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Broken Ground: Why America
Keeps Building More Jails and What
It Can Do Instead
Chris Mai, Mikelina Belaineh, Ram Subramanian, and Jacob Kang-Brown
November 2019

Foreword
Perennial headlines about the declining U.S. jail
population have obscured the fact that America is
in the midst of a quiet jail boom. As Vera’s previous
research has found, the reduction of the nation’s
jail population has been driven by remarkable
downward trends in the largest cities. But while
movements to close Rikers Island in New York City,
tear down the Men's Central jail in Los Angeles,
close the "Workhouse" in St. Louis, and repurpose
the Atlanta City Detention Center have challenged
elected officials to eliminate jail beds and invest
in communities, hundreds of small cities and
towns across the country have taken a completely
different course and broken ground on new and
larger jails.
The nation's biggest cities were long the epicenter
of mass incarceration, with people of color
suffering most acutely. Laura Kurgan and Eric
Cadora’s research on “million-dollar blocks” in
the early 2000s illustrated the intense impact that
incarceration had on urban communities of color.
Their findings spotlighted neighborhoods in which
the concentrated incarceration of people from a
single city block consumed at least a million dollars
each year—neighborhoods that otherwise received
relatively little state investment. This insight sparked
calls for sentencing reform, economic justice,
divestment from confinement, and reinvestment in
communities.

When Kurgan and Cadora’s research was
published, jail populations and prison admissions
were beginning to plateau and then decline in big
cities. But incarceration has continued its upward
climb in smaller cities and rural areas, precipitating
ongoing investment in correctional control. To justify
this growth, incarceration is still often framed as
a solution, rather than a problem, positioning jail
expansion as a pragmatic answer to growing jail
populations. But, as this report underscores, the
choice to invest in the infrastructure of confinement
can virtually guarantee increased levels of
confinement.
Complicating the debate on jail expansion is the
recognition that jails often warehouse people
with substance use and mental health issues.
Increasingly, jail expansion and jail-based
responses are packaged and publicly promoted
as the community’s best solution to these
problems. Local governments have learned that
jail construction is often unpopular with voters
and sometimes label their new facilities a “justice
campus” or “law center” to obscure the building’s
principal function—and center jail-based substance
use and mental health treatment services as the
rationale for investment.
This “carceral humanism,” a term coined by James
Kilgore, positions corrections authorities as social
service authorities. But even well-intentioned
correctional efforts are still correctional efforts,

and the experience of isolating confinement in a
facility the primary aim of which remains control,
surveillance, and punishment, is antithetical to
treatment goals. Carceral humanism is a troubling
trend both because investments in correctionsbased treatment services crowd out resources
for community-based solutions and because the
trend further establishes substance use and mental
health issues as criminal matters.
As much of the nation grapples with the
contemporary jail boom, we hope that this report
will serve as a guide to policymakers, advocates,
journalists, and concerned citizens facing the
question of whether to construct more jails. The

Christian Henrichson
Research Director, Center on
Sentencing and Corrections
Vera Institute of Justice

vast majority of Americans are leery of new jails.
In a 2018 poll commissioned by Vera, 67 percent of
respondents agreed that “building more jails and
prisons to keep more people in jail does not reduce
crime,” and 61 percent felt that “the money spent
on building prisons and jails can be better spent on
other things.”
The good news is that there is a better way forward.
Many counties have embraced alternatives to
bigger jails and are thoughtfully reducing their
jail populations and freeing up resources for other
important uses within the community. The lessons
from these places show that mass incarceration is
not any community’s destiny.

Nancy Fishman
Project Director, Center on
Sentencing and Corrections
Vera Institute of Justice

Jasmine Heiss
Campaign Director, In Our
Backyards
Vera Institute of Justice

About this report
This report is one of a series that the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) is
releasing with the Safety and Justice Challenge—the John D. and Catherine
T. MacArthur Foundation’s initiative to reduce overincarceration by
changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. The initiative
is supporting a network of competitively selected local jurisdictions
committed to finding ways to safely reduce jail incarceration. Other
publications in the series to date include: ­
›	
›	
›	
›	
›	
›	
›	
›	
›	

Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America;
The Price of Jails: Measuring the Taxpayer Cost of Local Incarceration;
Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform;
Out of Sight: The Growth of Jails in Rural America;
Divided Justice: Trends in Black and White Incarceration 1990-2013;
The New Dynamics of Mass Incarceration;
Justice Denied: The Harmful and Lasting Effects of Pretrial Detention;
Gatekeepers: The Role of Police in Ending Mass Incarceration; and
the multimedia storytelling project, The Human Toll of Jail.

Through the Safety and Justice Challenge, Vera’s office in New Orleans,
and direct partnerships with jurisdictions nationwide, Vera is providing
expert information and technical assistance to support local efforts to
stem the flow of people into jail, including using alternatives to arrest
and prosecution for minor offenses, recalibrating the use of bail, and
addressing fines and fees that trap people in jail. For more information
about Vera’s work to reduce the use of jails, contact Nancy Fishman, project
director, Center on Sentencing and Corrections, at nfishman@vera.org.
For more information about the Safety and Justice Challenge, visit www.
safetyandjusticechallenge.org.

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

v

Contents
1	

Introduction

8	

What drives jail construction?

	

11	

Health and safety concerns

	

14	

Specialized services

	

20	

An additional revenue stream

25	

The risks and limitations of jail expansion

	

26	

More jail beds, more people?

	

30	

The limits of jail-based behavioral health services

	

33	

Large and escalating costs

37	

Alternatives to bigger jails

	
38	 Implementing policy changes to expand use of jail 		
		alternatives
	

41	

Staying at capacity or downsizing

42	Conclusion
45	Appendix
48	Endnotes

Introduction

J

ail construction in the past several decades has vastly expanded the
capacity of America’s jails to incarcerate people. In 1970, there were
243,000 jail beds in the United States.1 After more than four decades
of many counties investing heavily in constructing new jail facilities—or
expanding existing ones—total jail capacity in the United States reached
915,100 beds by 2017.2 (See Figure 1 on page 2.) Due to decades of “tough
on crime” criminal justice policies that drove up the use of arrest and
incarceration, the national jail population grew between 1980 and 2008
from 161,000 to 785,500 in lockstep with this upward trend in jail
construction.3 In the past decade, however, the aggregate number of people

Rural areas, suburban areas, and
midsized cities remain in a jail population
boom and continue to build larger jails.

in jail has actually declined by 40,300 since peaking in 2008.4 Yet jail
capacity nationwide continued to grow over that period by 86,400 beds—
even during an era of declining crime rates.5 Urban counties have been at
the forefront of the jail population decline nationally, and jail capacity also
declined there by 9 percent between 2005 and 2013.6 But other areas of the
country—particularly rural areas, but also suburban areas and midsized
cities—remain in a jail population boom and continue to build larger jails;
jail capacity in these areas grew by 11 percent over the same time period.7
(See Figure 2 on page 3.)

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

1

Figure 1

U.S. jail capacity, 1970 and 2017

1,000,000

915,100

Number of beds

800,000

277%

600,000

increase

400,000
243,000
200,000
0

1970

2017

Source: For 1970 bed capacity, see U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), “National
Jail Census, 1970,” database (Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research,
2005), https://perma.cc/BV5N-A56P. For 2017 bed capacity, see Zhen Zeng, Jail Inmates in 2017 (Washington,
DC: BJS, 2019), 7, https://perma.cc/8A9J-VQ2V.

Thus far, scholarship related to the physical expansion of America’s
capacity to incarcerate has largely focused on the prison building boom
that started decades ago.8 These studies have examined where and why
prisons are built, how prison construction has impacted host communities,
local perceptions of the impact of new prisons, the relationship between
prison litigation and prison expansion, and the relationship between
increases in the number of prison beds and increases in incarceration
levels.9 Although the parallel growth in local jail beds nationwide has not
yet received consistent scrutiny, there has been increasing recognition
that the expanding footprint of local incarceration is a key component
in the “celling of America” that merits more study.10 Budding scholarship
examining jail expansion, for example, is making clear that the language
of economic development—a now-debunked frame used aggressively to
promote prison expansion in the past—continues to be employed in jail
expansion efforts.11 Still, jail construction and expansion can be a difficult
area to study. This is in part because the jail construction process can
span a considerable amount of time, sometimes decades. The specific
environmental factors that initiate, facilitate, inform, or even constrain
potential jail expansion—whether political, economic, or social—are likely
to shift over time, making it a challenge to draw neat linkages between

2

Vera Institute of Justice

Figure 2

Percent change in jail capacity by urbanicity, 2005–2013

Percent change

25%

+11%

0%

-15%

Jail capacity
decreased in
large cities

-9%

Jail capacity
increased in
rural and suburban
areas and
midsized cities

Source: For details on how Vera calculated capacity changes, see endnotes 6 and 7.

actors, actions, and events at different stages of the jail construction arc in
any one county, let alone multiple counties.12
In this context, the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) seeks to contribute to
the emerging literature on America’s decades-long carceral building project
by exploring the persistence of jail expansion, looking at the arguments
that county officials make in an effort to build new jails and describing
some of the potential negative consequences of jail construction. To
accomplish this, this report examines dozens of counties that considered
or pursued jail expansion between 2000 and 2019, as indicated by county
boards discussing the issue at county meetings, holding public meetings
on the issue, hiring consultants, holding a vote on the issue, or ultimately
beginning construction. Due to the absence of consistent national-level
research on jail construction and the sheer number of jail jurisdictions—
nearly 3,000—Vera staff selected a convenience sample of 77 counties in 31
states by conducting secondary research into media reports, jail litigation
cases, academic papers, and government documents such as commissioned
studies examining the needs of a jurisdiction’s local jail.13 Of the counties
in the sample, the majority ultimately built a jail or were in the process
of construction as of September 2019. (See the Appendix on page 45 for
the list of counties in the sample and their jail construction status. Vera

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

3

also examined jail population projection reports written for 10 of these
counties to evaluate the information these documents provide.)
From this sample, Vera identified three major, often coexisting,
arguments that county officials make in public support of jail expansion.
›	 First, a number of policy changes over the past

several decades, such as a greater reliance on money
bail, have led to overcrowded jails in some places
as pretrial populations surged.14 As jail populations
have exceeded capacity, county policymakers have
turned to jail expansion rather than alternatives
to incarceration, often hiring architects and
consultants to provide population projections
that validate this decision to build. In some cases,
decision makers also argue that replacing older
facilities will provide safer living and working
conditions for the increasing numbers of people in
the jail—sometimes under pressure from courts or state oversight
agencies. County officials often decide to build more jail beds than
currently needed in an attempt to preempt future overcrowding.

4

Vera Institute of Justice

›	 Second, the high need for mental health care,

behavioral health treatment, and primary
care among people in jail is often publicly used
to justify new jail construction. Expanded jail
populations include people who have histories of
substance abuse, mental illness, and victimization.15 In some places,
such as Los Angeles, many people in jail who need mental health
services are staying for longer periods of time than people who
do not require such services or landing in jail for a series of short
stays.16 Some county policymakers make the argument that a new,
larger jail is needed in order to create or expand services for these
populations.
›	 Third, financial incentives can drive the

decision to expand. With an overcrowded jail
population, counties sometimes pay jails in
neighboring jurisdictions to house some of
their overflow population.17 Counties decide to
build more jail beds in an effort to reduce these costs and even to
make money themselves by renting out their new jail beds for a
fee to neighboring counties, the state prison system, or the federal

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

5

government. Given this financial incentive, policymakers pushing
to expand jail capacity may believe that building a larger jail is
more financially prudent than building a smaller jail, since excess
beds can serve as a potential source of revenue to help defray jail
construction or operating costs.

The cycle of jail growth and overcrowding
is not an inevitable feature of local
criminal justice systems.

Examining the experiences of some counties around the country
shows that jail expansion often does not live up to the expectations of
policymakers. This report points to a number of counties drawn from
the sample of 77 that experienced one or more negative or unanticipated
outcomes of jail expansion. For example, larger jails built to accommodate
an overcrowded population often see their populations continue to
increase.18 This is because expansion alone fails to address the root causes
of overcrowding, leaving in place the very policies and practices that drove
the jail’s population increase in the first place. Indeed, there is a risk that
the existence of a larger jail with more beds may reduce the incentive to
make policy changes that address the factors driving overcrowding due
to the temporary relief expansion provides. Jail population growth and
increasing capacity can thus exist in a vicious cycle, resulting in an everincreasing number of people in jail. The push to increase jail beds as a way
to improve health and social services can also backfire: the inherent harms
of incarceration may limit the effectiveness of new service capacities, and
investment in corrections-based treatment services may divert needed

6

Vera Institute of Justice

resources for similar services and supports in the community. Finally,
counties hoping for a financial payout from renting jail beds sometimes
find that the costs of constructing and operating a bigger jail exceed the
projected income. In rare cases, counties find it too costly to open and
operate their newly built jails and thus leave them shuttered.
The cycle of jail growth and overcrowding is not, however, an
inevitable feature of local criminal justice systems. Many counties around
the country have rejected this assumption. Some have chosen instead to
invest in appropriate and continual maintenance or to renovate existing
jails. Others have interrupted cycles of growth with policy and practice
changes that reduce the number of people they incarcerate and thus the
need for a larger jail. In these communities, policymakers and community
members question the need for a larger jail. When there is truly a need
to replace an old jail building, decision makers consider building a
facility the same size as—or smaller than—the current one, instead of
relying on a default assumption of expansion. This report concludes
with the experiences of several such counties, which call into question
the logic driving the past several decades of intensive jail construction.
Communities facing the decision to build a larger jail in order to alleviate
jail overcrowding, improve jail conditions, or increase revenues can take
note of these examples in order to implement similar changes. In the
meantime, more research is necessary that directly tests some of the
assumptions that have been used to support jail expansion in the past.
Researchers may want to dig deeper into causal theories between jail
expansion and local incarceration rates. One easy step would be for both
local counties and the U.S. Department of Justice to keep regular statistics
on jail construction and expansion. Doing so would not only facilitate
research, it could also help localities better understand how they are using
their jail facilities and the potential consequences of building bigger.

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

7

What drives jail construction?

A

lthough the use of jails over the past decade has declined sharply
in some places—mainly urban and suburban areas—such declines
have not been felt everywhere.19 In many other places, especially
small counties farther from major population centers, jail populations have
grown ever higher.20 Several factors have contributed to this growth. These
include the consequences of “tough on crime” policies adopted between the
1970s and mid-2000s—including more punitive drug laws and increased
enforcement of low-level, quality-of-life crimes, which together swept
many more people into local jails.21 Increased reliance on cash bail has
increased pretrial incarceration rates in many counties. Also, in many of
these places, there is an absence of critical criminal justice and community
services that could help decrease jail use—including fewer diversion
programs, scant use of pretrial services, an absence of vital community-

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Vera Institute of Justice

based referral services, and fewer criminal justice personnel to process
cases.22 In more recent years, state policy actions have also deliberately
contributed to increases in the jail population. For example, in order to
reduce their state prison populations, California (in 2011) and Indiana
(in 2015) enacted new laws requiring people convicted of some low-level
felonies to serve their sentences under county supervision—often in county
jails—instead of in state prisons, even though prior to the bills’ passing,
many jails in these states were already functioning at or above capacity.23
These laws have led to widespread jail construction. In fact, in 2019,
Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council Executive Director David Powell
said that more than a third of Indiana’s 92 counties were actively building
new jails.24
As these policy changes led to increasing jail populations, many
jails became overcrowded.25 The 2006 Census of Jails —the last year for
which national data was collected on the number and type of judicial
sanctions levied on jail jurisdictions—revealed widespread overcrowding
in some states. As many as 204 jail jurisdictions at the time were under
court orders or consent decrees to limit their populations, including 28
percent of jails in California, 23 percent in Massachusetts, 22 percent in
Louisiana, and 19 percent each in Mississippi and Oregon.26 More recent

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

9

data suggests overcrowding remains a problem a decade later. In 2017,
despite the existence of far more jail beds nationwide than people held in
jail, one in five jails had a population at or above 100 percent of its rated
capacity—a number assigned by a rating official (a regulatory body, an
agency head, or facility supervisor) that represents the highest number of
incarcerated people a facility can house and still operate safely, often based
on architectural design and construction, staff capacity, and services and
programs offered.27
This overcapacity problem is brought into stark relief by focusing
on specific states. In Ohio, a 2016 audit found that 42 of the state’s 102
county jails exceeded their capacity, five of which held more than double
the people they were rated to hold.28 In Tennessee, half of the county jails
are overcrowded, with some nearing twice their capacity—like the jail in
Loudon County, which has the capacity to hold 91 people but averaged 170
to 180 people in 2018 as construction began on a new facility.29 In some
places, overcrowding has been a perpetual story. For example, Okaloosa
County, Florida’s Jail Director Stefan Vaughan admitted that overcrowding
“has been going on systemically since the county originated” more than a
century ago.30
It is unsurprising, then, that for the many counties that continue to
struggle with increasing numbers of people in their local jails, expansion
is perceived as a logical solution to the problem. Jail expansion usually
enters public debate once a community identifies jail capacity as a pressing
problem to solve, whether as the result of jail litigation, an audit by a
state oversight agency, or a sheriff’s request for additional resources. (For
specific state examples on the role of oversight boards and litigation
in jail construction, see “How state oversight boards and jail litigation
can catalyze jail expansion” on page 18.) In whatever context the jail
expansion debate is initiated, the argument for increased jail capacity is
rationalized using three often overlapping grounds: (1) health and safety
concerns; (2) the need for space and infrastructure to improve provision of
specialized services (such as medical services, mental health treatment, and
programming); and (3) the opportunity for a revenue stream to help cover
construction and operating costs as well as fill local budget gaps.

10

Vera Institute of Justice

Health and safety concerns
By law, jails are required to house people in reasonably safe, sanitary
environments and to provide for basic human needs—from adequate
food and medical services to recreational and other programming.31 These
obligations derive from federal and state constitutions, national and state
correctional standards, and federal and state statutes and regulations.32
Overcrowding can threaten a jail’s capacity to maintain minimally adequate
or safe living conditions. For example, housing too many people limits
the staff’s ability to classify and segregate people with different security
needs and personal characteristics (e.g., age, gender, low-security versus
high-security, or specialized treatment needs).33 This can increase the risk
of tension and violence among people who are packed in increasingly close
quarters.34
Tension and frustration in crowded conditions is unsurprising. In
overcrowded conditions, people may be double- or triple-bunked in
a single cell; forced to sleep dormitory-style in dayrooms, classrooms,
or gymnasiums; housed in ad-hoc structures like tents or mobile

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

11

homes set up adjacent to a facility; or made to sleep on mattresses or
“boats” —plastic temporary beds described as "casket-like"—on the
floor.35 Overcrowding can also prevent opportunities for rehabilitative
programming or treatment; lead to limits on out-of-cell time, recreation,
meal times, visitation, and access to staff; or result in inadequate medical
care and attention.36 Finally, overcrowding can overtax the many different
operational systems in a facility—such as plumbing, ventilation, heating,
and cooling, as well as food and health services systems—in ways that can
result in environmental or health hazards that directly impinge on the
well-being of both staff and incarcerated people.37
Older jails, some built more than a century ago, can also pose
significant health and safety risks to both staff and the incarcerated
population through designs that do not meet modern health or fire code
standards or the existence of harmful building materials such as asbestos
or lead.38 Aging jail facilities are a surprisingly common feature in many
places across the country. According to the 2006 Census of Jails—the most
recent national data on this subject—153 jails constructed before 1945 were
still in use in 2006, 34 of which had been built before the 20th century.39
Although rarely the sole argument that sheriffs and county officials make
for new jail construction, poorly maintained or aged facilities are often part
of the rationale.

