average of
421 inmates per year in Cambria County. As
with the overall proportions, the presentenced
detainees represented approximately half of
the in-house population. There were an average of 80 in-house presentenced detainees per jail each
year and an average of 85 sentenced inmates per jail
each year (2006-2011)16.
System-wide, Pennsylvania’s rural county jails
housed an average of 379 inmates elsewhere per year
(2006-2011) (See Table 2). As discussed later in the
results, Pennsylvania’s rural county jails received an average of 781 inmates per year (2005-2011) from other
jurisdictions (state, federal, other county, etc.). The ru-

The system-wide average annual total rural jail population (2004-2011) was 7,520 inmates per year (See
Figure 1). This average annual total was 22 percent of
the total population for all 63 county
jails combined in 2009 (PADOC,
Table 2: Average Number of Inmates Housed Elsewhere,
2009). There were a minimum of
by County Jail (2006-2011)
6,891 total rural jail inmates in 2004,
and a maximum of 8,074 total inmates
in 2010. Thus, the rural county jail
system grew by 17 percent over the
survey period.
The average annual total population per jail was 171 inmates per year
(2004-2010), with a minimum average of 34 inmates per year in Montour
County, and a maximum average
of 425 inmates per year in Cambria
County. Thus, as noted above, there is
significant variation in the size of rural
county jails, with the largest rural jail
being more than 10 times the total size
of the smallest.
System-wide, Pennsylvania’s rural
county jails averaged 7,105 total
in-house inmates15 per year (20042011), which is less than one-tenth of
1 percent of Pennsylvania’s average
Note: Underline denotes the top five counties in terms of number of inmates housed elsewhere.
Source: PADOC.
population during the period. Of this

15. The research defined “in-house inmates” are those who are presently housed in the jail, since at any given time, some inmates may be out of the jail for
various reasons, such as on work release or housed in another facility.
16. Jails reported total population and in-house population counts for a “snapshot date” (the last business day in January for that year) and calculations are
based on these snapshot figures.

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The Center for Rural Pennsylvania

Figure 2: Overall Rural County Jail Admissions
and Discharges (2005-2010)

Source: PADOC, BJS.

Figure 3: Overall Rural County Jail
Percentage of Capacity (2005-2010)

Source: PADOC, BJS.

ral county jail system, then, receives almost double the
number of inmates from other jurisdictions as it houses
elsewhere.
Of the 11 jails that had averages greater than the
system-wide average for housing inmates elsewhere, 10
were actually below capacity during the study period.
This finding is partly explained by the fact that most
jails are under capacity.
As may be expected, most of the jails that had high
averages for inmates housed elsewhere (seven jails,
64 percent) also had high average costs-per-day, perinmate. There was no discernible pattern between the
age of the institution and whether it was likely to house
inmates elsewhere. Thus, costs-per-day may play an important role in how jails shift inmates to other counties.
System-wide, the average total admissions for rural
jails were 55,979 per year, and average total discharges
were 55,563 per year (2005-2010) (See Figure 2). The
admission and discharge statistics are indicative of a
correctional system characterized by a large and rapid
turnover of its inmate population. As discussed earlier,
this is not unusual for county jails. By comparison,
the state prison system admitted an average of 16,331
inmates and discharged an average of 16,026 inmates
during 2005-2009 (PADOC, 2011a).
There was an average of 1,272 admissions and 1,264
discharges per jail during the study period (2005-2010).
An Examination of Pennsylvania Rural County Jails 	

Jail Population versus Capacity

Capacity refers to the number of available beds. Percentage of capacity may be
calculated as the proportion of available bed
space comprised by the in-house inmate
population. Where there are more inmates
than available beds, a jail is said to be “over
capacity.” Despite an increasing overall total
population, the capacity of Pennsylvania’s
rural jail system has also increased (and,
thus, percentage of capacity has decreased).
Overall, the rural county jail system averaged
84 percent capacity per year (2005-2010),
with a minimum of 78 percent capacity in
2010, and a maximum of 86 percent capacity in 2005 and 2006 (See Figure 3). By
comparison, the state system operated at 113
percent average capacity during the 20052009 time period (PADOC, 2011a).
On average, only three county jails (7
percent) were over capacity during the study
period (2005-2010). Of the 41 jails that were
below capacity, 25 (61 percent) had low
average costs-per-day, per-inmate (defined
as having averages less than the system-wide average) during the study period. There was no discernible
pattern between the age of the facility and its capacity. Once again, since the vast majority of jails were
under capacity (i.e. there is a very small sample of over
capacity jails), it is difficult to conduct meaningful
analyses of the differences between over- and undercapacity jails.
Per jail, capacity ranged widely, from a minimum of
22 percent average annual capacity in Potter County
to a maximum of 121 percent annual average capacity
in Indiana County (See Table 3 on Page 10). As previously mentioned, this sort of variation exemplifies the
perspective that simply reporting system-wide figures
masks important differences between each jail. To address the question of how jails handle excess capacity,
the rated capacity of a correctional institution can be
calculated in various ways (Bennett and Lattin, 2009).
In general, though, common variables used in most
capacity calculations include the number of physically
present beds, the size of the cells, the age of the facility, available staff, and programming and other services
available. Capacity, then, is more than just the number
of beds available. Capacity represents the “ideal” number of inmates that can be managed in a given facility,
although in reality, additional inmates can be added by
placing additional beds into larger cells or by converting common areas of the jail, such as gyms, auditori9