12

Vera Institute of Justice

Among the 77 counties Vera examined, around half sought jail
expansion as the solution to the problems of overcrowding and aging or
otherwise unsuitable facilities. The jail facility in rural Benton County,
Missouri—built in 1856—is on the extreme end of age; it is a wood and
stone structure with no fire sprinkler system.40 The jail was rated to hold
28 people but held an average of 41 in 2016.41 The county is building a new

Among the 77 counties Vera examined,
around half sought jail expansion as the
solution to the problems of overcrowding
and aging or otherwise unsuitable
facilities.

facility to hold double that amount, with 80 beds and the opportunity
to expand further.42 But even newer facilities face problems. The jail in
Platte County, Missouri, was only 14 years old when the sheriff started
planning to expand it in 2012, but he argued that deteriorating conditions,
overcrowding, and the difficulty of separating a growing number of women
and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees (who,
because their cases are civil, cannot be housed in cells designated for
people convicted of crimes) from men in general population combined to
create unsafe conditions, with people being held in overcrowded cells and
sleeping on the floor in makeshift bunks, so that cells intended for two
people housed three.43 A measure on the ballot in April 2019 would have
increased sales taxes to add 200 beds to the 180-bed facility.44 Although
voters rejected the proposal, the county’s sheriff is planning future ballot
measures to fund expansion.45

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

13

Specialized services
Another common rationale for jail construction is that sheriffs need
additional space to implement programming, education, and behavioral
and mental health treatment to better respond to the needs of people
who are detained pretrial and those serving longer sentences in the jail.46
This is especially the case in states that hold substantial numbers of
people serving felony sentences in county jails. That a facility designed for

That a facility designed for punishment
and isolation appears to many as the
logical site for a county’s investment in
specialized treatment services is the result
of decades of policy choices—choices
that have shifted tasks like responding to
behavioral health crises from health care
providers to police and the courts and put
jails at the center of public health and
mental health policy.

punishment and isolation appears to many as the logical site for a county’s
investment in specialized treatment services is the result of decades
of policy choices—choices that have shifted tasks like responding to
behavioral health crises from health care providers to police and the courts
and put jails at the center of public health and mental health policy.47 These
decisions have been made in concert with divestment in public education
and health care and are sharpened by the lack of living wage jobs and
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Vera Institute of Justice

affordable housing as well as the criminalization of poverty in the United
States.48 This is the context in which many county officials find themselves
arguing for jail expansion for the treatment of incarcerated people. Indeed,
one architect framed jail construction as a “new prescription for mental
illness.”49
For people living in communities where services are lacking, being
booked into jail is theoretically an opportunity to have medical or
behavioral health issues identified; to have any acute needs stabilized, such
as detoxification from alcohol or opioids or treatment for acute mental
health episodes; and to receive referrals to in-house or community-based
services.50 But many jail facilities fail to provide minimal health care,
often struggling to offer even the most basic medication or treatment to
incarcerated people.51 A 2009 study found that, among people incarcerated
in local jails who have a persistent medical problem, as many as 68
percent did not receive a medical examination while incarcerated.52

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

15

Similarly, a 2017 national study found that only 35 percent of people in
jail who met the threshold for serious psychological distress had received
treatment since admission.53 Moreover, when they do receive health care
services, those services might not meet community standards of care. In
a 2015 national survey of people in jail, fewer than half (43 percent) of
respondents reported that such services were the same or better than the
services they had received in the 12 months prior to incarceration.54 This
explains why some jail administrators—as was the case in nearly a quarter
of counties examined for this report—make the public case that the county
needs to improve health services and other programming behind bars.55
Whether it is a new wing or a new facility to accommodate and enhance
service provision, these efforts are often accompanied by an increase in the
number of jail beds. For example, the sheriff in Penobscot County, Maine,
stated of the county’s plan to build a 300-bed jail to replace the 157-bed jail:
“The mental health, substance abuse, medical and special needs of inmates
require a facility capable of providing meaningful services. Many new and
current inmates’ services will be able to expand, truly helping our mission
of reducing recidivism.”56 Iredell County, North Carolina, is tripling the size
of its jail-based medical facilities and more than doubling jail capacity; the
expansion increases capacity from 277 beds to 700.57

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Other examples abound. Jail construction in McLean County, Illinois,
nearly doubled the number of jail beds in 2018. The public discussion of
the project by members of the county board emphasized the ways the
larger jail could better serve those with mental health needs.58 Sheriff
Jon Sandage said the jail addition would provide a more comforting
environment for people with mental illnesses who are incarcerated
there: “[It’s] a quieter place and . . . conducive to them being able to relax
and hopefully get on the road to recovery.”59 The mental health area has
additional facilities for incarcerated people to spend time out of their
cells, as well as cells that include “softer” features, such as doors with a
wood grain finish, additional seating, and less steel framework.60 In Skagit
County, Washington, the chief of corrections called the new jail, which
roughly doubled jail capacity to 400 beds and provides new behavioral
health treatment and job training, “an exciting opportunity to guide our
inmate populations in a new way.”61 And in Gallatin County, Montana,
officials called the 160-bed jail constructed in 2010, which quadrupled the
capacity of its old jail, “an innovative way of looking at corrections.”62 These
counties stand in stark contrast to prior modes of looking at incarceration:
even as recently as 2005, one Wyoming sheriff reassured his constituents
that adding treatment facilities wouldn’t make the new jail less punitive.63
After the California Board of State and Community Corrections
issued a request for proposals in 2013 calling for county jail construction
projects that included space for programming and treatment, some
counties initiated jail expansion projects with a stated purpose to expand
treatment.64 In Butte County, Sheriff Kory Honea said that the new jail
facility will help rehabilitate a population that is increasingly in jail for
longer stays, while expanding capacity by 96 jail beds.65 In Kings County, a
similar jail expansion project added 33,000 square feet to the jail, including
housing, program, vocational, and office space, as well as a 24-bed mental
health unit.66 And, in 2018, Stanislaus County completed an 840-bed
expansion that included a new 288-bed minimum security facility called
the REACT center, containing classrooms, a family reunification room, and
multimedia facilities.67

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

17

How state oversight boards and jail litigation can catalyze jail expansion*
Beyond internal county decision making, two external
factors can play an important triggering role in shaping a
jurisdiction’s decision to expand its local jail: jail oversight
boards and litigation. Thirty-three states—covering three out
of four jail beds in the United States—have established jail
oversight agencies to ensure safety and establish standards
of practice and care.1 The organizations’ functions may
include investigating complaints against a facility or staff
member, monitoring facilities regularly to identify possible
problems, or developing standards applicable to all jails in
the state.2 Although oversight bodies rarely mandate new
jail construction, they create pressure—such as financial
sanctions or even a lawsuit—that may indirectly lead
local decision makers to solve identified problems such as
overcrowding with jail expansion. If jail expansion is the
adopted solution, some oversight bodies directly support the
construction process by reviewing construction plans and
providing technical assistance.3
Lawsuits or the threat of litigation—whether initiated by
another government body (such as an oversight board),
people who are currently or formerly incarcerated, or third
parties suing on behalf of these people—can also lead
counties to pursue jail expansion. In fact, litigation frequently
results in explicit orders—through court judgments, consent
decrees, or settlement agreements—to build or expand jail
facilities and increase staffing levels. These mandates are
often backed up by judicial sanctions for noncompliance,
including threats to close the existing facility, contempt
orders, or fines. Even if not specifically ordered to build,
many counties perceive expansion as the only way to meet
court-decreed constitutional standards. Of 43 jail lawsuits
filed between 1975 and 1989 in California, 37 percent ended
with orders to build new jails or make substantial renovations
to expand existing capacities.4 And, of 35 counties under
court order, 17 increased their capacity between 1976 and
1986 at rates of 40 percent or higher.5
Examples from across the country demonstrate how oversight
body sanctions or litigation can lead to decisions to expand
jail capacity.

Decisions by oversight bodies:

18

›	 In Arkansas, the jail in
Logan County failed several
inspections conducted by
the state and was cited
for being overcrowded
and unsafe.6 This led the
county to replace its 34bed existing jail with a new
100-bed facility completed
in May 2019.7 A similar issue
developed farther north in

Logan County, AR

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100-bed
facility
built

Marion County. After a state
official threatened to close
the current jail for failing to
meet state standards due
to overcrowding and the
deteriorating condition of
the 36-year old facility, the
county constructed a new
facility that more than tripled
its original capacity of 18
beds.8

Marion County, AR
60-bed
facility
built

›	 In Texas, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards reported
“great concern” about jail conditions and overcrowding in
Ector County following an inspection in 2015.9 The agency
threatened to compel the jail
to produce a plan to reduce
overcrowding, likely requiring
Ector County, TX
the jail to pay other county
jails to house some of its
population.10 A few years later,
in February 2018, Ector County
adding
began construction on the
412 beds
expansion of the Ector County
Detention Center, adding 412
new beds.11
›	 In Indiana, Dubois County received notice in early 2017
from the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) that it
was in violation of state jail standards due to overcrowding
in its jail.12 The jail, built in 1990 with 46 beds and currently
rated for 67, frequently holds as many as 84 people.13
IDOC mandated that, within six months, the county
conduct a jail needs assessment and develop a plan to
address the issues—including a plan of action and a
timetable for funding, expansion, or new construction.14
The county had received notice of noncompliance the
previous year as well, but that notice had not mandated
action.15 The sheriff commented: “If we don’t do something
by next time, this will become more strict.”16 By the end of
that year, the jail still had failed to come into compliance,
prompting a visit by representatives from the National
Institute of Corrections (NIC), who toured the facility,
reviewed data, conducted interviews with staff and other
justice system stakeholders,
and produced a high-level
needs assessment and report
Dubois County, IN
for recommended next steps.17
NIC told county officials
that more data should be
collected on people in the
244-270
jail in order to understand
beds
the county’s needs.18 In 2019,
recommended
the county presented NIC
with a justice system study

facilitated by an architect that included jail population
projections.19 The architect advised that Dubois County’s
jail facility should have between 244 and 270 beds—
approximately 4.5 beds per 1,000 people in the county—to
keep up with anticipated needs for the next 20 years.20
›	 In New York, the
state jail oversight
Herkimer County, NY
agency—the New York
State Commission
of Correction
131-bed
(NYSCOC)—
facility
determines the
under
number of people
construction
each jail can legally
hold.21 In 2006, it
found that the
Herkimer County
jail was in violation of its assessed capacity of 41.22
Despite alternative proposals to address the issue—
including permanently transferring people to other
counties; renovating and expanding the existing facility;
implementing alternatives to incarceration to bring the
jail population down; and even constructing a new, but
smaller facility—NYSCOC pushed the county to build
a new and bigger 130-bed facility.23 By 2010, with little
progress made in construction, NYSCOC rescinded
previously granted capacity exemptions that had allowed
the county’s jail to operate pending the opening of the new
facility, requiring the county to pay legal penalties or send
jail residents to other counties at substantial financial
cost.24 The county began construction on a 131-bed facility
in late 2018.25

Lawsuits:
›	 In Vigo County, Indiana,
three consecutive rounds
Vigo County, IN
of civil rights litigation
have forced county
leaders to re-examine the
county’s overcrowded
527-bed
jail. Most recently, a 2016
facility
lawsuit was filed on behalf
planned
of people incarcerated
in the Vigo County Jail
alleging that overcrowding
and conditions in the jail
violated the Eighth and 14th Amendments.26 A federal judge
granted a preliminary injunction in May 2017, ordering
the parties to agree on a form of injunction to protect
those incarcerated while the county worked to remediate
the facility.27 By February 2018, the parties were still
unable to agree on a course of action—or even the form
of injunction—that would settle the claims in the case,
although the plaintiffs called building a new jail “the only
feasible solution in the long run to address the chronic

overcrowding conditions.”28 The county had already
doubled the jail’s capacity after a 2001 lawsuit alleging
unconstitutional conditions in the jail, eventually agreeing
to a 268-person cap in a 2002 settlement.29 The county
regularly exceeded this cap in the years following—even
while outboarding people to other county jails—and the
ACLU of Indiana sued in 2013 to enforce the settlement.30
During the 2016 lawsuit, the county commissioned several
jail population analyses, ultimately receiving a projected
need of 527 beds—nearly double the current capacity.31
(See “Population projections presume continued growth”
on page 22.) Vigo County commissioners approved a sales
tax to pay for a new, larger jail effective January 2018 and
signed a construction contract.32 The county has since
settled the 2016 lawsuit.33
›	 The jail in Delaware
County, Indiana, has
Delaware County, IN
been at the center of
multiple lawsuits, and
the county continues
to struggle with
500-bed
litigation. The current
facility
facility was constructed
planned
as a result of a 1978
lawsuit filed on behalf
of incarcerated people
over unconstitutional
conditions, but when it opened, it was immediately
judged too small and outdated—quickly filling and
becoming overcrowded once again.34 In August 2017, a
jail inspector for the Indiana Department of Correction
(IDOC) notified the county that its jail was understaffed
and overcrowded—and thus noncompliant with state
jail standards.35 IDOC gave the county 180 days to
develop a plan of action.36 In 2018, more than two dozen
handwritten lawsuits were filed by jail residents, again
alleging overcrowding and unsafe, inhumane living
conditions.37 In 2018, county officials finally agreed to buy
and repurpose a former middle school for a new 500-bed
jail at a cost of between $37 million and $45 million.38

* Box notes at end of report.

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19

An additional revenue stream
The rise in overcrowding in many jail and prison facilities—and a shortage
of federal immigration detention beds—has driven the growth of an active
jail bed market in which counties, state prison systems, and the federal
government rent jail beds from county jails.68 Counties enter into contracts
with other government entities, offering them jail bed space in return for
a per diem payment per person.69 In fact, many overcrowded jails already
make use of this market by outboarding some of the people held by their
jurisdictions to other jail facilities. The desire to reduce outboarding and
the associated costs to house people elsewhere (and then transport them

20

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to and from court dates) can be a key incentive driving counties to build
larger jails.70 But some counties see the moment of jail construction as
an opportunity to be on the receiving end of jail outboard payments. For
these counties, the potential revenue from inboarding people from other
counties, state prisons, the U.S. Marshals, or ICE may incentivize them to
build larger jails than they would if they were only planning to incarcerate
people from their own counties.71 Combined with a concern that jail
populations will perpetually grow into the future, these counties perceive
that larger jails will provide consistent revenue that can help cover the
costs of building and operating new and bigger jails.

The rise in overcrowding in many jail
and prison facilities—and a shortage of
federal immigration detention beds—has
driven the growth of an active jail bed
market in which counties, state prison
systems, and the federal government rent
jail beds from county jails

In at least 20 percent of the 77 counties examined, stakeholders made
public arguments in support of jail expansion based on the possibility of
additional revenue. In Meigs County, Ohio, county decision makers planned
to build a jail of 60 or 70 beds to replace the 100-year-old jail facility that
had only five beds, counting on per diem payments from neighboring
counties that they argued would not only help pay for the jail building,
but would also save money that could be funneled into the county general
fund.72 In Jasper County, Iowa, in 2018, the board of supervisors approved
an expansion to its 84-bed jail, around half of which was already occupied

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21

Population projections presume continued growth*
Some counties that consider building more jail beds contract
with an architectural or planning firm to analyze their current
and future jail needs. The needs assessments and population
projections such consultants produce can play an important
role in the jail construction process. Vera researchers
reviewed projection documents written for 10 counties in eight
states—a subset of Vera’s 77-county sample—in order to
better understand the information these documents typically
contain and the methodologies they employ to predict future
jail populations; Vera researchers also reviewed how those
projections were covered in local media. The counties were
selected for diversity in geography and size and include
Canyon County, Idaho; Codington County, South Dakota;
Douglas County, Colorado; El Dorado County, California;
Stanislaus County, California; Gallatin County, Montana;
Greene County, New York; McLean County, Illinois; Sarpy
County, Nebraska; and Washington County, Nebraska.1
In general, projection documents provide counties with a
review of the current jail population data and an estimate
of the number of beds needed in the future. Some of the
documents provided additional analysis, such as the
usefulness of the current physical space. But, crucially,
there is no standardized, accepted methodology by which
to conduct these projections. In the 10 projections reviewed,
policy changes that had reduced jail populations were not
taken into serious consideration, and authors rejected models
that predicted a decline in population.

There is no accepted population projection
methodology
Vera found no dominant scientific methodology for projecting
future jail population growth in the sample of documents it
reviewed, and many lacked a clear scientific methodology

CHOICE TO:
Build
Build
Build

22

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at all. The projection document for Codington County, South
Dakota, explicitly states: “There is no commonly accepted
methodology for making inmate population projections.
. . . Counties that are designing new or expanded jails
have to determine for themselves which trends and which
mathematical models will provide them with reasonable
growth estimates for facility planning purposes.”2 The El
Dorado County, California, needs assessment noted that
“the large number of variables that can [a]ffect jail capacity
make it difficult to totally, accurately predict the needs
for the future. The magnitude or extent to which individual
variables can impact a detention facility is also difficult to
estimate.”3 These variables can include county population
trends, arrests, jail population, bookings and releases, and
length of stay. In the absence of a scientific methodology,
authors of the reviewed projection documents used a range
of methods and assumptions. For example, consultants
produced several models of future population growth for
Washington County, Nebraska, one of which relied on an
assumption that the county jail incarceration rate would grow
annually by the average national growth in the incarceration
rate since 1985, a period of immense jail expansion.4
In most jurisdictions, because jail sentences are no more than
a year and the typical pretrial stay can run from a few days
to a few weeks, jail populations can turn over quickly and
fluctuate significantly.5 Projecting a jail population 20 or even
30 years into the future is thus an inherently uncertain task.6
In Douglas County, Colorado, consultants in 2006 projected
a need for 535 beds by the year 2010 and 990 beds by the
year 2020, a 184 percent increase over the 2006 population
of 349.7 According to a later assessment conducted in 2011,
these projections “did not come to fruition, and instead the
jail has experienced a decline in both bookings and average
daily inmate population counts [emphasis in original],” with
an actual average daily population of 323 people in 2012.8

Projections presume population growth
despite evidence to the contrary
In all the projection documents reviewed, the consultants
concluded that the jail population was very likely to rise and
recommended that the county increase the number of jail
beds. This was true even when there seemed to be evidence
suggesting a potential decline in the jail population.
Consultants for Canyon County, Idaho, stated that length
of stay and jail admissions—the two factors that influence
jail populations—had both declined over several years.9 This
decline can possibly be attributed to a bed cap imposed by
a lawsuit—as well as a new classification system imposed
by the state of Idaho to reduce the number of bookings for
low-level offenses—that led stakeholders to increase the use
of cite-and-release instead of jail booking.10 Because bookings
and population had declined, several of the consultants’
models predicted that the population would continue to
decrease in the future.11 But the consultants discarded
these models, one for being “unrealistic.”12 The consultants
ultimately recommended more than doubling the number of
jail beds from 477 to 1,044.13
In addition to sometimes dismissing trends or policy changes
that threaten the argument for expansion, some consultants
relied on evidence of short-term increases in jail population
to justify a prediction of future growth—even though those
increases may simply have been evidence of normal jail
population fluctuation. In Codington County, South Dakota,
a consultant noted that the average daily population had
barely changed from 57 in 2008 to 59 in 2014, but also
highlighted a population spike in the most recent three

months in 2015—when the report was written—including one
month in which the average daily population reached 80. The
consultant recommended an increase to between 120 and 140
beds.14 Voters, however, have repeatedly rejected construction
of a new facility.15

The potential impact of criminal justice
reform is ignored
In the projections reviewed, consultants rarely considered
the impact of proactive policy change or major reforms
undertaken by counties. For example, authors of a needs
assessment for El Dorado County, California, stated, “The
entire El Dorado County criminal justice system will continue
to strongly support and implement a wide range of validated
risk/needs assessments and evidence-based programming
within community supervision caseloads and [in the] County
jail which is designed to reduce long-term recidivism among
male and female offenders. . . . [N]o estimate has been
made which would identify any reduction in jail custody
bed requirements resulting from the use and incorporation
of these evidence-based programs.”16 In Sarpy County,
Nebraska, authors stated that “[t]he forecasts also do not
take into account any policy changes which may occur,
[including] the expansion of alternatives to incarceration,”
and concluded that in this regard “[a] comprehensive study
looking at system issues may be of value for the County but
is beyond the scope of this study.”17

* Box notes at end of report.

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23

by people from neighboring Warren County, where the jail was closed for
building code violations.73 Because Warren County’s jail construction effort
has been delayed by public debates, land disputes, and budget reviews and
adjustments, the Jasper County board decided to renovate a previously
unfinished pod to gain 10 more beds, anticipating further revenue from
Warren County that could be used to pay for the construction costs.74
Further northwest, in Davis County, Iowa, voters approved the
construction of a new 28-bed jail and law center in 2015 that would more
than double its capacity of 12—even though the average jail population
had remained steady at around five people since 2012, and would do so
for another two years.75 In fact, according to the jail’s daily population
reports, there were many times in 2015 when the jail sat empty.76 Part of
the impetus for jail expansion was the prospect of added revenue from
housing jail population overflow from contiguous counties. Once the new
jail opened, the jail population jumped into the double digits—in part due
to incoming people from neighboring Appanoose County, which averaged
a daily population roughly triple what its own jail could hold legally.77 “I
thank you for your money, Appanoose County . . . you’ve created three jobs
. . . in my facility, that’s completely paid for. And we’re going to have money
left over,” remarked Davis County Sheriff Dave Davis in 2017.78
Meanwhile, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, designated around
80 of the nearly 300 beds in the jail it completed in 2018 for women,
explicitly hoping to make money from other counties that had run out
of space to hold incarcerated women.79 Laurel County, Kentucky’s jailer
stated in 2015 that he “can’t generate enough revenue without space
and beds,” and he pushed the county to construct a new jail in order to
bring “additional revenue from housing state, federal and out-of-county
inmates.”80 Oldham County, Kentucky, finished expanding its jail from 115
beds to 332 beds in 2018—with the possibility to expand to 500 beds—
although the jail population had never exceeded 172 as of 2016.81 The new
jail houses people for the state and federal governments as well as for ICE,
with which the county signed a new contract in 2017.82

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The risks and limitations of
jail expansion

L

ocal jurisdictions that considered or pursued jail expansion over the
last two decades based their decisions on one principal assumption:
that jail populations, although they fluctuate from day to day, always
trend upwards in the long term. This assumption was readily accepted by
many despite growing evidence that many places have deliberately reduced
their jail populations. In fact, some jurisdictions have expanded jails even
while touting the success of their diversion programs, as Flagler County,
Florida, did when it opened a new jail with more than 400 beds in 2016—
despite the former 132-bed jail having steadily operated below maximum
capacity.83
Pursuing infrastructure expansion as the purported best solution to
the varied problems that many jails face—whether it is overcrowding,
aging facilities, insufficient service provision, budget shortfalls, or some
combination of the above—can obscure the problems that directly
influence jail population size and, therefore, how jails are used. Narrowing
the field of vision in this way, a jurisdiction may pursue jail expansion
instead of focusing on the actions of a multitude of different actors
who impact jails, from law enforcement officers to prosecutors to bail
commissioners to judges. When the issue is formulated solely as one of
capacity—rather than as an inquiry into how and why a community decides
to use its jail—there can only be one solution: a bigger facility.
Having adopted such an analytical frame, it becomes easy to understand
why some county officials view jail expansion as a panacea. It can appear
to be an entirely sensible modernization strategy to update facilities
while expanding and deepening provision of services—or a much-needed
opportunity to defray costs or fill budget holes. But by pursuing jail
expansion in this way, the existing criminal justice practices that drive
people into the jail remain intact. This leaves in place not only entrenched
patterns of discretionary policy (such as bail practices), but also a lack of
sufficient investment in community-based services (such as public health

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

25

policies that neglect treatment for substance use or mental illness), which
likely helped expand the reach of local jails in the first place. Unless the
script about jail construction and expansion changes, the push to physically
expand local incarceration’s capacity, particularly in places where jail
populations continue to rise, will likely endure.

A jurisdiction may pursue jail expansion
instead of focusing on the actions of a
multitude of different actors who impact
jails, from law enforcement officers to
prosecutors to bail commissioners
to judges.

However, if the jail expansion question—to date, primarily focused on
why places should build bigger—expands to include an examination of the
possible consequences of doing so, the straightforward “more people, more
beds” calculus used by many jurisdictions in choosing a larger jail may
begin to unravel. Although jail expansion as an infrastructure improvement
may be paved with good intentions, the realities of jail expansion in a
number of counties reveals, on closer inspection, unintended consequences
and striking limitations—three of which are discussed below.

More jail beds, more people?
Counties that build larger jails typically hope the facility will provide
enough space for their needs for at least a few decades. But the scale of
local incarceration is directly tied to the policy environment and political
culture of a local justice system. Although jail expansion provides
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New jails seem to fill their beds quickly.
Local justice system actors may
be more likely to simply use
a now more readily available
resource.

System actors may forego policies
enacted to respond to capacity
limitations.

...

additional beds to house increasing numbers of people, including local
residents who had previously been outboarded to other county jail
facilities, it does not fundamentally address the policies and practices—
such as those related to arrest, bail, or sentencing—that directly impact
the number of people sent to jail and how long they stay. This approach
runs the risk that the jail population will continue to rise. In fact, once jail
capacity expands in these places, inertia among key institutional players
(law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, etc.) may bias the local justice
system to simply use a now more readily available resource: jail beds.
National data suggests this possibility. Of the 216 county jails constructed
between 1999 and 2005—a time of declining crime rates—the median jail
population rose 27 percent after construction was completed.84 A quarter
of the new jails more than doubled in size by 2006, and the facilities had
maintained their increased populations by 2013.
Several local examples seem to exemplify this trend. In Salt Lake
County, Utah, a $135 million new jail built in 2000 with 2,000 beds was
filled to capacity within 21 days of opening.85 The jail replaced an 870-bed
jail as well as an older facility called Oxbow, which was also able to close
when the new jail opened.86 But with the new jail running at capacity, the
county had to partially reopen Oxbow in 2009.87 After Utah’s 2015 criminal
justice reform legislation—which reclassified certain misdemeanors to
result in jail versus prison sentences—the county corrections system was
flooded with an additional 7,000 people per year, and the city council
authorized funding in 2019 to reopen yet two more pods at Oxbow.88
Likewise, a 1997 study looking at the impact of jail expansion on
incarceration in Orange County, Florida, found that available capacity was
correlated with the increased use of available jail beds and the consequent
Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

27

rise in the jail population—with the particular effect of increasing the
number of misdemeanor defendants landing in jail.89 On the western edge
of Tennessee, a newly expanded jail that increased capacity from 122 beds
to 201 in Tipton County became overcrowded the month that it opened.90
When the jail opened in January 2018, the population was 215, and it rose
to 239 by February 2019.91 Counties throughout Colorado also experienced
this trend through the 1980s and 1990s. Jefferson County opened a 480bed jail in 1986 that was intended to serve the county until 2005 but was
filled within five years, while Adams County’s jail—also opened in 1986—
was intended to suffice through 2000 but was filled to capacity within
two years.92
Why do newly expanded jails seem to fill their newly created beds once
they are made available? Experiences in some counties demonstrate that a
limit on the number of available jail beds can act as a built-in mechanism
to keep jail populations in check. Many sheriffs who operate under courtordered population caps in California, for example, express appreciation for
these restrictions because, among other things, they typically give sheriffs
more control over jail population size—usually by granting them early
release authority.93
On the other hand, additional jail capacity may prompt system
actors to forego the very policies and practices—such as early release

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policies or decreased police enforcement—that had been implemented to
accommodate previous capacity limitations.94 A consultant assessing the
jail capacity needs of Codington County, South Dakota, described this
phenomenon: “In many cases, arrest decisions, prosecution policies, and
sentencing practices are all impacted, to some extent, by the knowledge
that the jail is full. As new and additional jail beds become available, these
policies and practices can change, resulting in even greater demands for
jail capacity. This is why many new jail facilities are either full when they
open—or fill up much quicker than had been predicted.”95

Although jail expansion provides additional
beds to house increasing numbers of
people, it does not fundamentally address
the policies and practices that directly
impact the number of people sent to jail
and how long they stay.

The experiences of two counties illustrate this principle. The 2007
opening of a new jail in Ulster County, New York, appears to have led to
cutbacks in the funding for alternative-to-incarceration programs that
had kept jail populations in check, causing the new jail beds to quickly
fill.96 And once Coffee County, Tennessee’s new 400-bed jail opened in
2015, the county probation department decided to resume filing probation
violations—they had ceased when the old jail was full—causing an
immediate influx of people being held on violations of their community
supervision.97
Finally, as mentioned earlier, added capacity does little to alter the true
drivers of jail population and, thus, the causes of overcrowding.98 In Coffee
County, although the newly expanded jail was opened to address severe
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29

overcrowding, three years later the jail was on track for overcrowding once
more as the population had risen by more than 40 percent to 390 people.99
A number of different practices drove this phenomenon, including an
increase in the issuing of bench warrants for failure to appear, scant use
of summons for misdemeanor arrests, and increased use of jail sentences
instead of probation for certain crimes.100 The single largest driver,
responsible for nearly half the jail’s population, was pretrial incarceration
for misdemeanors.101 Only once Coffee County began to make policy
changes systemwide to reduce overcrowding in its jails—by, for example,
increasing the frequency of hearings and reducing court delays—was it able
to bring the jail population down to 320 people.102

The limits of jail-based behavioral health
services
Casting new jail space as rehabilitative and treatment-oriented—as some
states and counties have when rationalizing jail construction—might
sound like an improvement for the large number of people with high
needs who end up behind bars and need treatment services. But however
well-intentioned jail expansion may be—and no matter how much services
improve as a result—the experience of isolating confinement in a facility
the primary aim of which remains control, surveillance, and punishment
will still be traumatic for people, intrinsically limiting the rehabilitative
potential of a jail’s new treatment capacity.
Although Tulsa, Oklahoma, opened a state-of-the-art new mental health
pod in 2017—with specialized mental health services and programming
and a stated more “relaxed and therapeutic environment”—the new pod’s
residents ultimately still reside in the punishing circumstances of jail.103
When Mary Welton went to the new mental health pod to visit her son,
she was shocked to find him inside a cell with bare white walls, a stainlesssteel toilet, and a slab for a bed.104 Jail administrator David Park admitted
that “we’re not a mental health hospital. . . . We’re doing our best to give
people treatment they need, but we’re still a jail, and we can’t change
that.”105
Expanded jail-based services also may result in fewer resources
allocated elsewhere in the community—resources that might help prevent
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The limits of jail-based behavioral health services

Punishing conditions of jail
inherently limit the potential
of jail-based treatment.

May decrease investment
in community-based
resources.

Short jail stays reduce
impact of treatment.

Difficult to find
qualified health
providers.

Corrections-based treatment
not shown to improve criminal
justice outcomes.

jail incarceration in the first place. New jail construction often uses
available capital that could be employed for community health initiatives
and, at times, elected officials have cut child care and youth delinquency
prevention programs when building new jail space.106 By institutionalizing
much-needed medical and behavioral health services behind the jailhouse
walls, counties with finite resources may not be able to make parallel
investments in similar services in the community—services that jails
cannot simply replace. Community-based treatment is generally more
effective than jail-based treatment, and success must still depend on a
jail’s ability to link people to quality services in the community, because
jails house most people for a matter of only days or weeks, and thus their
capacity to make a lasting impact in terms of treatment is inherently
limited.107 Mental health interventions that are embedded in the criminal
justice system—including crisis intervention teams, mental health courts,
specialty probation models, and mental health programs such as Forensic
Assertive Community Treatment (FACT)—may not be particularly effective
in reducing the number of justice-involved people.108 Reviews of program
effectiveness have found only mixed or modest evidence that they reduce
recidivism and, of those that collected mental health outcome data, none
have shown that improved psychiatric symptoms and mental health status
lead to improved criminal justice outcomes.109
From a practical standpoint, it may not matter how much a jail
improves its treatment capacity. Without the existence of and coordination
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31

with high-quality health care and supportive services in the community,
newly expanded in-house capacities—such as the new mental health
pod in Tulsa—are likely to garner few long-term benefits for either the
individual or the jail. And the problem with the provision of behavioral
health services writ large in Oklahoma is acute: the state only has 820
state-funded beds to address the needs of adults with mental illnesses

However well-intentioned jail expansion
may be, the experience of isolating
confinement in a facility the primary aim
of which remains control, surveillance,
and punishment will still be traumatic
for people, intrinsically limiting the
rehabilitative potential of a jail’s new
treatment capacity.

and substance use disorders, and community mental health centers—
considered the backbone of the state’s mental health system—regularly
turn people away.110 The waiting period for these beds is approximately
five weeks, and mental health centers can only take people who are an
active danger to themselves or others—which helps explain why jails in
the state have become the default behavioral health treatment provider.111
Expanding jail-based treatment services through jail construction ignores
this gap in service provision in the community, perpetuating a system
that only focuses on late-stage intervention—after someone has landed
in jail—as opposed to prevention, and provides potentially higher quality
interventions to people once they become harder to serve.

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Los Angeles County provides a dramatic example of this principle.
Until recently, the county was on track to replace the aging Men’s Central
facility with a new $2 billion “mental-health focused jail.”112 The question
of what should replace the decrepit jail had been debated for years, and this
solution was intended to respond to the increasing numbers of people in
the jail with mental illness.113 But, facing pressure from grassroots activists
like #BlackLivesMatter, JusticeLA, and Reform L.A. Jails, the County
Board of Supervisors voted first in February 2019 to build a mental health
treatment facility operated primarily by health officials; and then again in
August 2019 to cancel the construction project entirely in order to pursue
community treatment, diversion, and local reinvestment options rather
than incarceration for people with mental illnesses and substance use
disorders.114 Community activists and leaders alike have expressed hopes
that after implementing these new policy options, the “dungeon-like” 1963
Men’s Central facility can be closed entirely, rather than replaced.115
Moreover, the success of any new jail expansion that is rationalized as
a way to provide improved behavioral health services depends on having
an adequate number of trained personnel. Although it is too soon to tell
whether the counties examined in this sample have encountered a problem
with recruitment and retention, it can be challenging to recruit and retain
qualified clinicians and other key treatment health providers in custody
environments.116 This was one reason why California’s newest medical
state prison in Stockton, opened in 2013, was forced to halt admissions just
six months later. Entire wings of the prison remained unopened because
the state could not hire enough staff—in particular, psychiatrists—and
inadequate staffing resulted in fragmented and poor-quality care.117

Large and escalating costs
The costs of building a new or expanded jail can be staggering, such as the
$571 million price tag for Marion County, Indiana’s new jail complex.118 But
smaller counties also face steep costs relative to the size of their budgets,
such as $12 million for Logan County, Arkansas, with a population of
22,000; and $9 million for Geneva County, Alabama, with a population of
26,000.119 The costs of construction can also change drastically from the
period of initial planning. In Greene County, Missouri, the initial estimate

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

33

to expand the jail from 601 to 1,215 beds was budgeted at $59 million as
the county finalized the sale of bonds to fund the jail.120 Once the county
hired a construction manager, the projected cost increased by more than
double to $144 million, and the county is planning to scale back the
project.121 These costs can be concerning even where policymakers intend
to build smaller. The projected cost of a new, smaller jail in Dane County,
Wisconsin, for example, doubled from the $76 million that had been
approved by the county board to $150 million after it was discovered that
it was structurally unsafe to add additional floors to the current facility
as planned.122

Counties face an additional risk when
building a larger jail in anticipation of
rental revenues: by expanding their longterm ability to incarcerate, counties may
come to fill these beds with local residents.

Beyond construction, there is another often underestimated cost
associated with building a larger jail: the additional cost of operations.
Experts estimate that capital costs represent only 10 percent of the total
cost of operating a new jail over a 30-year period.123 A larger jail holding
more incarcerated people requires additional corrections officers and
health care staff, which typically make up three-quarters of the costs of
running a jail.124 A larger jail population also requires higher expenditures
for food, health care services, laundry, and utilities. These increases in
operating costs are not financed through borrowing—in fact, most states
prohibit borrowing to pay operating costs.125 Instead, county managers
have to make up these often substantial costs elsewhere, either by raising

34

Vera Institute of Justice

taxes, cutting other county services, or attempting to raise revenue on the
jail bed market.
In early 2019, Hancock County, Indiana, was planning to build a new
jail of 440 beds, a vast increase over its jail capacity of 157 people.126 The
consultants hired by the county estimated that the larger facility would
drive operating costs as high as $9.3 million, compared to the current
operating costs of $6.5 million in the smaller facility, an increase of 43
percent.127 Elsewhere in Indiana, in Vigo County, county officials raised the
local income tax in order to construct a new jail, even though the county
still owed nearly $1 million to pay off the bond for the current jail.128 The
county predicts an increase in operating costs from around $5 million to
nearly $7 million.129 And, only four years after Gwinnett County, Georgia,
completed a jail expansion, people were triple-bunked again while six
housing units—360 beds—sat empty because the county could not finance
the staff to open and operate them.130
Counties that build larger jails to rent beds in order to make money
for jail operations—or even to pad the county’s general fund—can find
that their plans backfire. In exchange for a per diem payment, counties
are agreeing to operate a larger facility with more staff, an expensive and
sometimes risky endeavor that may not be fully covered by the amount of
the per diem.131 The bed rental dynamic turned out poorly for McHenry

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

35

The large and escalating costs of building and operating a new jail

Costs are staggering and can
increase during construction.

Cost of operations are
often underestimated.

Operating costs may
exceed bed-rental revenues.

Beds meant for rental may be
filled with local residents instead.

Changes in contract
terms can rapidly alter a
county’s fiscal outlook.

County, Illinois, with revenues from ICE falling $3 million below
projections in fiscal year 2014—and one estimate predicting that county
taxpayers would be paying at least $40 million over a seven-year period
to house a “rental” population.132 County Board member Donna Kurtz said,
“Knowing what we know now, we shouldn’t have gotten into this jail bedrental program.”133
Counties that enter these contracts also take on the risk of the other
jurisdictions or authorities changing the terms of the contracts, which can
rapidly change the county’s fiscal outlook. Yakima County, Washington,
faced this dilemma in 2011 when other counties in the area, many of which
had rented beds from Yakima for years, did not renew their contracts.134
After constructing a jail facility in 2006 solely to house such a contract
population, the county faced stiff competition from other jails offering
cheaper rental beds, while a state policy change to decriminalize driving
with a suspended license reduced jail admissions.135 Revenues from nearby
King County jurisdictions dropped from nearly $11 million in 2010 to less
than $300,000 in 2011.136 Midland County, Michigan, built a 250-bed jail in
2009 to replace the old jail, which held 140 people, expecting to rent beds
to nearby counties.137 By 2010, these contracts were not yet in place, leaving
two pods of the jail empty.138
Counties face an additional risk when building a larger jail in
anticipation of rental revenues: by expanding their long-term ability to
incarcerate, counties may come to fill these beds with local residents,

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Vera Institute of Justice

reducing outside revenues and increasing the local costs of incarceration.
This drop in revenue occurred in Washington County, Nebraska, where
people held for other counties generated nearly half a million dollars
in 2001.139 As the locally held jail population increased, however, these
revenues had declined to $116,000 by 2011.140 Johnston County, North
Carolina, signed a deal with the U.S. Marshals Service in 1999 in which the
county received $1.5 million to nearly double jail capacity from 100 to 191
in exchange for the Marshals use of up to 60 beds as needed.141 The county
has since come to rely on those beds for its own use and, in 2016, held 239
people.142 By mid-2019, the county was planning to build again—this time a
600-bed facility.143 Grayson County, Kentucky, decided to add an additional
200 beds onto its 517-bed capacity because the rising number of county
residents in jail has reduced space for people held for federal authorities, a
crucial source of financial support.144

Alternatives to bigger jails

A

lthough jails continue to grow in many counties around the country,
some counties have bucked the trend. Lifting the jail construction
blinders, as these places have, reveals that much can be done to help
reduce overincarceration at the local level without resorting to physical
expansion. These counties have recognized that jail population growth
is not inevitable. Indeed, the numbers reveal an emerging story of jail
population contraction in many jurisdictions around the country. Since
2008, the nationwide jail population has declined by 6 percent, or more
than 40,000 people.145 In 1,200 counties—40 percent of counties in the
country—jails had smaller populations in 2015 (the most recent year for
which county-level jail population data is available) than they did in 2008.
And, in more than 800 counties, populations declined by 10 percent or
more.146
Although Vera’s sample was constructed of counties that either are
considering or ultimately pursued jail construction, a number of other
counties have taken concrete steps to ensure that jails are used judiciously

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

37

in their communities. They have done so using a number of different
strategies, outlined below.