Table 3: Average Percentage of Capacity,
by County Jail (2005-2010)

Note: Underline denotes jails that were over capacity, on average. Source:
PADOC, BJS.

ums and even conference rooms, to sleeping areas. Capacity can also be a fluid construct, especially in county
jails, which, as noted earlier, can fluctuate in population
from day to day. Thus, if there is a spate of arrests on
a given day, a jail that is normally under capacity may
become temporarily over capacity. Ideally, jails want
to be at or near their rated capacity (Bennett and Lattin, 2009). A jail severely over capacity runs the risk
of inmate disturbances, staff injuries, and even inmate
litigation due to poor living conditions. Conversely, a
jail that is consistently and significantly under capacity
may represent a waste of resources. As shown in Table
3, two of the three over-capacity rural jails (McKean
and Schuylkill) are only slightly over their rated capacity, with the third (Indiana) being the highest, at 121
percent. Many of the jails under capacity were near the
90 percent range, which does allow for the temporary
population spikes that are characteristic of county jails.

Population Demographics
Males represented an average of 88 percent of total
rural county jail inmates per year, and females represented 12 percent of overall inmates per year (20042011). System-wide, there were average totals of 6,231

male inmates per year and 889 female inmates per year
(2004-2011).
Per jail, there were averages of 142 males and 20
females per year during the study period (2004-2011).
This gender breakdown is typical of correctional systems in general, with males constituting the larger share
of the inmate population.
During the study period (2004-2011), on average,
white inmates represented about 77 percent of all rural
county jail inmates per year (See Table 4). It is more
difficult to establish whether the racial/ethnic breakdown
is typical of correctional systems in general, as the racial
composition of a county correctional institution is highly
dependent on the racial demographics of the local community. It is not surprising, though, to find a large white
population housed in these rural county jails.
Inmates younger than 30 years old represented half
of the average total rural county jail inmate population
during the study period (2004-2011)17. The systemwide annual averages, and respective percentages, for
each age category are presented in Table 5. There is a
very small number of inmates under the age of 18. The
federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
Act (JJDPA) generally requires that juveniles not be
held in secure facilities with adults, but in cases where
temporary housing may occur, the juveniles are held so
as to ensure “sight and sound” separation between adult
and juvenile offenders; in other words, there can be no
mixing of the two populations. Each state is required to
monitor compliance with the JJDPA. In Pennsylvania,
the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency maintains the Secure Detention Monitoring
Project to audit and enforce compliance with this act18.
In practice, juveniles may periodically end up being
detained in county jails (or police lock-ups) until their
identities and ages are determined, at which point other
housing arrangements are made, such as transfer to a
juvenile facility or
Table 4: Average Annual Rural
release to parents.
County Jail Population, by
Thus, a small
Race/Ethnicity (2004-2011)
number of inmates
under the age of
18 will invariably
show up in county
jail data sets.
Large proportions of the inmate
*Total greater than 100 percent due to
population are in
rounding. Source: PADOC, BJS.

17. Data were missing for 2005; analyses were based on data from 2004 and 2006-2011.
18. For more information about PCCD’s compliance monitoring efforts visit http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt?open=512&objID=5411&&PageI
D=495426&level=3&css=L3&mode=2.

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The Center for Rural Pennsylvania

Table 5: Average Annual Rural
County Jail Population, by Age
Category (2004-2011)

Figure 4: Overall Rural County Jail In-House Inmates
from Other Jurisdictions (2005-2011)

Source: PADOC, BJS.
Source: PADOC.

their 20s and 30s, which is typical
of correctional systems in general.
As with gender, this reflects deeper
age-graded patterns of criminal offending, which are largely invariant
nationally; younger people are more
criminally active than older people,
which has been well-established
in the criminal justice research for
decades (Blumstein et al., 1986).

Figure 5: Overall Percentage of Rural County Jail In-House
Population Comprised of Other-Jurisdiction Transfers
(2005-2011)

Source: PADOC, BJS.

Inter-jurisdiction Transfers
System-wide, rural county jails
housed 779 inmates per year, on
average, from other jurisdictions
(2005-2011), with a minimum of
643 other-jurisdiction inmates per
year in 2006, and maximum of 995
other-jurisdiction inmates per year
in 2011 (See Figure 4).
Of the 12 jails that had higher averages on housing other-jurisdiction
inmates than the system-wide average, 11, or 92 percent, were below
capacity during the study period.
Somewhat paradoxically, however,
half of the jails that were high on
housing other-jurisdiction inmates
(six jails, 50 percent) were also
high on housing their own inmates
elsewhere. To be sure, inmates can
be housed out of jurisdiction for
a number of reasons, including
overcrowding in the home institution (which, according to the data
collected for this study, is less of an
issue), conflicts with other inmates

in the home institution, need for
specialized services, pursuant to
court orders, or at the petition of
the inmate (e.g., a sentenced inmate
may actually be from another
county and petitions to be housed in
his home county to facilitate contact
with family).
As may be expected, most of the
jails that were high for housing
other-jurisdiction inmates (seven
jails, 58 percent) had low average
costs-per-day, per-inmate. There
was no discernible pattern between
the age of the facility and whether
it was likely to house other-jurisdiction inmates.
Other-jurisdiction inmates, on
average, represented 11 percent
of the system-wide average total
in-house population (2005-2011).
The percentage of in-house inmates
comprised by inmates from other
jurisdictions, per year, is shown in
Figure 5.

An Examination of Pennsylvania Rural County Jails 	

The average number of in-house
inmates from other jurisdictions per
year (2005-2011), for each rural
county jail, is shown in Table 6 on
Page 12.
PADOC entered into agreements
with nine rural county jails (plus
six additional urban county jails) to
house excess inmates, with the first
transfers beginning in June 2009.
As of December 2010, PADOC
transferred a total of 1,507 inmates
to nine rural county jails19. These
jails are shown in Table 7 (Page 12),
along with the number of PADOC
inmates transferred and the average
cost-per-day, per-inmate for each jail
(2009-2010 average)20. The average
cost-per-day to house an inmate in
19. An additional 433 state inmates were transferred to six urban county jails.
20. The number of PADOC transfers is not necessarily included in the data for in-house inmates
from other jurisdictions, and the average cost-perday, per-inmate is not necessarily the cost charged
to the PADOC for housing state inmates.

11

Table 6: Average Number of In-House Inmates from
Other-Jurisdictions, by County Jail (2005-2011)

jails, defined as having averages greater than
the system-wide average. Most of them (18
jails, 95 percent), however, were below capacity. Again, since the majority of jails were
under capacity, it is difficult to explore differences between over- and under-capacity jails
that undertook major capital projects.
Most of the jails that had major capital
projects were not heavily involved in inmate
transfers; they were low on both housing their
own inmates elsewhere (12 jails, 63 percent),
and housing other-jurisdiction inmates (13
jails, 68 percent).
There was no discernible pattern between
the age of the facility and major capital projects undertaken.

Planned Capital Projects
Rural county jail wardens were asked to
describe current, approved plans to renovate,
expand, or conduct any other major capital
projects. Four jails described major capital
projects underway or planned, including roof
Note: Underline denotes the top five counties in terms of the number of other-jurisdicrenovation, completion of a geothermal projtion inmates. Source: PADOC, BJS.
ect, construction of a new work release center,
PADOC was $89.82 in fiscal year 2009-2010 (PADOC, and expansion of the current intake/booking area. The
majority of the 36 survey respondents (33 jails, 92 per2011b).
cent) reported no capital projects planned or underway.
Of the four jails with capital projects planned, three
Major Capital Projects Undertaken
were low (defined as having averages below the sysNineteen jails (43 percent of all rural county jails)
tem-wide mean) in terms of population (2004-2010),
self-reported and described 26 major capital projects
capacity (2005-2010), and housing inmates elsewhere
undertaken during the study period, including eight new
(2006-2011). Two were high for housing other-jurisdicfacility constructions and 18 expansions, renovations,
tion inmates (2005-2011), and three had high average
or additions (2001-2010).
costs-per-day, per-inmate (2004-2010).
Of the 19 jails with major capital projects during the
study period, 11 (58 percent) were high population

Perceived Major Capital Project Needs

Table 7: Total Number of PADOC Inmate Transfers
and Average Cost-per-Day, per-Inmate, by
Receiving County (2009-2010)

Rural county jail wardens were asked to describe any
unmet major renovation, expansion, or other project
needs. Sixteen wardens (44 percent of the 36 responTable 8: Number of Respondents Reporting a
Major Capital Project Need, by Project Category

*Average Cost-Per-Day, Per-Inmate for Lawrence County is from
2007 only (the most recent figure available). Source: PADOC.

12	

Source: Survey (36 respondents).

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania

Table 9: Average Annual Approved Budget (2005-2011) and
Average Annual Budget Spent (2005-2010), by County Jail

jor capital need were low on
both housing their own inmates
elsewhere (17 jails) and housing
other-jurisdiction inmates (16
jails).
Six of the 10 jails with a major
capital project need had high average costs-per-day, per-inmate;
and 17 of those without a need
had low average costs-per-day,
per-inmate. Thus, reporting a
need for a major capital project
may reflect a desire to reduce the
cost-per-day, per-inmate by constructing more modern and cost
efficient facilities.
There also was no discernible
pattern between the current age
of the facility and major capital
project needs.