Implementing policy changes to expand
use of jail alternatives
In Pima County, Arizona, county policymakers
have focused on supporting people with mental
Pima
County, AZ
illnesses, providing early screenings and treatment
147
instead of housing them in the local jail. Their
coordinated policy changes resulted in a 15 percent
15%↓
in jail pop.
drop in the jail population within one year, as
btw. 2016
well as savings anticipated from closing housing
and 2017
units in the jail.148 In a similar vein, recognizing
that too many people with mental illnesses were
cycling through its county jail, Miami-Dade County,
Florida, founded the Criminal Mental Health Project in 2000 to channel
this population away from incarceration and toward community-based
treatment.149 People diverted through the project can receive services such
as temporary housing and connections to public assistance, in addition
to mental health treatment.150 Thousands of police officers—in 2017,
5,400 officers representing all 36 police departments in the county—were
also trained on mental health issues, including
recognition of people in crisis and de-escalation
techniques.151 In addition, the county established
Miami-Dade
County, FL
more receiving facilities—treatment locations
focused on emergency mental health and substance
use services—for people with mental illnesses,
40%↓
providing officers with an alternative to booking
in jail pop.
btw 2008
them into jail.152 These efforts have helped to reduce
and 2019
the size of the county’s jailed population from 7,044
in 2008 to 4,206 in January 2019, a 40 percent
decline.153
Following a drastic drop in its jail population in the post-Hurricane
Katrina period, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, was able to further reduce its
jail population from 3,400 in 2010 to fewer than 1,200 today as a result

38

Vera Institute of Justice

of reforms.154 Crucially, a city ordinance passed in
2011 imposed a cap of 1,438 beds.155 Other strategies
Orleans
Parish,
LA
included releasing more people on their own
recognizance instead of making them post money
bail, increasing the availability of public defense
65%↓
at first court appearance, increasing the frequency
in jail pop.
btw 2010
of a second bail review for people who could not
and 2019
initially post bail, fast-tracking court hearings
for people who have violated the terms of their
probation or parole, issuing summons in lieu of
arrest, and creating more opportunities for people who have mental health
or substance abuse issues to be directed to community-based programs.156
Some specific policy changes can have a rapid impact on the jail
population. Although the Cook County, Illinois, jail population has been
decreasing for years as a result of declining arrests,
a 2017 order by the chief judge requiring that bond
amounts for people charged with nonviolent felonies
Cook
be affordable further reduced the jail population by
County, IL
157
1,500 people over a three-month period. Although
the population increased again as some judges
↓1,500
resumed their former bail-setting practices, a far
jail pop. over
3-month
larger number of people charged with nonviolent
period in 2017
felonies are still being released on their own
recognizance, while the number required to pay bail
has dropped.158
Since 2015, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has reduced its jail population
by more than 40 percent to a level not seen since the 1990s, and it plans
to close its oldest facility—the 91-year old House of Correction—by
2020.159 The city implemented a range of jail reduction strategies, including
expanding diversion programs, increasing releases with low or no money
bail or through the use of money bail alternatives, and relying on the
civil rather than the criminal code to respond to low-level nonviolent
offenses.160 For those already detained pretrial, the city worked to identify
people who were good candidates for release because they posed no threat
to public safety and were unlikely to miss a court appearance.161
In 2013, confronted with an overcrowded jail that consumed more than
half of its budget, Bernalillo County, New Mexico, faced a stark choice:

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

39

reduce its jail population or increase jail capacity
by constructing new jail beds at an estimated cost
Bernalillo
162
County,
NM
of $44 million. The county chose the former
route and began to progressively implement a
number of policy and practice changes to reduce
42%↓
in jail pop.
jail bookings or facilitate pretrial release. These
btw 2014
included the increased use of citations for petty
and 2017
misdemeanors; the roll-out of an evidence-based
risk assessment tool to help judges determine people
who are candidates for release, which increased the
number of people released within 72 hours of arrest by 20 percent; and
“safe surrender” events that allow people to clear up outstanding warrants
without being arrested.163 And, in 2015, because the county suffered from
significant delays from arrest and indictment to disposition—contributing
to overcrowding at the Bernalillo Metropolitan Detention Center
(BMDC)—the New Mexico Supreme Court enacted Local Rule 2-400 to
reduce overcrowding at BMDC and increase speedy resolution of cases
countywide.164 The new rule requires that cases go to trial within a specific
time frame—which varies depending on the factors of the case—and
imposes sanctions and fines for failing to meet the established deadlines.165
The county also established special dockets designed to clear thousands

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Vera Institute of Justice

of backlogged cases.166 Finally, in 2016, voters approved a constitutional
amendment to ensure that people who are neither a danger nor a flight
risk cannot be detained pretrial solely because they are too poor to post
bail.167 After its implementation, the number of people on bond but held in
custody at the BMDC fell from 402 in January 2017 to 66 in May 2018.168
As a result of these many initiatives, the county’s jail population declined
to approximately 1,200 people by 2017, a 23 percent drop from the year
prior and a nearly 42 percent decline from December 2014.169

Staying at capacity or downsizing
Although the push to build larger is pervasive, in some counties officials
choose to build new jails with the same number—or even fewer—beds as
the old jail. Orange County, North Carolina, for example, is in the process
of replacing its 138-bed jail, originally built in 1925, with a facility very
nearly the same size at 144 beds.170 In Dane County, Wisconsin, a jail
renovation project approved in 2018 would decrease the total number
of jail beds by 91, minimize the use of solitary confinement cells, and
increase overall programming space.171 Schoolcraft County, Michigan,
a county with a shrinking jail population, is considering closing its
outdated jail and outboarding the few people it continues to incarcerate
as a fiscally responsible alternative to continuing to operate its own
jail.172 And, in New York City, the City Council voted in October 2019 to
approve the construction of four new borough-based jails to replace the
decaying facilities that currently exist in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and
Manhattan—including closing and decommissioning the notorious Rikers
Island complex.173 The plan is forecast to reduce the number of operating
jails from 11 to four and cut the city’s jail capacity by 76 percent—from
nearly 14,000 beds today to a projected 3,300 by 2026.174
In addition, some counties that have traditionally used excess jail beds
to house people from other county jails or the federal government are
deciding that operating a much larger jail than the county needs no longer
makes fiscal sense. In Dodge County, Wisconsin, the board of supervisors
rejected a proposal to add additional beds to the county’s jail facility and
agreed to close a 108-bed pod.175 The jail holds 420 people, only around
one-third of whom are local to Dodge County.176 The rest of the beds are

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

41

filled with immigration detainees and people held for the U.S. Marshals.177
Closing the pod will still allow sufficient beds for county needs.178

Conclusion

T

he growth of mass incarceration in communities across America was
accompanied by a boom in jail construction, vastly increasing the
capacity of local governments to incarcerate hundreds of thousands
more people. Nationwide, this growth continues, with thousands of
new jail beds added each year, a hugely expensive investment for local
governments—especially in an era of falling crime rates. As jails grew more
overcrowded, concerns about safety and conditions, especially in old or
out-of-date facilities, have driven many counties to build larger jails. The
organizations and individuals that stand to benefit from jail expansion
build support for these projects using the justifications that most resonate
with the community—whether it be economic development, safety, better
jail conditions, or substance use and mental health treatment. In many
counties, decision makers and the consultants they hire take for granted
that a larger jail is needed. They frame the debate as a question of how to

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use the larger jail, rather than considering whether a new jail is needed or
how they can reduce the jail’s size.
There are numerous risks to this approach. With a larger jail, county
taxpayers are on the hook for a more expensive system to run. And the
existence of more jail beds does not address the underlying factors driving
jail population growth. With these factors left unaddressed, the county
risks an ever-increasing jail population. Can counties both build more
jail beds and invest in policy change to reduce jail populations over time?
Many try, but find that their motivation to do so is reduced with increased
capacity now existing for decades to come. Services in the jail rarely
match the quality of services in the community, and even the most
ambitious plans to radically improve health care through more jail beds
often fall short.
A growing number of counties view the assumption of perpetual
growth with suspicion. These places are renovating older facilities
instead of building larger jails, maintaining smaller jail populations, and
voting down proposals to build bigger. They are also looking for ways
to invest in community-based treatment services, rather than locating
such services within a jail expansion project. By pushing back against
the cycle of construction, these counties can save money, hold fewer of
their community members behind bars, and dedicate more resources to
evidence-based practices that more effectively ensure community safety.
These are places that are breaking new ground. It’s a model all of America’s
counties should consider.

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

43

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Vera Institute of Justice

Appendix: Methodology and summary of sample

Vera selected a convenience sample of 77 counties in 31 states to better understand the major public arguments
made in favor of jail expansion. Vera selected counties that considered jail expansion in the years between 2000
and 2019 as indicated by county boards discussing the issue at county meetings, holding public meetings on the
issue, hiring consultants, holding a vote on the issue, and/or ultimately beginning construction. Vera conducted
secondary research into these counties by examining media reports, jail litigation cases, academic papers, and
government documents including commissioned studies.

State

Jurisdiction

Construction status

New or
replacement/
expansion1

Alabama

Geneva County

Under construction 2019

Replacement

Arkansas

Logan County

Completed 2019

Replacement

Arkansas

Marion County

Completed 2018

Replacement

California

Butte County

Under construction 2019

Replacement

California

El Dorado County2

RFP expected 2020

Replacement

California

Fresno County

Under construction 2019

Replacement

California

Kings County

Completed 2016 and 2018

Expansion

California

Los Angeles County

Contract canceled 2019

Replacement

California

Merced County

Proposal for funding rejected 2013

 

California

Santa Barbara County

Under construction 2019

New

California

Santa Clara

Construction in RFP stage 2019

Replacement

California

Stanislaus County2

Under construction 2019

Replacement

California

Tulare County

Completed 2019

New

Colorado

Douglas County2

Completed 2015

Expansion

Florida

Flagler County

Completed 2016

Expansion

Florida

Okaloosa County

None

 

Georgia

Gwinnett County

Completed 2006

Expansion

Idaho

Canyon County2

Voters rejected bond in May 2019

Replacement

Illinois

McHenry County

Completed 2005

Expansion

Illinois

McLean County2

Completed 2018

Expansion

Indiana

Adams County

Completed 2017

Replacement

Indiana

Bartholomew County

None

 

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

45

46

Indiana

Carroll County

Looking for site; construction to start 2020

Replacement

Indiana

Delaware County

Approved 2019

Replacement

Indiana

Dubois County

Study in feedback stage 2019

 

Indiana

Fayette County

Under construction 2019

Replacement

Indiana

Floyd County

Completion expected 2019

Expansion

Indiana

Fountain County

Completion expected 2019

Replacement

Indiana

Hamilton County

Completed 2019

Expansion

Indiana

Hancock County

Construction expected 2020

Replacement

Indiana

Henry County

Regional jail proposal rejected September 2019

 

Indiana

Jackson County

Considering funding

 

Indiana

Johnson County

Study completed 2019

Replacement

Indiana

Marion County

Under construction 2019

Replacement

Indiana

Vanderburgh County

Seeking funding

Expansion

Indiana

Vigo County

Accepting bids in late 2019

Replacement

Iowa

Davis County

Completed 2017

Replacement

Iowa

Jasper County

Bid approved 2018

Expansion

Kentucky

Grayson County

Under construction 2019

Expansion

Kentucky

Laurel County

Completion expected 2019

New

Kentucky

Oldham County

Completed 2018

Replacement

Louisiana

Winn Parish

Completed 2018

Replacement

Maine

Penobscot County

Design approved 2019

Replacement

Michigan

Midland County

Completed 2009

Replacement

Michigan

Schoolcraft County

Rejected by voters 2018

 

Michigan

Wayne County

Under construction 2019

Replacement

Mississippi

Coahoma County

Under construction 2019

Replacement

Mississippi

Rankin County

Completion expected 2019

New

Mississippi

Warren County

In design 2019

Replacement

Missouri

Benton County

Accepting bids in 2019

Replacement

Missouri

Franklin County

Under construction 2019

Expansion

Missouri

Greene County

Funding approved 2019

Expansion

Vera Institute of Justice

Montana

Gallatin County2

Construction completed 2010

Replacement

Nebraska

Sarpy County2

In design phase 2019

Replacement

Nebraska

Washington County2

Under construction 2019

Replacement

New York

Greene County2

Approved 2019 new or regional jail

Replacement

New York

Herkimer County

Under construction 2019

 

North Carolina

Iredell County

Completion expected 2019

Expansion

North Carolina

Johnston County

In design phase 2019; bids open 2020

New

North Carolina

Orange County

Construction expected late 2019

New

Ohio

Clark County

Needs assessment done 2019

 

Ohio

Meigs County

Voters rejected levy 2018

Replacement

Oklahoma

Tulsa County

Completed 2017

Expansion

Oregon

Benton County

Needs assessment done 2018

 

Pennsylvania

Butler County

Completed 2009

Replacement

Pennsylvania

Northumberland County

Completed 2018

Replacement

South Dakota

Codington County2

Voters rejected 2017

Replacement

Tennessee

Coffee County

Construction completed 2015

Replacement

Tennessee

Loudon County

Completion expected 2019

New

Tennessee

Tipton County

Completed 2018

Expansion

Tennessee

Wilson County

In evaluation stage 2018

 

Texas

Ector County

Completion expected 2019

Expansion

Utah

Salt Lake County

Completed 2000

 

Washington

Yakima County

Completed 2006

New

Wisconsin

Dane County

Budget approved 2018, approved by committees
Replacement
2019

Wisconsin

Dodge County

Rejected by building committee 2018

 

Wyoming

Sweetwater County

Completed 2005

Replacement

“New” construction means a county has constructed a facility where none existed before, without closing an existing facility. “Replacement”
means that a county has decided to close an existing facility and build a new one either on the same or a different site. “Expansion” means
that an existing facility will remain open and the county has undertaken to add jail beds either by adding onto that building or constructing
additional buildings in a complex or remotely.

1

2

Vera reviewed population projection documents for this county. See “Population projections presume continued growth” on page 22.

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

47

Endnotes
1	

U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS),
“National Jail Census, 1970,” database (Ann Arbor, MI: Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research, 2005),
https://perma.cc/BV5N-A56P.

2	

Zhen Zeng, Jail Inmates in 2017 (Washington, DC: BJS, 2019), 7,
https://perma.cc/8A9J-VQ2V.

3	

For the jail population in 1970, see Margaret Werner Cahalan,
Historical Corrections Statistics in the United States, 1850-1984
(Washington, DC: BJS, 1986), 79, https://perma.cc/47VS-GUNF. For
the jail population in 2008, see Todd Minton and William Sabol, Jail
Inmates at Midyear 2008 (Washington, DC: BJS, 2009), 2, https://
perma.cc/C4YE-3WFK. For “tough on crime” policies, see note 21.

4	

In 2008, the number of people incarcerated in jails at midyear was
785,500; in 2017 it was 745,200. Zeng, Jail Inmates in 2017, 2019, 2.

5	

For the increase in number of jail beds between 2008 and 2017,
compare table 2 in Minton and Sabol, Jail Inmates at Midyear 2008,
2009, 3, with table 6 in Zeng, Jail Inmates in 2017, 2019, 7. In 1970, the
violent crime rate was 363.5 per 100,000, and the property crime
rate was 3,621 per 100,000; in 2014, the most recent year available
in the database, the rates were 375.7 and 2,596.1 per 100,000,
respectively. BJS, “Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Statistics Data
Tool: Violent and Property Crime Rates from 1960-2014,” database
(Washington, DC: BJS), https://www.bjs.gov/ucrdata/Search/
Crime/State/RunCrimeStatebyState.cfm.

6	

48

To calculate jail capacity data, Vera researchers compiled jail
incarceration data from BJS, which collects data on every jail in the
United States at uneven intervals through the Census of Jails. The
Census of Jails has been performed in 1970, 1972, 1978, 1983, 1988,
1993, 1999, 2005, 2006, and 2013. The most recent data available
is from 2013, and the most recent comparison data on capacity is
from 2005. BJS also conducts a survey of a sample of jails in each
intervening year. For more information, see methodology related to
Vera’s Incarceration Trends project. Jacob Kang-Brown and Oliver
Hinds, Incarceration Trends Project: Data and Methods for Historical
Jail Populations in U.S. Counties, 1970–2015 (New York: Vera Institute
of Justice, 2018). Vera’s analysis of the urban-rural continuum
collapses the six categories defined by the National Center for
Health Statistics (NCHS) Urban-Rural Classification Scheme for
Counties to four. A county is labeled “urban” if it is one of the core
counties of a metropolitan area with a million or more people and
“suburban” if it is within the surrounding metropolitan area. Vera
collapses the remaining four categories into two by combining
medium with small metropolitan areas and micropolitan (an urban
area with a population of at least 10,000 but less than 50,000)
with noncore areas (all other areas not considered metropolitan
or micropolitan). Vera considers the former “small and midsized
metros” and the latter “rural.” Rural areas are the most numerous,
with more than 1,900 counties. See Deborah Ingram and Sheila

Vera Institute of Justice

Franco, 2013 NCHS Urban–Rural Classification Scheme for Counties
(Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014), 2-5, https://
perma.cc/J434-9NJ4.
7	

Ibid. During that time, rural counties invested in the largest increase,
but suburban and midsized cities also built substantial new jail
capacity. See Ram Subramanian, Christian Henrichson, and Jacob
Kang-Brown, In Our Own Backyard: Confronting Growth and
Disparities in American Jails (New York: Vera Institute of Justice,
2015), 7-11, https://perma.cc/65D7-D8QM; and Jacob Kang-Brown
and Ram Subramanian, Out of Sight: The Growth of Jails in Rural
America (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2017), 9-13, https://
perma.cc/MHT7-UHE8.

8	

In 1970, there were 511 prisons in the United States. In the next 30
years, 1,152 new prisons were built, covering 580 square miles. See
John Eason, “Prisons as Panacea or Pariah?: The Countervailing
Consequences of the Prison Boom on the Political Economy of Rural
Towns,” Social Sciences 6, no. 1 (2017), 1.

9	

See generally Ruth W. Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus,
Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press, 2007), 87-127 (arguing that the prison
boom in California came about through a surplus in financial
capital, political capital, and rural land), https://perma.cc/UY397V9U; and Eric Schlosser, “The Prison Industrial Complex,” Atlantic,
December 1998, https://perma.cc/J2HC-KF8A.

	

For studies that examine prison siting and the demographics of
prison sites, see John M. Eason, “Mapping Prison Proliferation:
Region, Rurality, Race, and Disadvantage in Prison Placement,”
Social Science Research 39, no. 6 (2010), 1015-1028 (finding that
new prison placement is more likely to occur in densely populated
towns with prior proximate prisons and with a higher than average
percentage of poverty and Black and Latinx populations); Michele
Hoyman and Micah Weinberg, “The Process of Policy Innovation:
Prison Sittings in Rural North Carolina,” Policy Studies Journal 34,
no. 1 (2006), 95-112, 107 (finding that population density, owner
occupants, and college graduates are negatively correlated with
prison siting); Suzanne M. Kirchhoff, Economic Impacts of Prison
Growth (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Congressional
Research Service, 2010), 5, 16, 29-32 (60 percent of prisons built
during the “boom years” of 1980–1991 were sited in rural counties
that account for 20 percent of the nation’s population), https://
perma.cc/X8ZS-DXES; and Sarah Lawrence and Jeremy Travis,
The New Landscape of Imprisonment: Mapping America’s Prison
Expansion (Washington, DC: Urban Institute, 2004), https://perma.
cc/MUD3-3SX5.

	

For studies that look at the economic and other impacts of new
prison construction on host communities, see Eason, “Panacea or
Pariah?,” 2017, 31-32 (finding that locales that adopted new prisons
at earlier stages of the prison boom era received only a short-term

economic boom, but that prison building protected towns against
additional economic decline), https://perma.cc/C7G5-ZY6Y; Tracy
Huling, “Building a Prison Economy in Rural America,” in Invisible
Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment,
edited by Marc Mauer and Meda Chesney-Lind (New York: The
New Press, 2002), 197-213; Amy K. Glasmeier and Tracey Farrigan,
“Economic Impacts of the Prison Development Boom on Persistently
Poor Rural Places,” International Regional Science Review 30,
no. 3 (2007), 274-299 (finding that prisons may provide nominal
positive economic impact in persistently poor rural communities);
Terry L. Besser and Margaret M. Hanson, “Focus on Rural Economic
Development,” Journal of the Community Development Society
35, no. 2 (2004), 1-16 (arguing that new prison towns experienced
less growth than nonprison towns, and that prison towns had a
greater increase in unemployment and poverty); Gregory Hooks,
Clayton Mosher, Thomas Rotolo, and Linda Lobao, “The Prison
Industry: Carceral Expansion and Employment in U.S. Counties,
1969–1994,” Social Science Quarterly 85, no. 1 (2004), 37-57 (finding
no evidence that prison expansion stimulates economic growth, but
it may negatively impact rural economies by limiting other types
of development), https://perma.cc/PLR6-64GP; Gregory Hooks,
Clayton Mosher, Thomas Rotolo, and Linda Lobao, “Revisiting the
Impact of Prison Building on Job Growth: Education, Incarceration,
and County-Level Employment, 1976–2004,” Social Science
Quarterly 91, no. 1 (2010), 228-244 (there is reason to doubt that
prisons provide economic benefits to struggling communities);
Rebecca U. Thorpe, “Perverse Politics: The Persistence of Mass
Imprisonment in the Twenty-first Century,” Perspectives on
Politics 13, no. 3 (2015), 618-637, 622-623 (prison development
reinforces and incentivizes perceptions that rural economies
benefit, ultimately at the expense of poor urban neighborhoods);
Michael A. Burayidi and Mamadou Coulibaly, “Image Busters: How
Prison Location Distorts the Profiles of Rural Host Communities and
What Can Be Done About It,” Economic Development Quarterly 23,
no. 2 (2009), 141-149; and Ryan S. King, Marc Mauer, and Tracy
Huling, Big Prisons, Small Towns: Prison Economics in Rural America
(Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project, 2004), https://perma.
cc/2MK2-ZXV7.
	

For studies of local perceptions of prison impact and their
accuracy, see Robert C. Turner and David Thayer, “Yes in
My Backyard! Why Do Rural Communities Use Prison Based
Economic Development Strategies?,” paper presented at the
annual meeting of the Northeast Political Science Association
Conference, Philadelphia, PA, November 8-9, 2003 (arguing that
differences between counties that have decided to build and not
build prisons are based on a calculus of “jobs versus quality of
life”), https://perma.cc/F2LU-PRRQ; Douglas Clement, “Big House
on the Prairie,” Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, January
2002, https://perma.cc/2FEF-E6MS; Matthew R. Engel, “When a
Prison Comes to Town: Siting, Location, and Perceived Impacts
of Correctional Facilities in the Midwest” (PhD diss., University
of Nebraska, 2007), https://perma.cc/6D5J-BD64; Andrea R.
Morell, “The Prison Fix: Race, Work, and Economic Development

in Elmira, New York” (PhD diss., City University of New York, 2012),
https://perma.cc/64GL-QNZE; Kevin E. Courtright, Michael J.
Hannan, Susan H. Packard, and Edward T. Brennan, Prisons and
Rural Communities: Exploring Economic Impact and Community
Satisfaction (Harrisburg, PA: Center for Rural Pennsylvania, 2006)
(examining factors, including hiring decisions, that influence
community perceptions of local correctional facilities), https://
perma.cc/9NXC-4DP6; Susan H. Packard and Kevin E. Courtright,
“Exploring Satisfaction and the Perception of Economic Impact
among Communities Hosting Correctional Institutions: A Qualitative
Examination of Four Rural Communities in Pennsylvania,”
International Journal of Business and Social Science 6, no. 8
(2015), 1-13, 8-10 (the perception of economic benefit, more than
any actual benefit, drives community perceptions of locally sited
prisons), https://perma.cc/SDM4-ZDRY; and U.S. Department of
Justice (DOJ), National Institute of Corrections, Issues in Siting
Correctional Facilities (Washington, DC: DOJ, 1994) (discussing
management of public perception of correctional facilities), https://
perma.cc/DHE5-CKCE.
	

For studies examining the relationship between prison litigation and
prison expansion, see Joshua Guetzkow and Eric Schoon, “If You
Build It, They Will Fill It: The Unintended Consequences of Prison
Overcrowding Litigation,” Law & Society Review 49, no. 2 (2015), 4032 (finding that litigation leads to an increase in spending on prison
capacity and increased capacity leads to increased incarceration
rates); and Heather Schoenfeld, “Mass Incarceration and the
Paradox of Prison Conditions Litigation,” Law & Society Review 44,
no. 3 (2010), 731-768 (arguing that prison overcrowding litigation
produced increased prison-building rather than decreased prison
populations).

	

For studies examining the relationship between increased capacity
and increased incarceration levels, see J. Mullen and B. Smith,
American Prisons and Jails Vols. 1 and 2 (Washington, DC: DOJ,
National Institute of Justice, 1980); and Alfred Blumstein, Jaqueline
Cohen, and William Gooding, “The Influence of Capacity on
Prison Population: A Critical Review of Recent Evidence,” Crime &
Delinquency 29, no. 1 (1983), 1-51 (re-examining computations in
a prior study that estimated how long it would take to fill added
capacity in prisons at the then-current rate of expansion); and
William Spelman, “Crime, Cash, and Limited Options: Explaining
the Prison Boom,” Criminology and Public Policy 8, no. 1 (2009),
29-77 (finding that “the best predictors of prison populations are
crime, sentencing policy, prison crowding, and state spending”),
https://perma.cc/RKE6-26PL.

10	 For example, only one empirical study could be located on the
subject: Stewart D’Alessio and Lisa Stolzenberg, “The Effect of
Available Capacity on Jail Incarceration: An Empirical Test of
Parkinson’s Law,” Journal of Criminal Justice 25, no. 4 (1997),
79-288 (finding that available jail capacity increased daily levels
of incarceration). The phrase “celling of America” was coined in
Daniel Burton-Rose, Paul Wright, and Dan Pens, eds., in The Celling

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

49

of America: An Inside Look at the US Prison Industry (Monroe, ME:
Common Courage Press, 2002).
11	 County and state leaders still often use such justifications to
support rural county jail expansion, despite evidence that the
purported economic benefits of prison construction were not
borne out—or the fact that county jails are usually funded by
local taxes, thus directly siphoning resources from the community.
See Mark Edelman and Adrian Mayer, “A Rural Community
Developer’s Guide to Jail Alternatives and Costs,” Journal of the
Community Development Society 32, no. 2 (2001), 254-271 (a
2001 study reviewed the economic incentives for building—or not
building—eight rural county jails, including how local officials
made determinations and what frameworks, methods, and cost
estimate styles were used), https://perma.cc/2BV5-M5SA. Indeed,
the notion that incarceration can bring economic development
remains so commonplace that the U.S. Department of Agriculture
has been providing community development loans for rural counties
to expand their jails since 1996. See Jack Norton and Jacob KangBrown, “Federal Farm Aid for the Big House,” Vera Institute of
Justice, October 2018, https://perma.cc/8MXB-ANS6. Also see Jack
Norton and Judah Schept, “Keeping the Lights On,” Vera Institute
of Justice, March 2019 (discussing how some Kentucky counties
have become reliant on revenues from housing state prisoners as
severance tax revenue from coal extraction has declined, building
larger prisons to continue meeting the need), https://perma.cc/
FXV5-X7PW.
	

For literature detailing the use of economic advancement
arguments in promoting prison proliferation, see Gilmore,
Golden Gulag, 2007 (an examination of how prisons were built
in California); Jack Norton, “Little Siberia, Star of the North:
The Political Economy of Prison Dreams in the Adirondacks,” in
Historical Geographies of Prisons: Unlocking the Usable Carceral
Past, edited by Karen M. Mori and Dominique Moran (New York:
Routledge, 2015), 168-184 (an examination of how prisons were built
in upstate New York); and Anne Bonds, “Discipline and Devolution:
Constructions of Poverty, Race, and Criminality in the Politics
of Rural Prison Development,” Antipode 41, no. 3 (2009), 416-438
(an examination of discourse on prison construction in Idaho and
Montana), https://perma.cc/4T5Y-3JQ4. For an examination of
local decision drivers in siting prisons, see Turner and Thayer, “Yes
in My Backyard!,” 2003. For an examination of strategies developed
to influence local perception of correctional facilities, see DOJ,
Issues in Siting Correctional Facilities, 1994. For a discussion of
the economics of prison, see generally Hooks, Mosher, Rotolo, and
Lobao, “Carceral Expansion and Employment,” 2004; and Hooks,
Mosher, Rotolo, and Lobao, “Revisiting the Impact of Prison Building
on Job Growth,” 2010. For an economic discussion about and
comparison of eight jails, see Edelman and Mayer, “Guide to Jail
Alternatives and Costs,” 2003.

12	 New Orleans is a good example of a place where multiple rounds
of jail expansion have consumed much time and energy. After
Hurricane Katrina critically damaged the city’s massive jail complex

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in 2005, resulting in the demolition of two jail buildings in 2007,
the city broke ground on a new 1,438-bed jail in 2010. Although
the new facility opened in 2015, the jail complex remains under
court supervision—established in 2013—due to poor conditions of
confinement. Although the jail complex was originally envisioned
with an additional wing designed to focus on people with mental
health and substance use issues, further construction on the
complex has been stymied by an ownership dispute between the
sheriff and the city over one of the proposed jail sites stemming
from how jail construction/expansion funding was allocated in 1989
on the site, as well as a dispute over how to equitably distribute
Federal Emergency Management Agency funds allocated to the
city for capital projects post-Hurricane Katrina. In March 2019, the
federal judge monitoring the jail ordered officials to add another
facility for incarcerated people with mental health issues, rather
than housing them in the main jail, a project the city has estimated
may cost another $5 million. See Richard Rainey, “Mayor Landrieu,
Sheriff Gusman: Who Controls $54 Million for Jail?,” nola.com,
September 25, 2015, https://www.nola.com/politics/2015/09/a_
mayor_a_sheriff_and_a_54_mil.html; Katy Reckdahl, “New Orleans
Breaks Ground on New Jail,” Times-Picayune, September 2, 2011,
https://www.nola.com/crime/2011/09/new_orleans_breaks_
ground_on_n.html; and Matt Sledge, “‘Culture Change?’: Federal
Judge Sees Improvement in Embattled New Orleans Jail under New
Chief,” New Orleans Advocate, June 13, 2018, https://www.nola.
com/news/courts/article_df63b41d-a61e-57a4-ae1c-745bfdf9039a.
html. Also see Raven Rakia, “New Orleans Wants to Make Its
Notorious Jail Bigger,” The Appeal, April 15, 2019, https://perma.cc/
ZL6Y-BLAN; and Matt Sledge, “Judge Orders Renovations of New
Orleans Jail to House Mentally Ill Inmates,” CorrectionsOne, March
20, 2019, https://perma.cc/WSY2-3KKN.
13	 For the number of jail jurisdictions in 2016, see Zeng, Jail Inmates in
2017, 2019, 10. Data on jail construction is no longer collected by the
Bureau of Justice Statistics. The last national survey that collected
any data on jail construction was more than a decade ago, in 2006,
and that data simply reported the years of jail construction and
expansion projects. See James Stephan, Census of Jail Facilities,
2006 (Washington, DC: BJS, 2011), 4.
14	 Bernadette Rabuy and Daniel Kopf, Detaining the Poor: How
Money Bail Perpetuates an Endless Cycle of Poverty and Jail Time
(Northampton, MA: Prison Policy Institute, 2016), https://perma.cc/
JF56-WTUV.
15	 Matt Ford, “America’s Largest Mental Hospital Is a Jail,” Atlantic,
June 8, 2015, https://perma.cc/4RKE-X353. For an examination
of the links between victimization and justice system involvement,
see for example Dana DeHart, Pathways to Prison: Impact of
Victimization in the Lives of Incarcerated Women (Washington, DC:
U.S. Department of Justice, 2005), https://perma.cc/S789-RCTP.
16	 Ram Subramanian, Ruth Delaney, Stephen Roberts et al.,
Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jail in America (New York:
Vera Institute of Justice, 2015), 11-18, https://perma.cc/XNM8-7PBG.

17	 Many state departments of corrections are renting an ever larger
number of beds from county jails to house people who would
normally serve out their sentences in prison. At year-end 2016, a
total of 83,700 prisoners were held in the custody of local jails
for 35 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Louisiana, in
particular, held a significant proportion (58 percent) of its state
prison population in local facilities. Other states that held a large
proportion of their state prison population in local facilities include
Kentucky (48.4 percent), Mississippi (26.3 percent), Tennessee
(23.8 percent), Utah (26.2 percent), Virginia (21 percent) and
West Virginia (17.6 percent). See E. Ann Carson, Prisoners in 2016
(Washington, DC: BJS, 2018), 14 & table 17, https://perma.cc/
MWQ8-FSMS.
18	 See for example Pat Reavy and Katie McKellar, “The Jail Crisis: How
Did We Get Here?,” Deseret News, May 12, 2017, https://perma.cc/
UZ7N-ZBBZ.
19	 See generally Kang-Brown and Subramanian, Out of Sight, 2017.
20	 Ibid., 9-15.
21	 See for example Bernard E. Harcourt and Jens Ludwig, “Reefer
Madness: Broken Windows Policing and Misdemeanor Marijuana
Arrests in New York City, 1989–2000,” University of Chicago Public
Law & Legal Theory Working Paper 142 (2006), https://perma.cc/
K2EC-A7CN; and Andrew Golub, Bruce D. Johnson, and Eloise
Dunlap, “The Race/Ethnicity Disparity in Misdemeanor Marijuana
Arrests in New York City,” Criminology & Public Policy 6, no. 1
(2007), 131-164, https://perma.cc/66SD-ZBQW.
22	 Kang-Brown and Subramanian, Out of Sight, 2017, 16-20.
23	 For California, see California AB 109 (2011), https://perma.cc/U8JU92ST. The main focus of this law is the location of incarceration.
Due to overcrowding in the state prison system, the legislation
identifies hundreds of felonies—typically less serious offenses
including most drug and property crimes—that are eligible for
county jail sentences or split county jail/county community
supervision sentences. People who are eligible are those convicted
of so-called “non-non-non offenses”—or nonviolent, nonserious,
nonsexual offenses—who have no prior violent, serious, or sexual
criminal history. See California Penal Code § 1170(h) (2018), https://
perma.cc/4MPH-534F. On the eve of the law’s implementation,
15 counties (nearly a third of the state’s jail jurisdictions) were
already operating under court orders limiting the number of people
incarcerated in their jails. These counties are El Dorado, Fresno,
Kern, Los Angeles, Merced, Placer, Riverside, Sacramento, San
Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, Stanislaus,
Tulare, and Yolo. Magnus Lofstrom and Katherine Kramer, Capacity
Challenges in California’s Jails (San Francisco, CA: Public Policy
Institute of California, 2012), 5 & note 8, https://perma.cc/2GV4RNCF. By 2013, 55 of the 123 jail facilities in California housed
more people than their rated capacities, while 39 jail facilities in 19
counties faced court-ordered jail population caps. Magnus Lofstrom

and Brandon Martin, Key Factors in California’s Jail Construction
Needs (San Francisco, CA: Public Policy Institute of California,
2014), 2, https://perma.cc/6ECG-VSWG.
	

For Indiana, see Indiana HB 1006 (2014), https://perma.cc/FZU2SFHX; and Indiana HB 1006 (2015), https://perma.cc/KH8R-EHU4.
The 2014 law allowed Level 6 (formerly Class D) felonies to be
reduced to misdemeanors at sentencing. The 2015 law further
revised Indiana’s criminal code by permitting courts to commit
people convicted of a Level 6 felony to probation, a community
corrections program, or a term of confinement in a county jail
instead of to the custody of the state department of corrections,
with certain exceptions. As a result of increased Level 6 felony
filings after 2015, jail populations also increased due to an influx
of these people. See Scott Miley, “Jails Being Crowded by Level 6
Felony Obligation,” Tribune Star, March 6, 2019, https://perma.cc/
P578-9C9W. Some of the increase has been due to an increased
number of people held pretrial on Level 6 felony charges (52
percent of people with Level 6 charges in Indiana jails have not
been convicted). Overall, people with Level 6 charges, whether
held pretrial or convicted, make up 45 percent of Indiana’s jail
population. See Dave Stafford, “Criminal Code Reform Packs Jails
with Level 6 Inmates,” Indiana Lawyer, September 20, 2017, https://
perma.cc/LNJ2-JMFA.

24	 Network Indiana, “Dozens of Indiana Counties Report Jail
Overcrowding, Including Dubois,” WITZ, March 6, 2019, https://
perma.cc/3P8K-QL67. Counties reviewed for this report include
Adams, Bartholomew, Carroll, Fayette, Floyd, Fountain, Hamilton,
Henry, Jackson, Johnson, and Vanderburgh. Adams County
completed construction in 2017. “Adams County Jail Almost Open
for Business,” WANE, January 5, 2017, https://perma.cc/7PD8UJY7. Bartholomew County has been considering reopening an
old portion of its jail. Mark Webber, “Official: Bartholomew County
Jail Upgrade Costly, Complex,” Republic, March 8, 2018, https://
perma.cc/PA4Q-DLFK. Carroll County plans to build a new jail that
will increase its capacity from 34 beds to 112. The jail housed 42
people in early 2019. Micah Upshaw, “Carroll County is Getting
a New Jail after Ongoing Overcrowding Issue,” WLFI, March 26,
2019, https://www.wlfi.com/content/news/Carroll-County-isgetting-a-new-jail-507696551.html. Fayette County expects to
complete its new jail in 2020. Jennifer Woods, “Jail Construction
to Begin June 17,” Record Herald, June 6, 2019, https://perma.cc/
D7SF-7NDB. Floyd County expects to complete a jail renovation
and expansion in late 2019. Chris Morris, “Floyd County Jail
Renovations Expected to Wrap Up in September,” News and
Tribune, April 4, 2019, https://perma.cc/MMF7-XLCM. Fountain
County expects to complete construction in 2019. Nick Hedrick,
“Fountain Co. Eyes Jail Groundbreaking,” Journal Review, May 1,
2018, https://perma.cc/H3E4-J6WQ. Hamilton County completed
a jail expansion that added 120 beds in 2019. “Hamilton County
Jail Shows Off $13.5 Million Expansion,” TheIndyChannel.com,
June 28, 2019, https://www.theindychannel.com/news/local-news/
hamilton-county-jail-shows-off-13-5-million-expansion. Henry

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

51

County is exploring construction options, including a regional jail
to be operated in conjunction with neighboring Madison County,
although Madison County rejected that proposal in late 2019.
“Madison County Scuttles Idea of Joint Jail with Henry County,”
Daily Reporter, September 13, 2019, https://perma.cc/J7TH-JCPM.
Jackson County is planning to construct a work release center
and hopes to coordinate with nearby counties for funding. Jordan
Richart, “Work Release Center Moves Forward Without Seymour
Funding,” The Tribune, April 18, 2019, https://perma.cc/7YXF-Y6ZC.
Johnson County is under state mandate to relieve overcrowding
and completed a feasibility study in 2019. The county is currently
exploring ways to fund an expansion. Zach Myers, “Tax Increase
Proposed for Johnson County Jail Expansion,” Fox59, June 10, 2019,
https://perma.cc/JP2M-97A2. Vanderburgh County is also exploring
how to fund a 350- to 500-bed expansion, including leasing beds
to the federal government. John Martin, “Vanderburgh County
Council Grapples with Jail Expansion Cost,” Evansville Courier &
Press, July 10, 2019, https://perma.cc/49UP-MDEC.
25	 For California, see for example Anat Rubin, “California’s JailBuilding Boom: What Comes After Mass Incarceration? Local
Incarceration,” The Marshall Project, July 2, 2015, https://perma.
cc/K5GZ-598T; and ACLU, “The Rush to Build New California Jails,”
December 2015, https://perma.cc/Q7W3-69WR. For Indiana, see
Oliver Hinds and Jack Norton, “Crisis at the Crossroads of America:
Jail Expansion as Prison Reform in Indiana,” Vera Institute of
Justice, October 2018, https://perma.cc/S6FJ-NL83.
26	 James Stephan and Georgette Walsh, Census of Jail Facilities,
2006 (Washington, DC: BJS, 2011), 12, https://perma.cc/D9QK28GU. Although construction is not the only option to relieve
overcrowding, it is a frequently chosen one. Rankin County,
Mississippi, not only built a new jail, it also plans to keep the old
one open. Cheryl Lasseter, “Rankin County’s Misdemeanor Jail to
Open in 2019,” WLBT, October 1, 2018, https://perma.cc/EH6N-4936.
Warren County intends to replace its 1907 facility. DeAngelo Vaxter,
“Warren County Jail One Step Closer to Reality,” WJTV, February
14, 2019, https://perma.cc/N8W4-X8E4. In Oregon, Benton County
completed a needs assessment in 2018. Bennett Hall, “Benton Eyes
New Jail and Courthouse,” Corvallis Gazette-Times, October 23,
2018, https://perma.cc/D6RQ-3CJW.
27	Zeng, Jail Inmates in 2017, 2019, 7-8. For an explanation of the
calculus behind rated capacity, see American Jail Association,
“Jail Statistics,” https://perma.cc/M6EE-RTFR; and Gary Zajac and
Lindsay Kowalski, An Examination of Pennsylvania Rural County
Jails (Harrisburg, PA: Center for Rural Pennsylvania, 2012), 9-10,
https://perma.cc/3AYT-PPEA. In contrast, design capacity refers
to the number and type of people that a jail facility’s architects
planned for it to hold, expressed primarily in the minimum floorspace per person or by security level. See BJS, “Terms & Definitions:
Jail Inmate Characteristics,” https://perma.cc/9DVY-EF7A.

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28	 Josh Sweigart, “Local Jails Overcrowded, Failing Safety Standards,
Investigation Shows,” Dayton Daily News, November 9, 2017, https://
perma.cc/ECF3-FEFW.
29	 Jeannie Naujeck, “They Keep Coming and I Can’t Get Them Out:
Some Rural Jails at Twice Capacity as Counties Struggle to Build
More,” Tennessee Ledger, September 21, 2018, https://perma.
cc/7EXD-QWCP. Loudon County’s new facility will be rated for
270 beds, and the county plans to leave the old jail open after
renovations to hold women. Allison Woodall, “Loudon County
Leaders Break Ground on New Jail,” WBIR, April 27, 2018, https://
perma.cc/HVT2-F7BJ.
30	 Annie Banks, “Overcrowding at the Okaloosa County Jail,”
Northwest Florida Daily News, October 25, 2018, https://perma.cc/
H82A-PUCW.
31	 The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits “cruel and
unusual punishments.” Although jails house both pretrial detainees
and people who have been sentenced, the 14th Amendment due
process rights of pretrial detainees are generally evaluated under
the same analytical framework as the Eighth Amendment rights of
people serving jail sentences. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535,
note 16 (1979) (“Due process requires that a pretrial detainee not be
punished. A sentenced inmate, on the other hand, may be punished,
although that punishment may not be ‘cruel and unusual’ under
the Eighth Amendment.”). See also Simmons v. Navajo County, 609
F.3d 1011, 1017 (9th Cir. 2010). In evaluating whether the conditions of
incarceration constitute cruel and unusual punishment, courts look
to the overall effect of those conditions on incarcerated people. For
example, are they adequately protected from injury and violence
(including self-harm)? Do they receive adequate medical care
(including treatment for drug dependency withdrawal symptoms)?
And do they have access to exercise, religious, rehabilitative, and
educational programs (whether the barrier to access is lack of
permission or failure to accommodate a disability)? See Hernandez
v. County of Monterey, No. 5:13-cv-2354-PSG (N.D. California,
April 14, 2015) (order granting motion for preliminary injunction),
https://perma.cc/9U2Y-W7WU. Additional factors that courts will
consider are sanitation, ventilation, pest infestations, fire safety,
and access to utilities like light, sanitary facilities, and hot and
cold water. See Gillis v. Litscher, 468 F.3d 488, 568 (7th Cir. 2006)
(“[A] state must provide . . . reasonably adequate ventilation,
sanitation, bedding, hygienic materials, and utilities (i.e., hot
and cold water, light, heat, plumbing)”); Board v. Farnham, 394
F.3d 469 (7th Cir. 2005) (requiring adequate ventilation); Isby v.
Clark, 100 F.3d 502, 506 (7th Cir. 1996) (“Sanitation, we assume,
includes things like odors and general cleanliness around the cell
[emphasis in original].”); French v. Owens, 777 F.2d 1250, 1257 (7th
Cir. 1985) (fire safety is a “legitimate” concern under the Eighth
Amendment); and Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1432 (7th
Cir. 1995) (requiring adequate pest control). In Douglas County,
Oregon, officials settled a case in early 2019 after incarcerated
women were denied medication and menstrual hygiene products
and crowded 12 at a time into a cell with a single toilet. Meerah

Powell, “Douglas County Settles ACLU Lawsuit over Unsanitary
Jail Conditions,” Oregon Public Broadcasting, February 14, 2019,
https://perma.cc/UQ3X-E26V. And in 2018, Hamilton County, Ohio,
settled a case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in which incarcerated people
in overcrowded facilities had been forced to use temporary plastic
beds called “boats” that sat on the floor and could not safely be
used by people with disabilities. The settlement enjoined the jail
from forcing incarcerated people to sleep in a “boat” for more than
five consecutive days and limited the number of “boats” that could
be used. Robinson v. Neil, No. 1:17-cv-652 (S.D. Ohio, Western Div.,
2017), https://perma.cc/ZR37-FATW.
32	 Incarcerated people do not forfeit all of their constitutional rights
upon incarceration, although those rights may be circumscribed.
For example, their First Amendment rights are largely governed
by the test developed in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)
(“[W]hen a prison regulation impinges on inmates’ constitutional
rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate
penological interests”). First Amendment rights affect incarcerated
people’s access to reading material, mail, and telephones, as well
as their ability to develop and maintain relationships inside and
outside the facility. The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook, 5th ed.,
edited by Rachel Meeropol and Ian Head (New York: The Center for
Constitutional Rights, 2010), ch. 3 (“Your First Amendment Right
to Freedom of Speech and Association”), https://perma.cc/6AKTSRL8. For a more expansive discussion of the rights of incarcerated
people under the federal constitution, see Cornell Law School
Legal Information Institute, “Rights of Prisoners,” https://perma.cc/
UXB7-VDH3; and William C. Collins, Jails and the Constitution: An
Overview (Washington, DC: DOJ, 2007), https://perma.cc/MXG7ZMQ2. People incarcerated in jails are also protected by federal
statutes such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (codified at 42
U.S.C. § 126) and the Prison Rape Elimination Act (codified at 34
U.S.C. § 303). The National Institute of Corrections has developed
materials meant to assist states in preparing standards for jails
governing inspection, conditions, and compliance. Mark Martin, Jail
Standards and Inspection Programs: Resource and Implementation
Guide (Washington, DC: DOJ, 2007), https://perma.cc/S4WP6MEP.
	