Current Operating Budget
System-wide, the average
total approved budget for the
44 rural county jails combined
dents) self-reported major capital project needs. They
was $155,887,586 per year (2005-2011), ranging from
are listed by type and number of respondents (note that a minimum total approved budget of $137,785,816
respondents could select more than one major capital
in 2006, to a maximum total approved budget of
project need) in Table 8.
$192,428,403 in 201121. The system-wide average total
Many of the comments surrounding the self-identified budget spent was $142,554,391 per year (2004-2010),
need for a new or expanded facility related to issues
with a minimum total budget spent of $124,531,840 in
with overcrowding and/or outdated and antiquated fa2005, and maximum total budget spent of $168,749,381
cilities. Three respondents noted a need for a new space in 2010. As may be expected, all high-budget jails
to house inmates needing special programs or services
(16 jails), defined as having averages greater than the
(e.g., work release, females, restricted housing, mensystem-wide average, were also high-population jails,
tally ill). One respondent who cited a need for a new
and most low-budget jails (27 jails) were low-populafacility specifically said the jail could capitalize on the
tion jails.
deficit capacity that would result from such construcThe average annual approved budget per jail was
tion by selling excess space to other overcrowded cor$3,669,166, with a minimum average approved budget
rectional facilities. Other miscellaneous project needs
of $747,302 per year, and a maximum average apincluded inmate shower upgrades, new roof, additional proved budget of $9,785,244 per year (2005-2011). The
recreation yard, and fire damage reparation. The major- average annual budget spent per jail was $3,400,034,
ity of the 36 respondents (55 percent) reported no major with a minimum average budget spent of $768,338
capital project needs.
per year, and a maximum average budget spent of
Of the 10 jails reporting a major capital project need, $8,952,459 per year during the study period (2004most (six jails) were low population jails (2004-2010)
2010). These data are provided for each rural county
(defined as having averages below the system-wide
jail in Table 9.
mean). Eight were low on housing their own inmates
The system-wide average cost-per-day, per-inmate
elsewhere (2006-2011), and all were also low on hous- was $60.41 during the study period (2004-2010) (See
ing other-jurisdiction inmates (2005-2011).
Figure 6 on Page 14). Each county jail’s costs ranged
Likewise, most of the respondents without a ma*Based on 2 years of available data. Based on 3 years of available data. Not adjusted for inflation.
Source: PADOC.
+

21. Throughout the report, financial figures were not adjusted for inflation.

An Examination of Pennsylvania Rural County Jails 	

13

Figure 6: Overall Rural County Jail System Average
Cost-per-Day, per-Inmate (2004-2010)

Not adjusted for inflation. Source: PADOC.

Perceived Financial Challenges

Figure 7: Overall Rural County Jail System
Gross Revenues (2005-2010)

Not adjusted for inflation. Source: PADOC.

revenues of $27,803,171 in 2010 (See Figure
7). Revenue sources included funds received
for housing out-of-county inmates (including
Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and
inmate fines/fees.
Per jail, the average annual gross revenue
was $490,801, with minimum average gross
revenues of $36,588 per year in Susquehanna
County and maximum average gross revenues
of $4,616,716 per year in Pike County.

Rural county jail wardens were asked to
select the top three financial challenges facing
their jails. The financial challenge categories
are listed in Table 10 along with the number
and percentage of respondents who selected
the category as one of the top three challenges
facing their jail.
The three most pressing financial challenges
were medical/mental health costs, staffing
costs, and county budget cuts, with medical/
mental health costs being the predominant
fiscal concern facing county jails. Costs for
medical and mental health services are a challenge facing correctional systems nationwide (Kinsella, 2004).
Inmates often arrive at the prison or jail with a significant number of medical and mental health needs that,
in many cases, have not been previously addressed.
Corrections agencies are also typically required by law

from a minimum average cost-per-day, per-inmate of
$37.54 in Washington County to a maximum average
cost-per-day, per-inmate of $127.71 in Potter County.
In comparison, the state correctional institution’s average cost-per-day, per-inmate during the 2007-2010
fiscal years was $88.23 (PADOC, 2011b). Cost-per-day,
per-inmate is influenced by a complex mix of factors, including age of the facility, security levels
Table 10: Number and Percentage of Respondents
of the inmates housed (higher security inmates
Who Selected Each Category as One of the Top Three
require more staffing), average seniority level of
Financial Challenges Facing Their Jail
the staff (long tenured staff earn higher salaries),
union status of staff, inmate turnover rates (high
turnover leads to higher costs due to intake and
processing expenses for new inmates), and other
factors. Older prisons are often more expensive to
operate due to higher maintenance costs, but costs
may be somewhat offset by factors mentioned
above, such as fewer senior staff earning higher
salaries.
Of the 18 jails with high average costs-per-day
(defined as having averages above the systemwide average), 13 (72 percent) were low population jails.
* The respondent who selected “Other” cited costs associated with having to house
System-wide, the average total rural county
female inmates in another county. **Calculations were based on the 35 jails that
jail gross revenues were $20,012,722 per year
responded to the survey and selected no more than three items. The total number
(2005-2010), with minimum total gross revenues
adds to 100, not 105, and total percentage adds to 286 percent, not 300 percent,
as there were five respondents (14 percent) for which only two selections were
of $13,921,093 in 2006 and maximum total gross
recorded. Source: Survey (35 respondents).