The rights of incarcerated people are also controlled by state
constitutions and statutes that afford them varying measures
of protection. The Model Sentencing and Corrections Act, a
uniform law promulgated in 1978 by the National Conference
of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL), suggests
standards for facilities and for the treatment of incarcerated
people. NCCUSL, Model Sentencing and Corrections Act
(Washington, DC: DOJ, 1979), https://perma.cc/HH8Z-EY2F.
The model act was not widely adopted. Clair Cripe and Michael
Pearlman, Legal Aspects of Corrections Management, 2nd
ed. (Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett, 2005), 479. Instead, the
administration and condition of jails are regulated under statutes
such as California’s Title 15, Division 3, https://perma.cc/3APUEECZ; New York’s Title 9, https://perma.cc/UC7P-VY6Q; and

Chapter 95 of the Pennsylvania Code, https://perma.cc/BT8RDJK5. The American Correctional Association (ACA) has developed
its own set of standards designed to assist jails in complying with
federal and state constitutional and statutory requirements, and
these standards have been integrated into operations in more than
1,300 facilities and agencies. ACA, “Standards,” https://perma.cc/
MM8N-ZEEB. Finally, jail conditions may be governed by individual
state and county building, fire, and electric codes as well as federal
building codes. See for example Robert Dikkers and Belinda Reeder,
Standards for Building Materials, Equipment and Systems Used
in Detention and Correctional Facilities (Gaithersburg, MD: U.S.
Department of Commerce, National Bureau of Standards, 1987),
https://perma.cc/WJZ2-LXWF.
33	 Mark Martin and Paul Katsampes, Sheriff’s Guide to Effective
Jail Operations (Washington, DC: DOJ, National Institute of
Corrections, 2007), 23-24, https://perma.cc/6WHH-MFC7. In 1970, a
federal district court judge in Rhode Island described the benefits
of classification: “Classification is essential to the operation of
an orderly and safe prison. It is a prerequisite for the rational
allocation of whatever program opportunities exist within the
institution. It enables the institution to gauge the proper custody
level of an inmate, to identify the inmate’s education, vocational,
and psychological needs, and to separate non-violent inmates from
the more predatory. Classification is also indispensable for any
coherent future planning.” See Morris v. Travisono, 310 F. Supp. 857
(D.R.I. 1970), https://perma.cc/A4TM-TJ4T.
34	 See for example Jennifer Wadsworth, “Jail Violence on the Rise,”
San Jose Inside, March 3, 2014, https://perma.cc/5AEZ-6WT7;
and Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, Report to Board of
Supervisors, Public Safety and Justice Committee, 2014, https://
perma.cc/R45H-VNAK.
35	 For example, in Clark County, Ohio, people in the overcrowded
jail have been forced to sleep on mattress pads on the floor or
even relocate to trailers in the parking garage under the jail,
creating additional security and space concerns. Sweigart, “Local
Jails Overcrowded,” 2017. Clark County commissioned a needs
assessment in 2019 to explore its options. Parker Perry, “Clark
County Talking About Building New Jail,” Springfield News-Sun,
May 13, 2019, https://perma.cc/Y7C6-QAEG. In Hamilton County,
Ohio, a 2019 settlement includes limits on how many and which
people can be made to sleep on the floor in “boats” but does
not forbid their use. Kevin Grasha, “Settlement Includes Plan to
Stop Overcrowding Emergencies at the Hamilton County Jail,”
Cincinnati Enquirer, June 29, 2018, https://perma.cc/9FB2-F5LX.
Other jails are housing people in portable facilities built from
semitrailers, the kind of structure that often serves as a temporary
construction office, mobile command center, or housing for
relief work. Alissa Zhu, “Missouri’s Trailer Jail: Innovative Solution
or ‘Recipe for Disaster’?,” The Crime Report, January 2, 2019,
https://perma.cc/BTP3-6EQZ; Nicole Foy, “Jail Trailer Builder Sees
Opportunity in Overcrowding,” Idaho Press, August 18, 2018; and
Disability Rights California, "Report on Inspection of the Santa

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

53

Barbara County Jail" (conducted on April 2, 2015) (Sacramento,
CA: Disability Rights California, undated), https://perma.cc/BMV6NHDC.
36	 This state of affairs was well captured by a judge overseeing a jail
conditions case in Virginia: “The fact is that the convicted inmates
in the Tazewell County Jail are currently serving substantial
portions of their sentences in a facility designed as a very shortterm lockup. They have no access to workshops, road work, pool
tables, or walks in the prison yard such as are available in most
state penal institutions. Instead, they spend their days in a room
of about 162 square feet, most of which is routinely taken up with
mattresses of other inmates. Due to close and constant proximity
with other inmates, emotional unrest is manifest.” See Gross v.
Tazewell County Jail, 533 F. Supp. 413 (W.D. Va. 1982), https://
perma.cc/A7C2-3MZ2. See also Norma Mancini, Our Crowded Jails:
A National Plight (Washington, DC: BJS, 1988), 4, https://perma.
cc/7EEV-QNCJ.
37	 For example, the jail in Madison County, Tennessee, has missing
tiles and exposed subfloors in the kitchen, the ceilings leak, and
the 1,030-gallon hot water heater stopped working and needed
replacement in 2018. Cassandra Stephenson, “Overcrowding
Taxes Madison County Jail Facilities,” Jackson Sun, September 13,
2018, https://perma.cc/C4YQ-7T5K. A 2015 ACLU report found that
Montana’s jails were routinely overcrowded and that the facilities
displayed a “lack of overall cleanliness, inadequate plumbing, and
extensive mold.” ACLU of Montana, Locked in the Past: Montana’s
Jails in Crisis (Helena, MT: ACLU, 2015), 28, https://perma.cc/9JWPFKPB. Beyond cleanliness, overtaxed HVAC systems cannot
adequately heat or cool facilities to keep temperatures appropriate
for comfort and health, especially in the face of accelerating
climate change. See Daniel Holt, Heat in US Prisons and Jails (New
York: Columbia Law School Sabin Center for Climate Change Law,
2015), 34-36 & notes 181 & 182 (examining lawsuits in which a broad
cross-section of federal courts have held that inappropriate heat
or cold in an incarceration facility constitutes an Eighth or 14th
Amendment violation), https://perma.cc/5CWP-K44A. See also
generally Wayne Welsh, Counties in Court: Jail Overcrowding and
Court-Ordered Reform (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press,
1995), 33-34 (stating that “security and supervision become less
efficient; food services become more irregular or meager; visitation
is more restricted; physical plant maintenance suffers; and
individual movement is curtailed.”).
38	 For example, in Yakima County, Washington, a federal study
requested by the police chief outlined a number of deficiencies
in the county jail’s structure (built in 1909), including a lack
of sprinklers for fire suppression, inadequate heating and air
conditioning, and a flawed layout design that led to poor visibility
along a number of its passageways. The study also found that
wiring harnessed together with plastic ties ran along wall and
ceiling corners without being enclosed in a conduit and that
corridor and cell doors were equipped only with manual locks
that require a key, making evacuation in case of a fire or other

54

Vera Institute of Justice

emergency hazardous. See Phil Ferolito, “As Dilapidated Rural Jails
Outlive Their Time, Wapato Looks to Upgrade,” Yakima Herald,
May 26, 2016, https://perma.cc/43CV-MD4K. Greene County, New
York, closed its 113-year-old jail—classified as the worst jail in the
state—because, among many other structural deficiencies, the
walls and floor were buckling and steel was rotting. See Rachel
Yonkunas, “Local Jail Closing Over Safety Concerns,” News10,
April 24, 2018, https://perma.cc/E4HM-SAL3; and Steve Hughes,
“Greene County Legislators Meet About Crumbling Jail,” Times
Union, April 30, 2018, https://perma.cc/B9Q5-3U9X. Greene County
ultimately determined that the best option was to replace the
facility rather than rent beds in other counties. CJ McIntyre, “New
Jail Coming to Greene County,” WZAD-WKXP, May 1, 2019, https://
perma.cc/3K6D-W7FG. In Winn Parish, Louisiana, a malfunctioning
plumbing system was a key factor driving construction of a 150bed jail to replace the current 47-bed facility. Brandon Lawrence,
“Winn Parish Prepares to Build New Jail,” myarklamiss.com,
January 22, 2016, https://www.myarklamiss.com/news/local-news/
winn-parish-prepares-to-build-new-jail/339347992. Similarly, the
need for a new jail in Sullivan County, New York, is due to the
physical deterioration of the facility itself, first opened in 1909,
with additions in 1958, 1984, and 1990. Joshua Simons and Gerald
Benjamin, Collaborative Approach to County Jailing in the Hudson
Valley (New Paltz, NY: Center for Research, Regional Education
and Outreach, 2011), 56-57, https://perma.cc/34XW-K6E9. See also
Allison Sherry, “‘We Make Do’: Jails Aren’t Always Purpose-Built
In Rural Counties Like Saguache,” Colorado Public Radio, March
30, 2018, https://perma.cc/WHG9-CCNU; and Tim Sheehan, “New
300-Bed Jail Will Cost Almost $82 Million But Replace 1940s-Era
Facility,” Fresno Bee, November 14, 2017, https://www.fresnobee.
com/news/local/article184640788.html.
39	 BJS, “Census of Jail Facilities, 2006,” database (Washington,
DC: BJS, 2010), https://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/NACJD/
studies/26602.
40	 “Sales Tax for New Jail Ready for April Vote,” Benton County
Enterprise, March 1, 2018, https://perma.cc/5RLN-57X4.
41	Ibid.
42	 Anita Campbell, “Benton County Unveils Plan for New Jail,”
Missouri Sheriffs’ Association, https://perma.cc/BX8Q-8BBE.
43	 Sonia Schlesinger, “Platte County Voters Set to Decide on a Sales
Tax to Fund Jail Expansion,” KCUR, March 28, 2019, https://perma.
cc/7US7-58BM.
44	 Jeanette Browning Faubion, “County Jail Tax Fails but Parkville,
Platte City Voters Say Yes to Proposal,” Platte County Citizen, April
3, 2019, https://perma.cc/V4J5-V4H3.
45	Ibid.

46	 See for example Abigail Becker, “Holding Pattern: Mental Health
Care is a ‘Pressing Need’ in the Dane County Jail,” Capital Times,
August 15, 2018, https://perma.cc/7TGX-HZFE.

59	 Eric Stock, “McLean County Jail Expansion Seeks ‘Softer’ Feel for
Special Needs Inmates,” WGLT.com, November 20, 2018, https://
perma.cc/L9S2-L223.

47	 Sasha Abramsky and Jamie Fellner, “Ill-Equipped: U.S. Prisons and
Offenders with Mental Illness,” Human Rights Watch, October 21,
2003, https://perma.cc/6TJB-4E7G.

60	 Stock, “McLean County Jail Seeks ‘Softer’ Feel,” 2018; and BradyLunny, “McLean County ‘Flagship Facility,’” 2018.

48	 Subramanian, Delaney, Roberts et al., Incarceration’s Front Door,
2015, 11-18. See also Ford, “America’s Largest Mental Hospital Is a
Jail,” 2015.
49	 Dan Rowe, “A New Prescription for Mental Illness: A Growing
Population,” TreanorHL.com, https://perma.cc/5T2U-Q9MY.
50	 Roger H. Peters and Harry K. Wexler, Treatment Improvement
Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 44: Substance Abuse Treatment for Adults
in the Criminal Justice System (Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration, 2005), 158-159, https://perma.cc/UE8SXDQR.
51	 See notes 53-56.
52	 Andrew P. Wilper, Steffie Woolhandler, J. Wesley Boyd et al, “The
Health and Health Care of US Prisoners: Results of a Nationwide
Survey,” American Journal of Public Health 99, no. 4 (2009), 666672, https://perma.cc/8W6F-E7E6.
53	 Jennifer Bronson and Marcus Berzofsky, Indicators of Mental
Health Problems Reported by Prisoners and Jail Inmates, 2011-12
(Washington, DC: BJS, 2017), 8, https://perma.cc/RJ7T-74LD.
54	 Laura M. Maruschak and Marcus Berzofsky, Medical Problems of
State and Federal Prisoners and Jail Inmates, 2011–12 (Washington,
DC: BJS, 2015), 11, https://perma.cc/JY7K-D3QV.
55	 For a discussion on how jails often lack the resources to provide
adequate medical or other health care services, see for example
Steve Coll, “The Jail Health-Care Crisis,” New Yorker, March 4, 2019,
https://perma.cc/UKN8-VXVH. See also Becker, “Holding Pattern,”
2018.
56	 Judy Harrison, “Penobscot County Wants a New Jail for 300
Inmates. Price Tag? $65 Million or More,” Bangor Daily News,
December 12, 2018, https://perma.cc/H6YD-G956.
57	 Rachel Leber, “Iredell County Detention Center Expansion
Construction to Start Mid-September,” Correctional News,
September 6, 2017, https://perma.cc/H8NK-79NF.
58	 Edith Brady-Lunny, “McLean County Marks Opening of Jail’s
‘Flagship Facility’” Pantagraph, November 21, 2018, https://perma.
cc/KE8T-J6GE.

61	 Brandon Stone, “Skagit County Celebrates Completion of New
Jail,” Skagit Valley Herald, July 12, 2017, https://perma.cc/FTC39XHQ.
62	 Jodi Hausen, “New Gallatin County Detention Center on Time and
on Budget,” Bozeman Daily Chronicle, April 30, 2010, https://perma.
cc/YT6H-WJHN.
63	 When Sweetwater County, Wyoming, completed construction in
2005, Sheriff David Gray said that despite a focus on education,
treatment, counseling and rehabilitation, “we want people to know
inmates in here won’t be getting a free ride. . . . There’s nothing
really fancy here. . . . We want this to be a great deterrence for
people who break the law.” Jeff Gearino, “County Readies to Open
Jail,” Casper Star Tribune, July 3, 2005, https://perma.cc/ZE38ZJJ7.
64	 For an analysis of ways California attempted to solve its postrealignment jail capacity needs, see Magnus Lofstrom and Brandon
Martin, Key Factors in California’s Jail Construction Needs (San
Francisco, CA: Public Policy Institute of California, 2014), https://
perma.cc/LLJ3-4HQV.
65	 Alyx Dote, “Butte County Jail Expansion Receives $40 Million in
State Funds,” KRCR News, November 12, 2015, https://perma.cc/
W8Q7-A5SU.
66	 Dennis Valera, “Latest Kings County Jail Expansion Project
Complete,” yourcentralvalley.com, May 9, 2018, https://perma.
cc/6JQV-8F9V.
67	 Ken Carlson, “Massive Jail Expansion is Finished. Can the Programs
Change the Lives of Inmates?” Modesto Bee, February 14, 2018,
https://www.modbee.com/news/article200180454.html.
68	 Kang-Brown and Subramanian, Out of Sight, 2017, 13-16.
69	Ibid.
70	 For example, Butler County, Pennsylvania, held around 130 people
and outboarded another 80 to 90 people in other counties’ jail
facilities in 2009. Commissioner Jim Kennedy said of the 2004
decision to build a 512-bed jail, ““If we’re going to spend money
to house prisoners, we may as well spend it on our own facility
rather than outsourcing it.” Because the new jail was built to hold
more than twice the size of Butler County’s estimated incarcerated
population of 250, the commissioner anticipated that the county
could recoup construction and operation costs by housing people
from overcrowded out-of-county facilities. Karen Kane, “New Butler

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

55

County Prison is Nearly Complete,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June
4, 2009, https://perma.cc/2MB5-6V8E.
71	 For an example of counties incentivized by the opportunity to form
contracts with ICE, see Jacob Kang-Brown and Jack Norton, “More
Than a Jail: Immigrant Detention and the Smell of Money,” Vera
Institute of Justice, July 2018, https://perma.cc/FJ6M-64YN.
72	 Susan Tebben, “Jails: The New Revenue for Counties?,” WOUB, April
19, 2017, https://perma.cc/FJ54-VED6. Meigs County voters rejected
a levy to fund construction in 2018. “UPDATE: Voters Reject New Jail
Levy in Meigs County,” WSAZ, May 8, 2018, https://perma.cc/5AP4XCPK.
73	 Christopher Braunschweig, “Supervisors Approve New Pod
Construction at Jasper County Jail,” Newton Daily News, July
18, 2018, https://perma.cc/Q23A-YXT2; and Teresa Kay Albertson,
“Warren County Courthouse Project Should Break Ground in
August,” Des Moines Register, June 24, 2019, https://perma.cc/
NN77-JQPL.
74	 Ibid.; and Jamee A. Pierson, “Jasper County Jail Expansion
Expected to Increase Revenue,” Newton Daily News, January 3,
2018, https://perma.cc/UW5B-VAD8; Paige Godden, “Warren
County Shares Design Concepts for New Courthouse, Jail,” Des
Moines Register, July 16, 2018, https://perma.cc/PUY9-6WEH; and
Albertson, “Warren County Courthouse Project,” 2019.
75	 Kyle Ocker, “New Jails Bring in Revenue,” Daily Iowegian, February
4, 2019, https://perma.cc/6VQJ-R29W.
76	Ibid.
77	Ibid.

83	 “Flagler County Jail Triple Its Old Size Set to Open July 7 in
Camera-Ready ‘Ceremony’,” FlaglerLive.com, June 30, 2016,
https://perma.cc/WJ2G-P6CE.
84	 Vera Institute analysis of BJS Census of Jails data. For more
information on specific data files, see Kang-Brown and Hinds,
Incarceration Trends Project, 2018.
85	 Reavy and McKellar, “The Jail Crisis,” 2017. See also Institute for Law
and Policy Planning, Salt Lake County Criminal Justice Assessment
(Berkley, CA: Institute for Law and Policy Planning, 2004), https://
perma.cc/C2GV-4V4Q.
86	 Reavy and McKellar, “The Jail Crisis,” 2017.
87	Ibid.
88	 Ibid.; and Taylor Stevens, “Salt Lake County Council Passes $1.5
Billion 2019 Budget They Say Prioritizes Public Safety Without a Tax
Increase,” Salt Lake Tribune, December 4, 2018, https://perma.cc/
XQW8-SVR2.
89	 Stewart D’Alessio and Lisa Stolzenberg, “The Effect of Available
Capacity on Jail Incarceration: An Empirical Test of Parkinson’s
Law,” Journal of Criminal Justice 25, no. 4 (1997), 279-288. This
study is notable because it looks at jail incarceration. Previous
empirical studies looked only at prisons. See for example Abt
Associates, American Prisons and Jails, Vols. 1 and 2 (Washington,
DC: Government Printing Office, 1980).
90	 Jeni Diprizio, “Tour of New Expanded Tipton County Jail,”
localmemphis.com, January 30, 2018, https://perma.cc/R54V3GRM.

79	 Nikki Krize, “First Look Inside New Northumberland County Prison,”
WNEP, June 12, 2018. https://perma.cc/ER4H-UZ6R.

91	 For the January 2018 population count, see Tennessee Department
of Correction, Tennessee Jail Summary Report (Nashville, TN:
Tennessee Department of Correction, January 2018), https://
perma.cc/7D8Y-UKTW. For the February 2019 population count,
see Tennessee Department of Correction, Tennessee Jail Summary
Report (Nashville, TN: Tennessee Department of Correction,
February 2019), https://perma.cc/RRF3-PAA8.

80	 Jeff Noble, “Is a New Jail in Laurel County’s Future?” Times-Tribune,
May 12, 2015, https://perma.cc/WH6K-CNAH.

92	 Cindy Brovsky, “Counties Race to Build More Jails,” Denver Post,
March 21, 2019, https://perma.cc/A7WB-3EDF.

81	 “New Oldham County Jail Set to Open Later this Year,” WDRB,
January 18, 2017, https://perma.cc/CQ37-LB5K; and “New Oldham
County Jail Could Help Other Jails Running Out of Space,” WDRB.
com, May 2, 2017, https://perma.cc/GZ2E-5LGA. The last people
incarcerated in the old jail were transferred to the new facility in
January 2018. “New $23 Million Detention Center Opens in Oldham
County,” WDRB, January 27, 2018, https://perma.cc/ZK64-SGD6.

93	 Sarah Lawrence, Court-Ordered Population Caps in California
County Jails (Stanford, CA: Stanford Criminal Justice Center, 2014),
13-16, https://perma.cc/29PQ-RPMR. See also Margo Schlanger,
“Plata v. Brown and Realignment: Jails, Prisons, Courts, and
Politics,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 48, no. 1
(2013), 165-215, 199-202, https://perma.cc/JUB5-8MYT.

78	 Kyle Ocker, “Davis Co. Sheriff to Appanoose: ‘Thanks for Your
Money,’” Daily Iowegian, October 14, 2017, https://perma.cc/H6PVJLPL.

82	 “Project Delays Push Back Opening of New Oldham County Jail,”
WDRB, November 28, 2017, https://perma.cc/CUL4-BZC9.

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94	 Actors within a system may change their behaviors when they know
that the jail is full. For example, when the jail in Warren County,
Ohio, is full, arresting agencies stop making certain kinds of arrests
and reduce their enforcement of arrest warrants. Denise Callahan,
“Jail Overcrowding Creates Dilemma for Warren County Police,”

Journal-News, January 29, 2013, https://perma.cc/YB8K-26AL. In
Barry County, Michigan, overcrowding led the jail to release certain
people who had served 85 percent of their sentences, as permitted
by state law. “Barry Co. Jail Overcrowding Sparks Emergency
Declaration,” WOOD, November 9, 2018, https://perma.cc/U7ZRE3TB.
95	 Bill Garnos, Jail Needs Assessment for Codington County South
Dakota (Gladstone, SD: Office of Bill Garnos, 2015), https://perma.
cc/BKW3-AV4B.
96	 See Joshua Simons and Gerald Benjamin, Collaborative Approach
to County Jailing in the Hudson Valley (New Paltz, NY: SUNY Center
for Research, Regional Education, and Outreach, 2011) 20, 23 & 57,
https://perma.cc/NPH3-AJQX.
97	 Elena Cawley, “County Eyes Ways to Reduce Jail Population,”
Tullahoma News, April 25, 2018, https://perma.cc/6DWW-JZEH.
98	 For example, Wilson County, Tennessee, has seen an increase in
its daily jail population since the city began focusing on arresting
people for drug-related offenses. The county is planning to expand
its jail. Jason Goolesby, “Sheriff: County Jail Expansion on
Horizon,” Wilson Post, July 20, 2018, https://perma.cc/5PE3-QNF7.
99	 Cawley, “Reduce Jail Population,” 2018.
100	Ibid.

However, because the study relied on administrative data, it could
not offer any conclusions about clinical outcomes such as improved
symptoms, functioning, or quality of life. See Karen J. Cusack,
Joseph Morrissey, Gary Cuddeback et al., “Criminal Justice
Involvement, Behavioral Health Service Use, and Costs of Forensic
Assertive Community Treatment: A Randomized Trial,” Community
Mental Health Journal 46, no. 4 (2010), 356-363, https://perma.
cc/GD6Y-XZJM. See also Robert D. Morgan, David Flora, Daryl
Kroner et al., “Treating Offenders with Mental Illness: A Research
Synthesis,” Law and Human Behavior 36, no. 1 (2012), 37-50 (a
meta-analysis of 26 empirical studies finding no effect of mental
health treatments on criminal recidivism among incarcerated
people with mental illnesses).
109	 See for example Michael S. Martin, Shannon Dorken, Ashley
Wamboldt, and Sarah Wootten, “Stopping the Revolving Door: A
Meta-Analysis of the Effectiveness of Interventions for Criminally
Involved Individuals with Major Mental Disorders,” Law and
Human Behavior 36, no. 1 (2011), 1-12; and Jennifer L. Skeem,
Sarah Manchak, and Jillian K. Peterson, “Correctional Policy
for Offenders with Mental Illness: Creating a New Paradigm for
Recidivism Reduction,” Law and Human Behavior 35, no. 2 (2011),
110-126, https://perma.cc/J7RB-9EQF.
110	 Jaclyn Cosgrove, “Epidemic Ignored,” Oklahoman, November 3,
2016, https://perma.cc/V4RD-2CGW.
111	 Ibid. For the state law establishing who must be treated, see Okla.
Stat. Ann. tit. §43A-1-103(13)(a).

101	Ibid.
102	 Elena Cawley, “Coffee County Jail Population Down,” Tullahoma
News, February 3, 2019, https://perma.cc/E8WY-RFW9.
103	 Harry C. Goodall, Jr., “Tulsa County Jail’s Mental Health Pod a Step
in the Right Direction,” San Quentin News, June 11, 2018, https://
perma.cc/5T9K-R7VY.
104	 Michael Overall, “Tulsa Jail’s Mental Health Pod Full, but ‘We’re
Punishing People Instead of Helping Them’,” Tulsa World, January
19, 2018, https://perma.cc/47WK-5MMR.
105	Ibid.
106	 For example, in Coahoma County, Mississippi, a $12 million jail
construction program resulted in budget cuts to the county’s youth
enrichment program. Aallyah Wright, “County Eyes Slashing Youth
Program, Other Services, to Pay for New Jail,” Mississippi Today,
August 23, 2018, https://perma.cc/F42V-GNTA.
107	 Doug McVay, Vincent Schiraldi, and Jason Ziedenberg, Treatment
or Incarceration? National and State Findings on the Efficacy and
Cost Savings of Drug Treatment versus Imprisonment (Washington,
DC: Justice Policy Institute, 2004), https://perma.cc/9D6Z-YQN8.
108	 One study of FACT found that the program significantly increased
outpatient mental health treatment use and reduced arrests.

112	 Martin Macias, Jr., “LA County Cancels Mental Health Jail Project in
Favor of “Care First” Approach,” Courthouse News Service, August
13, 2019, https://perma.cc/XWX6-GRPZ.
113	 Vaidya Gullapalli, “A Huge Victory in L.A. Represents a Shift in
Thinking About Public Safety,” The Appeal, August 14, 2019, https://
perma.cc/KCK5-BK2H.
114	 Ibid; and Macias, “’Care First’ Approach,” 2019. For the first
alterations to the plan for the new jail, see Maya Lau, “In Landmark
Move, L.A. County Will Replace Men’s Central Jail with Mental
Health Hospital for Inmates,” Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2019,
https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-jail-construction20190212-story.html. In February, the county also established
an Alternatives to Incarceration Workgroup intended to focus on
creating a robust system of care that provides services first and
treats jail as a last resort. Motion by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and
Mark Ridley-Thomas, “Developing the Los Angeles County Roadmap
for Expanding Alternatives to Custody and Diversion,” Los Angeles
County Board of Supervisors, February 12, 2019, https://perma.cc/
AC8X-K42Z.
115	 For a discussion of this plan, see Matt Stiles, “‘No More Jails,’ Just
Mental Health Centers. Is that a Realistic Policy for L.A. County?,”
Los Angeles Times, August 26, 2019, https://www.latimes.com/
california/story/2019-08-24/jail-replacement-mental-health-facility-

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

57

inmate-supervisors-criminal-justice-reform; and Michelle Parris,
“Letters to the Editor: ‘No More Jails’ in L.A.? It’s Not Only Realistic,
But Also Necessary,” Los Angeles Times, September 3, 2019, https://
www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2019-08-30/no-more-jails-mentalhealth.
116	 For a general discussion of the difficulty in adequately staffing
care and clerical personnel in correctional facilities, see Steve
Coll, “The Jail Health-Care Crisis,” New Yorker, February 25, 2019,
https://perma.cc/2MP2-JQSF. For a discussion of the specific
barriers to hiring and retention of nursing staff in a correctional
facility, see W. Sue Chafin and Wendy Biddle, “Nurse Retention in
a Correctional Facility: A Study of the Relationship Between the
Nurses’ Perceived Barriers and Benefits,” Journal of Correctional
Health Care 19, no. 2 (2013), 124-134. Additional difficulty in
staffing may be related to provider prejudice and attitudes about
incarcerated people. One study found in interviews with providers
that 20 percent candidly admitted they held prejudice toward
or fear of clients with criminal justice histories. One provider
noted that “experienced staff can feel intimidated by some of the
[criminal justice] client presentations.” Another admitted directly
that she did not want to work with clients with criminal justice
histories, describing them as “sociopath type clients.” Leah Gogel
Pope, Thomas E. Smith, Jennifer P. Wisdom et al., “Transitioning
Between Systems of Care: Missed Opportunities for Engaging
Adults with Mental Illness and Criminal Justice Involvement,”
Behavioral Sciences and the Law 31, no. 4 (2013), 444-456.
117	 Paige St. John, “Admissions Halted at Problem-Plagued Stockton
Prison,” Los Angeles Times, February 4, 2014, https://perma.cc/
CJJ8-M4R4.
118	 See Russ McQuaid, “Design for New Court, Jail Center Unveiled,”
Fox 59 News, January 17, 2018, https://perma.cc/NW9A-AKU8.
119	 Pat McHughes, “Jail Cost Up to $12.1 Million,” Booneville Democrat,
September 19, 2018, https://perma.cc/L53L-RB2U; and Sarah Drake,
“New Geneva Jail Said to Cost the Community Just over Nine
Million Dollars,” WDHN, November 30, 2018, https://perma.cc/7H6LC74Q. For population figures, see U.S. Department of Commerce,
Census Bureau, “QuickFacts,” https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/.
120	 Alissa Zhu, “Initial Estimate Put Jail Cost More Than Double the
Budget. Greene County Seeks Savings,” Springfield News-Leader,
September 16, 2018, https://perma.cc/SMT2-2D9M.
121	 Ibid. In contrast, Franklin County, Missouri, is bringing in a new
combined jail and 911 facility under budget. Monte Miller, “New
Jail/911 Facility on Schedule—Project Under $30 Million Budget,”
Missourian, February 13, 2019, https://perma.cc/RRS3-T9X3.
122	 Chris Aadland, “Three New Options for New Dane County Jail
after Costs for Downtown Site Double,” Wisconsin State Journal,
February 19, 2019, https://perma.cc/MN2Q-VZK9.

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123	 National Institute of Corrections (NIC), Jail Design Guide, Third
Edition (Washington, DC: NIC, 2011), 57, https://perma.cc/D36K55V7.
124	 Christian Henrichson, Joshua Rinaldi, and Ruth Delaney, The Price
of Jails: Measuring the Taxpayer Cost of Local Incarceration (New
York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2015), 18, https://perma.cc/AR8JJYTJ.
125	 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Policy Basics: State and
Local Borrowing,” 2018, https://perma.cc/HQW9-53NP.
126	 Ben Middelkamp, “Architect Puts Revised Jail Price at $35 Million,”
Greenfield Reporter, January 21, 2019, https://perma.cc/SA6WJ2AA.
127	 Caitlin VanOverberghe, “Weighing the Cost: Jail Price Wouldn’t
End with Construction, Study Shows,” Greenfield Reporter, April 19,
2018, https://perma.cc/GB67-VTBU.
128	 Sarah Lehman, “‘Wallets are Going to Get Lighter’ Vigo County
Income Tax is on the Rise,” WTHI-TV, August 16, 2018, https://perma.
cc/S77Z-L5UP.
129	 “Projected Operating Expenses for New Vigo County Jail Goes Up
by Millions,” WTHI-TV, March 29, 2019, https://perma.cc/LDP2-C3RA.
130	 Andria Simmons, “Gwinnett Inmates Crowded Even as Jail Beds Go
Unused,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 22, 2010, https://
perma.cc/73KJ-2C8P.
131	 Per diem amounts vary by county but are often small, likely
covering only the short-term marginal costs associated with adding
one additional person to a jail, such as food and medical care. But
when 50 or 100 additional people are added to a jail, operations
need to change too. More staff are hired, more pods are opened,
and the facilities requires more administrative services in order
to operate safely. The per diems charged in many counties are
unlikely to cover these larger expenses associated with operating a
much larger jail. For example, Midland County, Michigan, charges
other counties $45 per day and the state prison system $35 per
day. The state department of corrections in Indiana pays counties
$35 per person, intended to cover the cost of food and staffing,
but not additional jail space. John Kennett, “Midland County Jail
Population Down—Staffing the Issue; Funding Loss a Concern,”
Midland Daily News, November 25, 2015, https://perma.cc/3PH64XWZ; and “Many Indiana Counties Face Jail Crowding after
Inmate Shift,” Indianapolis Business Journal, October 7, 2018,
https://perma.cc/AK4E-D9YJ.
132	 Chelsea McDougall, “McHenry County Jail Rental Program with
Feds Hard to Quantify,” Northwest Herald, December 29, 2014,
https://perma.cc/5YRV-S8L4.
133	Ibid.

134	 David Lester, “‘Contract Inmates’ Leaving Yakima County Jail,”
Seattle Times, January 9, 2011, https://perma.cc/TV8T-SFYK.
135	 Ibid. For information on 2006 jail, see Phil Ferolito, “Yakima County
Jail Set to Make Transition to Mental Health Facility,” Yakima
Herald, December 16, 2015, https://perma.cc/CZ69-PFZE.
136	 Michael Leita, Kevin Bouchey, and J. Rand Elliot, Yakima County
Washington 2013 Final Budget (Yakima, WA: Yakima County
Commissioners, 2013), 161, https://perma.cc/DJ5R-XTFJ. The
county considered renting out beds to the state department of
corrections in 2014 (see Jordan Schrader, “One County Jail Offers
Relief for State Prison Overcrowding,” News Tribune, December 8,
2014, https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/politics-government/
article25901161.html), and then rented beds out to a program for
incarcerated people with mental illnesses in 2015. Crystal Bui,
“Yakima Jail Finds New Use After Sitting Empty for Five Years,”
KIMA, December 16, 2015, https://perma.cc/JDX8-L5ZT; and Crystal
Bui, “Construction Progresses on Yakima County Empty Jail,” KIMA,
February 9, 2016, https://perma.cc/V7C2-FLWT.
137	 Jodi McFarland, “Midland County Unveils $25 Million Jail; 500 Turn
Out for Self-Guided Tours,” MLive, October 9, 2009, https://perma.
cc/5H2W-JF3D.
138	 Tony Lascari, “Jail Bed Lease Problem,” Midland Daily News, April
7, 2010, https://perma.cc/U6WN-WKZ7. In 2015, nearby Genesee
County sent only 311 people, compared to 612 in 2014. Kennett,
“Midland County Jail Population Down,” 2015.
139	 Prochaska & Associates, Needs Assessment Study for Washington
County Law Enforcement Center (Omaha, NE: Prochaska &
Associates, 2012), 18.
140	 Ibid. Some counties explicitly plan for this outcome. The Fairfield
County, Ohio, commissioner said of the county’s plan to build
a 384-bed jail for a population that is typically around 220 to
255, “There will likely come a point when we do not have excess
capacity to lease because our own needs increase over the years.”
Mary Beth Lane, “Fairfield County Considers Plan to Lease out
Jail Space,” Columbus Dispatch, March 6, 2017, https://perma.
cc/9MPB-4JNE. As of 2018, Washington County continued to
face overcrowding, outboarding people to other counties while
planning construction on a new “law enforcement and criminal
justice center.” Leeanna Ellis, “Washington County Running Out of
Facilities to House Inmates,” Washington County Pilot-Tribune &
Enterprise, July 27, 2018, https://perma.cc/N5GC-2BAP.
141	 Abbie Bennett, “Johnston County Jail Far Over Capacity,” Raleigh
News & Observer, March 19, 2016, https://www.newsobserver.com/
news/local/counties/johnston-county/article67090637.html.
142	Ibid.
143	 “Sketch of Proposed New Detention Facility Unveiled,” Johnston
County Report, July 12, 2019, https://perma.cc/2YEA-STGE.

144	 The jail receives approximately $8 million annually to house people
for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, or roughly two-thirds of its annual
spending. Rebecca Morris, “Jail Expansion Approved by State,” The
Record, June 17, 2019, https://perma.cc/XN32-NZFN.
145	Zeng, Jail Inmates in 2017, 2019, 2.
146	 Vera Institute analysis of BJS Census of Jails data. For more
information on specific data files, see Kang-Brown and Hinds,
Incarceration Trends Project, 2018.
147	 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Safety + Justice
Challenge, “Pima County,” https://perma.cc/KYV2-6SAJ.
148	 “Pima County Making Progress in Reducing Jail Population,” KOLD,
May 16, 2017, https://perma.cc/PB89-TU3Y.
149	 Daniel Chang, “Criminal Mental Health Program in Miami-Dade
Seen as a Model for Nation,” Miami Herald, May 21, 2016, https://
www.miamiherald.com/news/health-care/article79004057.html;
and Joseph Boatwright II, “Solving the Problem of Criminalizing the
Mentally Ill: The Miami Model,” American Criminal Law Review 56,
no. 1 (2018), 135-184, https://perma.cc/VEB4-9X64.
150	Daniel Rivero and Nadege Green, “How Miami-Dade’s Mental
Health Program Steers People to Treatment, Not Jail,” WJCT Public
Media, March 13, 2019, https://perma.cc/F7PX-VMQL.
151	 Norm Ornstein and Steve Leifman, “How Mental-Health Training for
Police Can Save Lives—and Taxpayer Dollars,” Atlantic, August 11,
2017, https://perma.cc/HX34-6P69.
152	 Chang, “Miami-Dade Seen as a Model for Nation,” 2016; and
Boatwright, “The Miami Model,” 2018, 159-161. See also South Florida
Behavioral Health Network, “Central Receiving System,” https://
perma.cc/V4DP-B76S.
153	 2008 population: Vera Institute of Justice, “Incarceration Trends,”
database (New York: Vera Institute of Justice), http://trends.
vera.org/rates/miamidade-county-fl. 2019 population: Florida
Department of Corrections, Florida County Detention Facilities
Average Inmate Population January 2019 (Tallahassee, FL: Florida
Department of Corrections, 2019), 2, table 1, https://perma.cc/
YGF3-JZB5. Although the Criminal Mental Health Project originally
served only people charged with misdemeanors, in 2008 the postbooking program was expanded to include people arrested for
less serious, nonviolent felonies. John K. Iglehart, “Decriminalizing
Mental Illness—The Miami Model,” New England Journal of
Medicine 374, no.18 (2016), 1701-1703, 1702, https://perma.cc/U7JPJP52.
154	 Matt Sledge, “New Orleans Jail Population Cut in Half: Here’s
How Trend Can Continue, Landrieu’s Office Says,” New Orleans
Advocate, April 24, 2018, https://perma.cc/SW65-K7BR. The city’s
current jail population is available at New Orleans City Council,
“Criminal Justice Committee Jail Population Snapshot,” https://

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

59

council.nola.gov/committees/criminal-justice-committee/. On April
24, 2019, the jail population was 1,112.
155	New Orleans, Louisiana, Ordinance No. 24,282 M.C.S. (February 3,
2011).
156	 Sledge, “New Orleans Jail Population Cut in Half,” 2018.
157	 Megan Crepeau, “Cook County Jail Drops Below 6,000 Inmates
to Lowest Level in Decades,” Chicago Tribune, December 22, 2017,
https://perma.cc/2YT8-5XJN.
158	Olivia Stovicek, “Fewer Cook County Suspects Held Pretrial; But
Reform Order Not Always Followed,” InjusticeWatch, September 18,
2018, https://perma.cc/JM87-SSVH.
159	 First Judicial District of Pennsylvania Department of Research
and Development, Philadelphia Jail Population Report: July 2015–
April 2019 (Philadelphia, PA, First Judicial District of Pennsylvania
Department of Research and Development, 2019), https://
perma.cc/A78Z-39T3. See also Tom Jackman, “Justice Reforms
Take Hold, the Inmate Population Plummets, and Philadelphia
Closes a Notorious Jail,” Washington Post, April 23, 2018, https://
www.washingtonpost.com/news/true-crime/wp/2018/04/23/
justice-reforms-take-hold-the-inmate-population-plummets-andphiladelphia-closes-a-notorious-jail/; and Samantha Melamed,
“Philly’s House of Correction, a ‘Dungeon,’ to Close by 2020,”
Philadelphia Inquirer, April 18, 2018, https://perma.cc/8B55-HFZY.
160	 Jackman, “Justice Reforms Take Hold,” 2018; and Jen Kinney,
“Philadelphia Awarded $3.5 Million to Reduce Prison Population,”
Next City, April 15, 2016, https://perma.cc/5EKA-M47R.
161	 Kinney, “Philadelphia to Reduce Prison Population,” 2016.
162	 Paul Guerin, Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center:
Analysis of the Jail Population (Albuquerque, NM: Institute for Social
Research Center for Applied Research and Analysis, University of
New Mexico, 2013), https://perma.cc/7FFA-66L5. See also Olivia
Nedd, “County Leaders Learn and Share Ideas at Bernalillo County
Justice Peer Exchange,” National Association of Counties, March 13,
2017, https://perma.cc/ME7D-MCT9.
163	 For citation reform, see Ryan Boetel, “APD Chief: Citations OK
for Some Nonviolent Crimes,” Albuquerque Journal, May 22,
2017, https://www.abqjournal.com/1006784/apd-citations-ok-forsome-crimes.html; and Victoria Prieskop, “Albuquerque Police to
Scale Back Misdemeanor Arrests,” Courthouse News Service, May
22, 2017, https://perma.cc/F4KA-46LX. For evidence-based risk
assessments used by judges to determine pretrial release, see
Katy Barnitz, “Jail Bond Numbers Plummet,” Albuquerque Journal,
September 6, 2018, https://perma.cc/5RCU-QZWN. For the safe
surrender event, see “‘Safe Surrender’ Event Lets You Resolve
Outstanding Warrants,” Albuquerque Journal, July 6, 2018, https://
perma.cc/J88R-8EF3.