14	

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania

Table 11: Average Number of Rural County
Jail System Staff, by Staffing Category
(2005-2011)

inmates in Schuylkill County to a maximum average of
one officer for every one inmate in Potter County. Each
jail’s total staff-to-inmate ratio ranged from a minimum
average of one staff member for every 4.5 inmates in
Schuylkill County to a maximum of one staff member
for every 0.6 inmates in Potter County23. Staffing data
are shown for each rural county jail in Table 12.

Treatment/Rehabilitative Services/Programs
Source: PADOC.

to provide basic levels of health care to their inmates
(Allen et al., 2007). Thus, given the high demand and
service mandate, it is not surprising that medical/mental
health costs represent a significant financial challenge
for the jails in this study.

Current Staffing Levels

This study collected data on both the level of treatment services being offered, such as hours of service
per week, as well as the specific types of programs and
services being delivered. The OCIS dataset collected
from the PADOC listed specific programs offered at
each jail, showing specific program names or at least
program types (i.e., drug treatment). While information
was not available on important program characteristics, such as the qualifications of staff delivering the
programs or the number of inmates in each treatment
group, the OCIS program dataset did allow for broad
benchmarking of these programs against what is known
in the research literature about evidence-based correctional programs.
System-wide, rural county jails offered an average

The following staff categories were used for the
research: corrections officers, treatment staff, jail
administration/management, support staff, and other.
These staffing categories were based on those derived
by Young et al. (2009). However, since rural jails used
a variety of different staffing
categories, the researchers
Table 12: Average Security Staff-to-Inmate Ratio and
assigned staff to the most comTotal Staff-to-Inmate Ratio, by County Jail (2005-2010)
parable prescribed category.
Table 11 shows the systemwide average total number of
staff per year within each staffing category during the study
period (2005-2011).
As is common to correctional systems nationwide,
security staff personnel in the
rural county jails comprise the
bulk of personnel. During the
study period (2005-2010), the
system-wide average security
staff-to-inmate ratio each year
was one officer for every 3.2
inmates, and the average total
staff-to-inmate ratio was one
staff member for every 2.4
inmates22. Each jail’s security
staff-to-inmate ratio ranged
from a minimum average
of one officer for every six
Source: PADOC, BJS

22. Calculations are based on the average daily in-house inmate population.
23. Ratios are provided for informational purposes only. Comparison between institutions based on relative staffing ratios is regarded as an inaccurate practice due to the complexities involved in staffing decisions and jail characteristics (Liebert and Miller, 2003).

An Examination of Pennsylvania Rural County Jails 	

15

Table 13: Number and Percentage of Rural Jails
Offering Treatment Programming,
by Program Category (2004-2011)

of programs offered by the rural jails across the
study period. The researchers grouped the various program offerings reported by the jails into
the following 11 categories (in order of frequency
of being offered in the county jails): educational/
vocational programs; substance abuse treatment/
services; general psychological counseling; anger/
stress management programs; parenting programs;
reentry programs; life skills programs; sex offender
programs; programs targeting criminal thinking
and decision making skills; other programs; and
non-evidence-based programs. The prevalence of
these programs in the 44 rural county jails during
the study period is summarized in Table 13. Jails are
typically required to provide educational services
(to selected inmates) and mental health services, but
*Denotes evidence-based program, see discussion below. Source: PADOC, 2011
other program types are more discretionary.
data from county jails’ websites.
Program density, or the total number of each
of 17 hours of drug and alcohol treatment per week;
category of program offered at a given jail (except
22 hours of education programs per week; 11 hours
non-evidence-based programming) was also examined.
of social services programs per week; and 28 hours of
Of the 18 jails with high program density (defined as
counseling programs per week during the study period
having averages above the system-wide average), 11
(2005-2010). Note that these are the number of hours
(61 percent) were also high population jails. Likewise,
that a treatment provider is available and that programs the majority of those with low program density (20
operate, but there may be considerable variation in the
jails, 77 percent) were low population jails. This same
number of hours of treatment an individual inmate actu- pattern was evident in the relationship between density
ally receives (Lieutenant Sandra Leonowicz, Prison
and operating budget – the majority of jails with high
Inspector, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections,
program density (11 jails, 61 percent) were also high
Office of County Inspection and Services, personal
budget jails, and those with low program density (21
communication, January 2012).
jails, 81 percent) were low budget jails.
It is difficult to conclude whether the amount of
Following is a brief overview of what constitutes
treatment services delivered to the county jail inmates
an effective correctional program as a preface to the
reported (in hours) is sufficient. As a general rule,
examination of the specific types of programs being ofthe literature on effective correctional programming
fered at rural county jails.
indicates that individual clients should be occupied in
structured treatment programs and related activities for Effective Correctional Program Overview
40 to 70 percent of their time to maximize treatment
There is an extensive body of research on what coneffects, and that programs should last between three to
stitutes an effective correctional treatment program, and
nine months, depending on the goals of the program
what differentiates effective, evidence-based programs
and the needs of the client (Andrews and Bonta, 2003). from ineffective programs (Andrews and Bonta, 2003;
Programs that follow these guidelines are characterized MacKenzie, 2006). This body of correctional research
as high intensity programs. Low intensity programs,
is commonly referred to as the “what works” literature
which offer only a few hours of service per week to
(MacKenzie, 2006). In most of this research, effective,
individual clients, are found to be much less effective
evidence-based correctional programs are defined as
than more intensive programs.
those that are likely to reduce recidivism and promote
This study found a wide variety of program types
other pro-social outcomes in inmates, such as sobriety
being offered at the 44 rural county jails. There was a
and employment. Ineffective programs do not produce
fair degree of consistency in program offerings across
these effects, although they may have some impact
the study period, although not all counties reported
on other outcomes not related to recidivism, such as
program information for all of the study years covered. improving the subjective sense of well-being of the
Thus, the following discussion represents a composite
offender. Again, while these types of outcomes may be
16	

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania

desirable from a humanitarian perspective, they show
little relationship to recidivism or to other critical reentry outcomes (Gendreau et al., 1996).
There are many important aspects to understanding
evidence-based correctional programming, including the characteristics and treatment needs of inmates
who are placed into programs, dosage or quantity of
treatment given, characteristics of staff facilitating the
programs, manner in which the programs are delivered,
and program leadership. Many of these factors were
beyond the scope of the current study. Given the information available to this study through the OCIS dataset,
though, the most relevant program feature examined in
this report is the specific type of program being delivered and the inmate treatment needs that are being
addressed by the program.
The “what works” literature has identified specific
types of programs that are likely to be effective if they
are implemented properly, other programs that are
unlikely to be effective regardless of how well they
are implemented, and still other programs about which
there is insufficient knowledge.
The following types of programs are found to be effective in reducing recidivism for adult offenders: programs targeting antisocial attitudes that are supportive
of criminal behavior (cognitive restructuring); programs
targeting decision making, problem solving, and coping
skills (cognitive skills); programs targeting antisocial
peer associates (delinquency networks); programs
targeting self-control/self-regulation; programs targeting substance use (in-patient/residential and intensive
outpatient programs); programs targeting educational
and vocational deficits; specialized programs targeting
sex offenders; and programs targeting social and family
relationships. Within this category, the most effective
program types are those that address anti-social attitudes and decision making skills, commonly referred
to as “criminal thinking” (Landenberger and Lipsey,
2005). Such programs most commonly use what is
known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is
a structured approach to changing how offenders think
about their behavior and how they make decisions that
affect their behavior in real world situations.
The following types of programs, by themselves, are
found to be ineffective in reducing recidivism for adult
offenders: programs targeting personal/emotional distress and subjective well-being (e.g., pure psychotherapy); programs targeting anxiety/self-esteem; programs
targeting physical and mental health; programs targeting socio-economic status; programs targeting other
types of issues such as artistic skills and creativity;
An Examination of Pennsylvania Rural County Jails 	

programs relying solely on discipline and punishment
(e.g., boot camps or other programs that rely on shaming); and other types of vague, unstructured programs
with no clear targets that are related to criminal behavior (MacKenzie, 2006).
The following types of programs do not have enough
research behind them to know if they are effective or
ineffective in reducing recidivism for adult offenders:
programs targeting parenting skills; broad-based reentry
programs that focus on structural factors such as getting a job, resume writing, and general social service
brokerage; general purpose life skills programs; and
programs for psychopathic offenders.
The following is a summary of the program types
being offered in the 44 rural county jails, using the 11
categories introduced earlier. These program types are
also discussed in relation to the preceding review of
evidence-based practice in correctional treatment.
Education/Vocational Programs
All 44 rural jails (100 percent) reported offering some
sort of educational or vocational program during the
study time period. This program category can include
GED preparation, adult basic education, special education, other general education courses, as well as specific
vocational training tracks. The frequency of educational
programs in these jails is not surprising, as correctional
institutions are required to offer educational services
to inmates under the age of 21, and it is also common
to offer services such as GED preparation to inmates
of all ages (Allen et al., 2007). The vast majority of
jails reported that their educational services were being
delivered largely by local school districts or intermediate units, and augmented by in-house jail teaching staff.
As an aside, it is also not uncommon in correctional
institutions for inmates themselves to serve as tutors
to other inmates (Allen et al., 2007), although no data
were specifically noted on this.
Substance Abuse Treatment/Services
All 44 rural county jails (100 percent) reported offering some sort of substance abuse or related services
during the study time period.
Self-help programs were the most common type of
substance abuse program offered in rural county jails
(44 jails, or 100 percent).
Individual and group counseling (38 jails, or 86
percent) were offered more prevalently than relapse
prevention programs (nine jails, or 20 percent). Less
commonly offered was inpatient/residential drug treatment (three jails, or 7 percent), which is generally re17

garded as the most evidence-based of the various types
of substance abuse programs. Given the expense and
difficulty of operating (or contracting for) residential
substance abuse programs, it is perhaps not surprising
that few rural county jails offer such services. Finally,
16 jails (36 percent) reported offering some other type
of substance abuse program.
General Psychological Counseling
General psychological counseling was also offered
by all 44 rural jails (100 percent) during the study time
period. As with educational/vocational programs, this
is not a surprising finding. Correctional institutions of
all types are generally required by law and/or accreditation standards to offer at least basic psychological
services to inmates with mental disorders (Allen et al.,
2007). The vast majority of jails reported using outside
vendors to deliver mental health services, although
some jails also reported having in-house mental health
professionals. Building an in-house mental health staff
can be a challenge for small jails.
Anger/Stress Management Programs
Thirty-two rural jails (73 percent) reported offering
some type of anger management program.
Parenting Programs
Thirty-one (70 percent) rural jails offered programs
targeting parenting. Such programs typically focus on
providing information on child development and child
care, teaching basic parenting skills, and sometimes
attempting to build more positive attitudes towards
parental responsibilities, although there can often be
significant variation in program content from one institution to the other (Loper and Tuerk, 2006).
Reentry Programs
The majority of jails provided reentry programs, with
27 (61 percent) offering some sort of reentry programming or services during the study period. There was
significant variation in the type of reentry programming
offered, with some jails reporting programs directly
relating to reentry (and even called by that name), but
with many others offering more general programs, such
as work release, job skills, and referral to community
services, which can be placed into the reentry category.

18	

Life Skills Programs
Life skills programs were less commonly offered,
with 20 (45 percent) rural jails offering some sort of
life skills programming or services. As with general
reentry programming, life skills programs can vary
widely between institutions, and may sometimes be
subsumed under reentry programs. Life skills programming can cover a variety of different factors, such as
financial management, securing housing, and, for lower
functioning inmates, activities of daily living, such as
personal hygiene and dress.
Sex Offender Programs
Programs specifically targeting sex offenders were
offered by 11 (25 percent) rural jails. Sex offender
programs can be some of the most difficult types of
programs to operate, requiring specialized staff and
dedicated groups. Sex offender treatment is also often a
long-term proposition, with some programs running for
a year or longer (Losel and Schmucker, 2005).
Programs Targeting Criminal Thinking
and Decision Making Skills
As discussed earlier, programs that target factors
such as anti-social attitudes, anti-social peer associates,
poor decision making and problem solving skills, and
related cognitive factors, are found to be some of the
most effective types of offender programming. These
types of programs are often referred to as cognitive
restructuring/skills building programs, using a specific
program approach called cognitive-behavioral therapy,
or CBT. CBT can be delivered within the context of a
stand-alone program, or basic CBT techniques can also
be incorporated into other types of programs, such as
substance abuse programs.
Very few of the 44 rural county jails, however, reported offering anything that could be identified as addressing criminal thinking or decision making skills, with
only seven (16 percent) rural jails offering some sort of
clearly identifiable criminal thinking or CBT program.
Other Programs
Twenty-nine rural jails (66 percent) reported offering
other types of programs that could not easily be placed
into one of the categories listed above. Examples include women’s programs, veterans’ programs, and victim impact programs. Absent a more detailed evaluation
of these programs, the research could not determine if
they were evidence-based.

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania

Non-Evidence-Based Programs
Twelve rural jails (27 percent) reported offering other
types of programs that appeared to fall squarely into the
category of non-evidence-based programs. Examples
include art therapy, crafts, self-empowerment, self-esteem, wellness, Teen Challenge, meditation, nutrition,
and cultural diversity.

Conclusions
Rural county jails appear poised to act as relief valves
to other jurisdictions’ crowding issues. The rural county
jail system, overall, received almost double the number of inmates from other jurisdictions as it housed
elsewhere during the study period. System-wide, rural
county jails averaged 84 percent capacity per year,
with 93 percent of jails below capacity during the study
period. The majority of jails with higher than average housing of other-jurisdiction inmates were below
capacity and had low average costs-per-day, per-inmate.
Indeed, the 2010 average cost-per-day, per-inmate in
rural county jails ranged from $40 (Northumberland
County) to $134.02 (Elk County), with 90 percent24 of
rural jails reporting an average cost-per-day, per-inmate
lower than the PADOC’s $89.82 (PADOC, 2011b).
The state prison system has been under tremendous
population pressure over the past several years. Beginning in June 2009, the PADOC entered into agreements
with nine rural county jails to house excess inmates and
had transferred a total of 1,507 inmates to nine rural
jails within 18 months. In addition to sending state inmates to county jails, the PADOC transferred more than
2,000 inmates to state prisons in Michigan and Virginia
as part of its efforts to relieve its population pressures25.
Population management is all the more critical in light
of the provision of Act 81 of 2008, which resulted in
more sentenced offenders being sentenced to state prison, as opposed to county jails, and perhaps an increasing reliance on county jails housing state transferred
inmates. Provided it is properly financed and managed,
Pennsylvania’s rural county jail system has the potential to alleviate overcrowding issues demonstrated by
other jurisdictions across the state.
While facing population management pressures, and
helping to relieve other jurisdictions of overcrowding,
77 percent of jail survey respondents reported medical
and/or mental healthcare costs as one of their top financial challenges. Given that rural county jails inherit

the responsibility of inmate health care when receiving other-jurisdiction transfers, ensuring they have
the financial resources to provide the services seems
to be a critically important issue. Moreover, if rural
county jails are to properly manage the influx of otherjurisdictional transfers, their available staffing complement needs to be appropriately financed. However,
69 percent of survey respondents listed staffing costs,
including wages, benefits, and training, as one of the
top financial challenges facing their jails.
Another important consideration for inter-jurisdictional transfers is the quality of rehabilitative programs
and services available within rural county jails. This
study found that the 44 rural county jails are indeed offering program and treatment services that can be classified as evidence-based. All of the jails reported offering some sort of educational/vocational programming,
general psychological counseling, and substance abuse/
treatment services. As discussed earlier, educational/
vocational deficits and substance abuse are both appropriate targets for evidence-based treatment, but there is
little evidence that general psychological counseling by
itself contributes greatly to recidivism risk reduction.
Rural jails reported offering many types of programs
whose effects on recidivism are unclear or have not
been sufficiently researched. These include parenting
programs, anger management, life skills, and broadbased reentry programs. Indeed, a majority of jails
reported offering some level of these types of programs
(63 percent).
More than one-quarter of the jails (27 percent)
reported offering programs that have either shown no
effect on recidivism, or are not clearly related to the
goal of recidivism reduction. These include programs
focusing on nutrition, arts and crafts, meditation, and
women’s studies.
This study represents the most comprehensive narrative and dataset of issues related to Pennsylvania
rural county jails, constituting a solid basis for future
research on this topic. Moreover, this study can provide
a basis for data-driven state and local prison bed space
and program management, as well as budget and capital
project-related decisions.

24. Thirty-seven of the 41 jails that reported 2010 data.
25. The inmates housed in Michigan and Virginia were transferred back to Pennsylvania in May 2011 and March 2012, respectively.

An Examination of Pennsylvania Rural County Jails 	

19

Policy Considerations
Given the overcrowding issues faced by local and
state institutions, the data derived by this study, especially those related to capacity and costs-per-day, perinmate for each jail, may be used to inform economical
approaches to distributing sentenced offenders between
the state and county correctional systems. Other states,
most notably California, have used this approach (Vera
Institute of Justice, 2010). For example, California is
transferring tens of thousands of primarily non-violent
inmates from state prisons to county jails in response
to extreme and longstanding overcrowding in the state
prison system, which has resulted in intervention by the
federal courts (Dolan, 2011).
This study also offered an in-depth analysis of the
available rural county jail programs, the results of
which may be used to inform rural county jails’ decisions to augment their current offerings, whether by
eliminating or adding certain types of programs. While
the jails are offering a wide variety of programs and
services, much of this program activity focuses on
services that are non-evidence-based, have uncertain
effects, or do not use the most effective treatment
modalities. To be more effective in reducing recidivism,
Pennsylvania’s rural county jails could shift resources
towards program types that show the strongest impact
on recidivism, most especially programs addressing
criminal thinking and decision making skills and using
cognitive-behavioral approaches, while devoting less
time to non-evidence-based programs.
As noted earlier, while this study documented the
presence of various types of programs within the county jails, a more detailed examination of the quality of
programs was beyond the scope of this study. Valuable
insight would be gained by an evaluation of program
quality in at least some of the jails. Factors that could
be examined include the qualifications of program
leadership and staff, appropriate placement of inmates
into programs that match their needs, fidelity of program implementation, and the conformity of programs,
as delivered, to the principles of effective intervention.
Such an evaluation would allow for stronger conclusions about the potential for county jail programs to
reduce recidivism, and would generate suggestions for
program improvements.

20	

Finally, this study has the potential to impact the
county jail data management systems. County jail
data are often fragmented, incomplete, and unreliable.
In Pennsylvania, as in most states, county jails operate under policies and procedures promulgated by the
local county government, which, in effect, results in
63 separate correctional systems. Without a stronger
network and more comprehensive data collection and
management, research and jail development efforts are
hindered. This project served to test the adequacy of
the Pennsylvania data system specifically, finding that
while the relevant data are collected, they are not generally retained beyond a 5-year period. It is difficult to
make fully informed decisions about state and county
jail population management without robust data systems. Thus, another recommendation is to create better
data management practices to include taking deliberate steps to preserve the information collected beyond
just 5 years. Ideally, this data management would be
performed by a single entity so as ensure standardized
administration practices.

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania

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An Examination of Pennsylvania Rural County Jails 	

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22	

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania
Board of Directors
Chairman
Senator Gene Yaw
Treasurer
Senator John Wozniak
Secretary
Dr. Nancy Falvo
Clarion University
Representative Garth D. Everett
Representative Rick Mirabito
Dr. Livingston Alexander
University of Pittsburgh
Dr. Theodore R. Alter
Pennsylvania State University
Stephen M. Brame
Governor’s Representative
Taylor A. Doebler III
Governor’s Representative
Dr. Stephan J. Goetz
Northeast Regional Center
for Rural Development
Dr. Karen M. Whitney
Clarion University

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania
625 Forster St., Room 902
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Phone: (717) 787-9555
Fax: (717) 772-3587
www.rural.palegislature.us
1P1212 – 450

 

 

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