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164	 Kristine Denman, Pretrial Detention and Case Processing Measures:
A Study of Nine New Mexico Counties (Albuquerque, NM: University
of New Mexico, Institute for Social Research Center for Applied
Research and Analysis, 2016), http://isr.unm.edu/reports/2017/
pretrial-detention-and-case-processing-measures--a-study-ofnine-new-mexico-counties-.pdf. For indictment to disposition times,
see David Steelman, Gordon Griller, Joseph Farina et al., Felony
Caseflow Management in Bernalillo County, New Mexico (Denver,
CO: National Center for State Courts, 2009), 15, https://perma.cc/
N24H-VR4S. For arrest to disposition times, see David Steelman and
Anthony Kim, Better Criminal Caseflow Management on the Jail
Population in Bernalillo County, New Mexico (Denver, CO: National
Center for State Courts, 2013), 5-13, https://perma.cc/PJ7X-59DG.
165	 Mike Gallagher, “New Rule Aims to Unclog Courts, Cut Jail
Population,” Albuquerque Journal, November 13, 2014, https://
perma.cc/6YSS-YL35.
166	 Gallagher, “‘Dysfunctional’ Court System Fuels Overcrowding,”
Albuquerque Journal, September 21, 2014, https://perma.cc/9P9F5TVF; and Arthur Pepin, Report to Legislative Finance Committee,
November 18, 2014 (Albuquerque, NM: Bernalillo County Criminal
Justice Review Commission, 2014), 8, https://perma.cc/95J8-9KYZ.
Although the county appointed three additional judges to help
clear the case backlog as part of the 2015 reforms, the backlog was
so large that the court was forced to open additional hearing tracks
(opportunities to set court dates) for those cases in 2017. Chris
McKee, “Bernalillo County Judges Adding New Court Hearings to
Reduce 8,000 Felony Case Backlog,” KRQE, June 29, 2017, https://
perma.cc/CY42-4N43.
167	 New Mexico Denial of Bail Measure, Constitutional Amendment 1
(2016), https://perma.cc/BX2U-SF7T; and J.B. Wogan, “Can’t Afford
Bail? In One State, That Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” Governing,
November 9, 2016, https://perma.cc/82Q8-VALK.
168	 Barnitz, “Jail Bond Numbers Plummet,” 2018.
169	 Marie C. Baca, “Learning from How Bernalillo County Reduced its
Jail Population,” Albuquerque Journal, January 30, 2017, https://
perma.cc/U9GP-QLW6.
170	 Tammy Grubb, “Orange County Hires Architect to Design $20M
Detention Facility,” News & Observer, September 21, 2015, https://
www.newsobserver.com/news/local/community/chapel-hill-news/
article32955021.html; and Tammy Grubb, “Orange County OKs
New Jail Site in Hillsborough Over Objections,” Herald Sun, April
4, 2018, https://www.heraldsun.com/news/local/counties/orangecounty/article207797339.html.
171	 Abigail Becker, “Dane County Approves 2018 Budgets, Including Jail
Project, Amid Unruly Meeting,” Capital Times, November 21, 2017,
https://perma.cc/3PS4-QT8B.
172	 Cali Dankovich, “New Proposal Could Close Schoolcraft County
Jail,” WLUC, August 6, 2019, https://perma.cc/9RAH-MJEE. In

contrast, Wayne County (Detroit), Michigan, plans to complete a
new 2,280-bed jail by 2022. Oralandar Brand-Williams, “Wayne
County Takes a Second Swing at Building New Jail,” Detroit News,
June 24, 2019, https://perma.cc/MKU3-M4HU.

176	Ibid.
177	Ibid.
178	Ibid.

173	 See New York City Council, “Rikers to Close,” press release,
October 17, 2019, https://perma.cc/KU4Y-3FPP.
174	 City of New York, “A Roadmap to Closing Rikers,” 2019, https://
perma. cc/BM9Y-RM5X. See also Matthew Haag, “N.Y.C. Is Voting
to Close Rikers. Now Comes the Hard Part,” New York Times,
October 17, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/17/nyregion/
rikers-island-closing-vote.html; and Insha Rahman, “Closing Rikers
Island,” Vera Institute of Justice, October 8, 2019, https://perma.cc/
EZ77-TBSN. This decrease in capacity is in part possible due to bail
reforms passed in April 2019 by the New York State Legislature that
will eliminate the use of bail and pretrial detention for almost 90
percent of all arrests, require judges to impose the least restrictive
nonmonetary conditions of release, and, for the limited number
of cases in which bail may still be set, require judges to consider
ability to pay and to set more affordable forms of bail. Assembly
Speaker Carl E. Heastie, “SFY 19-20 Budget Includes Critical
Criminal Justice Reform Legislation and Funding,” press release
(Albany, NY: New York State Assembly, April 1, 2019), https://perma.
cc/Z8QA-X4L7; State of New York Division of the Budget, “Governor
Andrew Cuomo Announces Highlights of the FY 2020 State Budget,”
press release (Albany, New York: State of New York Division of the
Budget, April 1, 2019), https://perma.cc/SS86-H85V; and Insha
Rahman, New York, New York: Highlights of the 2019 Bail Reform Law
(New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2019), https://perma.cc/EP9UKTG2. For the budget, see New York State Division of the Budget,
“FY 2020 Executive Budget,” 2019, https://www.budget.ny.gov/
pubs/archive/fy20/exec/index.html. This new law is expected to
result in a 25 percent decrease in New York City’s jail population,
which currently hovers around 7,100 people on any given day.
For the current jail population, see New York City Department of
Corrections (NYDOC), The Jail Population in NYC: 3,300 by 2026
(Albany, New York: NYDOC, 2019), 1, https://perma.cc/M2PH5JCZ. Vera conducted an unpublished analysis of county-level
jail data to estimate the potential impact of the new law on local
jail populations. See also Center for Court Innovation (CCI), Bail
Reform in New York: Legislative Provisions and Implications for New
York City (New York: CCI, 2019), https://perma.cc/3MG6-PQ2G.
The city’s plan is not without important dissent, and community
advocates helped push the city to decarcerate more than initially
planned. See gabriel sayegh, “Making Sense of the Fight over NYC
Jails,” Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, October 10,
2019, https://perma.cc/7YW6-NZEM; and P.R. Lockhart, “Why a Vote
to Close New York’s Rikers Island is Being Met with Backlash,” Vox,
October 18, 2019, https://perma.cc/N5Q4-RENA. 
175	 Ken Thomas, “Dodge County Jail Expansion Rejected by Board: Pod
J Closure Approved with Dec. 31 Deadline,” Daily Citizen, July 18,
2018, https://perma.cc/4HUQ-RYRZ.

Box notes
“How state oversight boards and jail litigation can catalyze
jail expansion” p. 18
1	

Michele Dietch, “Independent Correctional Oversight Mechanisms
Across the United States: A 50-State Inventory,” Pace Law Review
30, no. 5 (2010), 1753-1930, https://perma.cc/X4NR-Q6DZ. The
responsibilities of these entities can be categorized into those that
have “mandatory inspection duties,” “discretionary monitoring
authority,” or “voluntary inspection bodies”: Alabama (mandatory),
Alaska (discretionary and voluntary), Arkansas (mandatory),
California (mandatory), Colorado (discretionary), Delaware
(discretionary), Florida (voluntary), Hawaii (discretionary), Idaho
(mandatory), Illinois (mandatory and discretionary), Indiana
(mandatory), Iowa (mandatory), Kentucky (mandatory), Maine
(mandatory), Maryland (mandatory), Massachusetts (mandatory),
Michigan (mandatory), Minnesota (mandatory), Nebraska
(mandatory), New Jersey (mandatory), New York (mandatory),
North Carolina (mandatory), North Dakota (mandatory), Ohio
(mandatory), Oklahoma (mandatory), Oregon (mandatory),
Pennsylvania (mandatory), South Carolina (mandatory), Tennessee
(mandatory), Texas (mandatory), Utah (voluntary), Virginia
(mandatory), Wisconsin (mandatory and discretionary).

2	

This definition is based on the guidelines used in Dietch,
“Independent Correctional Oversight Mechanisms,” 2010. In some
cases, an entity may be charged with both investigatory and
monitoring responsibilities.

3	

For example, counties in Tennessee may take advantage of
technical assistance in jail construction planning from the
University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Service.
Counties are required to submit plans for new jails to the state
oversight board, the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI). A report
by the state comptroller found that after TCI informed a number of
counties that they were at risk of losing state certification, “several
counties decided to build, enlarge, or renovate their jails to reduce
this exposure.” Greg Spadley and Margaret Rose, Building and
Financing Jails in Tennessee (Nashville, TN: State of Tennessee
Comptroller of the Treasury, 2006), 6, https://perma.cc/T5RGVG5U.

4	

Wayne Welsh, Counties in Court: Jail Overcrowding and CourtOrdered Reform (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1995),
165-170. The researcher discusses specific cases in Alameda

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

61

County, Humboldt County, Placer County, Riverside County,
Tehama County, and Tulare County, as well as the cities of Fresno,
Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa
Barbara, and Santa Cruz.
5	

Ibid., 170.

6	

Miranda Holman, “Logan County Judge Announces Jail
Dedication,” Paris Express, May 9, 2019, https://perma.cc/2AXLB3MV.

7	

8	

9	

Ibid.; and Pat McHughes, “Logan County Jail Construction on
Track,” Southwest Times Record, August 23, 2018, https://perma.cc/
F9KK-BF5S.
Thomas Garrett, “Ott: Marion County Has No Choice On Jail
Issue,” Baxter Bulletin, April 15, 2015, https://perma.cc/4SF9-5NQ3;
and Chrystal Blair, “Marion County Residents Tour New Jail,”
OzarksFirst.com, November 30, 2018, https://perma.cc/ZF6Y-AHTH.
Corey Paul, “County to Move More Inmates Amid Overcrowding,”
OAonline.com, February 24, 2015, https://perma.cc/6R53-U8WR.

10	 Ibid.
11	 Gaby Neal, “Ector County Law Enforcement Center Expansion
Underway,” Correctional News, March 7, 2018, https://perma.cc/
F3RP-G5MB.
12	 Candy Neal, “Dubois County Must Develop Plan to Address Jail
Overcrowding,” Indiana Economic Digest, April 18, 2017, https://
perma.cc/RXF2-7SSD.
13	 Candy Neal, “Plagued with Problems, Dubois County Jail Rated
Obsolete: Overcrowded and Understaffed,” Indiana Economic
Digest, December 8, 2017, https://perma.cc/3RDU-9CWA.
14	 Neal, “DuBois County Must Develop Plan,” 2017.
15	 Ibid.
16	 Ibid.
17	 Candy Neal, “Plagued with Problems, Dubois County Jail Rated
Obsolete: Overcrowded and Understaffed,” Indiana Economic
Digest, December 8, 2017, https://perma.cc/3RDU-9CWA.
18	 Ibid.
19	 Candy Neal, “Dubois County’s Jail Facility Should Have Between
244 And 270 Beds to Keep Up with the Need for the Next 20 Years,
Study Says,” Indiana Economic Digest, June 4, 2019, https://perma.
cc/V9UD-2BHH.
20	 Ibid.
21	 N.Y. Correct. Law § 45 (functions, powers, and duties of the
commission), https://perma.cc/29KN-SBCW.

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22	 For a history of the construction and attempts to reduce
overcrowding, ensure compliance, renovate, and eventually
construct a new facility, see Matter of County of Herkimer v.
Village of Herkimer, N.Y. Slip Op. 26022 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Herkimer Co.,
January 27, 2016), https://perma.cc/5HZ4-3MH9.
23	 Ibid.
24	 Rob Juteau, “State Commission Opts Not to Renew Herkimer Co.
Jail Variance,” Times Telegram, January 26, 2011, https://perma.
cc/99JH-X98M.
25	 Greg Mason, “Sheriff: New Herkimer Co. Jail Would Be ‘1,000 Times’
Better than Current,” Observer Dispatch, May 8, 2017, https://
perma.cc/EJ2X-G69C.
26	 Huerta v. Ewing, No. 2:16-cv-00397 (S.D. Ind., 2016), https://perma.
cc/47QA-M9HY.
27	 Ibid., order filed May 19, 2017, https://perma.cc/YWS8-3F83.
28	 Ibid., order filed February 8, 2018, 2, https://perma.cc/TWC6-LPEY.
29	 Acosta v. Harris, No. TH00-081-C-Y/H (S.D. Ind. 2001). See also Hos v.
Ewing, No. 84D01-1308-PL-007173 (Vigo Co. Sup. Ct. 2013) (enforcing
terms of settlement agreement in Acosta).
30	 Hos v. Ewing, (Vigo Co. Sup. Ct. 2013). See also ACLU, “ACLU
of Indiana Files Suit against Vigo Co. Sheriff,” press release
(Washington, DC: ACLU, August 19, 2013), https://perma.cc/BM7SZURX.
31	 RJS Justice Services, Vigo County Indiana, Jail and Criminal
Justice System Assessment (Ashland, KY: RJS Justice Services, July
21, 2018), https://perma.cc/CQ9B-VKJL.
32	 Alex Eady, “Vigo County Council Approves Local Tax Increase to
Fund New County Jail,” Indiana Public Media, August 15, 2018,
https://perma.cc/N3UP-AZVY.
33	 Howard Greninger, “County Settles with Remaining Inmate
Plaintiffs,” Tribune-Star, March 19, 2019, https://perma.cc/FBJ42SA8.
34	 Keith Roysdon, “Delaware County’s Jail History a Story of Failure,
Millions Spent,” Muncie Star Press, August 3, 2018, https://perma.
cc/QL3K-NB7T.
35	 Keith Roysdon, “Delaware County Not Alone in Jail Issues, But Is
A New Jail the Answer?” Muncie Star Press, September 13, 2018,
https://perma.cc/Y3W2-UHBT.
36	 Ibid.
37	 Keith Roysdon and Douglas Walker, “Walker/Roysdon Report: Jail
Nearly Sparks Brawl in the Hall,” Muncie Star Press, December 1,
2018, https://perma.cc/R6BW-DY6K.

38	 “Delaware County to Turn Former Middle School into Jail,” WTHR,
February 28, 2018, https://perma.cc/GS9Z-A72X.

7	

gkkworks and RicciGreene Associates, Douglas County Justice
Center Space Needs Assessment, 2012, vi (2006 projection of 535
beds by 2010), viii (2006 average daily population of 349) & 1
(projection of 990 beds by 2020).

8	

Ibid., 1 (quotation) & vi (average daily population of 323 in 2012).
The county ultimately decided to expand the jail, and construction
was completed in 2015. Alex DeWind, “‘All of Our Jails Are
Psychiatric Facilities’,” Highlands Ranch Herald, February 27, 2018,
https://perma.cc/XVD2-HREY.

9	

DLR Group, Canyon County New Jail Facility, 2017, 13-14.

“Population projections presume continued growth” p. 22
1	

DLR Group, Canyon County New Jail Facility (Seattle, WA: DLR
Group, 2017), https://perma.cc/C6C2-HQQW; Bill Garnos, Jail
Needs Assessment for Codington County South Dakota (Gladstone,
SD: Office of Bill Garnos, 2015), https://perma.cc/BKW3-AV4B;
gkkworks and RicciGreene Associates, Douglas County Justice
Center Space Needs Assessment (New York: klipp | RicciGreene
Associates, 2012), https://perma.cc/PNE8-8ADL; Vanir Inc. &
Criminal Justice Research Foundation, El Dorado County Sheriff’s
Office Jail Needs Assessment (Sacramento, CA: Vanir Inc. &
Criminal Justice Research Foundation, 2017), https://perma.cc/
H5Y8-FJWE; Crout Criminal Justice Consulting LLC, Stanislaus
County Jail Needs Assessment Update 2013 (Templeton, CA: Crout
Criminal Justice Consulting LLC, 2013), https://perma.cc/E7Z69Y4N; Gallatin County, Montana, Gallatin County Corrections
Master Plan, Chapter Five Jail Capacity Forecasts (Bozeman,
MT: Gallatin County Corrections, 2003), http://gallatincomt.
virtualtownhall.net/public_documents/gallatincomt_court/
Chapter%20Five.pdf; RicciGreene Associates, Greene County, NY
Jail Needs Assessment (New York: RicciGreene Associates, 2016),
https://perma.cc/U38L-H6Y8; Dewberry with Mark Goldman and
Associates, McLean County Jail Needs Assessment (Atlanta, GA:
Mark Goldman and Associates, 2015), ch. 3, https://perma.cc/
E8RF-AHSJ; MJ Martin, Inc., Sarpy County Jail Needs Assessment
(Lincoln, NE: MJ Martin, Inc., 2016), https://perma.cc/Z3VSBPH3; and Prochaska & Associates, Needs Assessment Study
for Washington County Law Enforcement Center (Omaha, NE:
Prochaska & Associates, 2012); Prochaska & Associates, Needs
Assessment Update for Washington County Law Enforcement
Center (Blaire, NE: Prochaska & Associates, 2014), https://perma.
cc/3FE5-H2YE.

2	

Garnos, Jail Needs Assessment for Codington County South
Dakota, 2015, 56.

3	

Vanir Inc. & Criminal Justice Research Foundation, El Dorado
County Sheriff’s Office Jail Needs Assessment, 2017, 112.

4	

Prochaska & Associates, Needs Assessment Study for Washington
County, 2012, 38.

5	

Ram Subramanian, Ruth Delaney, Stephen Roberts et al.,
Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jail in America (New York:
Vera Institute of Justice, 2015), 7 (note d) & 10, https://perma.cc/
XNM8-7PBG.

6	

Michael Kane, Local Justice Reinvestment: The Challenge of Jail
Population Projection (Boston, MA: Crime and Justice Institute,
2016), https://perma.cc/2ZKK-EFBF.

10	 Ibid., 14; Davis v. Canyon County, Idaho, No. 1:09-cv-00197-BLW
(N.D. Idaho) (consent decree), November 12, 2009; and IDOC, Use
of the Idaho Response Matrix (Boise, ID: IDOC, 2015) (originally
adopted February 19, 2009), https://perma.cc/22DE-WPTP.
11	 DLR Group, Canyon County New Jail Facility, 2017, 14.
12	 Ibid.
13	 Ibid., 23 & 101. Voters rejected a bond for new construction in 2019,
but the county plans to continue seeking funding to construct the
facility. “Commissioner Dale After Voters Reject Jail Bond Once
Again: 'Of Course It's Disappointing',” CBS 2, May 22, 2019, https://
perma.cc/Q72S-TLTB.
14	 Garnos, Jail Needs Assessment for Codington County South
Dakota, 2015, 5.
15	 Shannon Marvel, “Counties Struggle with Aging Jails, More
Inmates,” Watertown Public Opinion, June 26, 2017, https://
www.thepublicopinion.com/news/local_news/counties-strugglewith-aging-jails-more-inmates/article_e27ec22c-5a7b-11e7-8887d7bf214ba56b.html.
16	 Vanir Inc. & CJRF, El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office Jail Needs
Assessment, 2017, 115. El Dorado County ultimately decided to
expand its Placerville Jail with the assistance of funding from
California’s Board of State and Community Corrections. “California
Allocates $270 Million to Jail Construction Projects,” Correctional
News, June 13, 2017, http://correctionalnews.com/2017/06/13/
california-allocates-270-million-jail-construction-projects/.
17	 MJ Martin Inc., Sarpy County Jail Needs Assessment, 2016, 44.
Sarpy County is currently planning to build a new jail, expected
to more than double the size of the current jail. Reece Ristau,
“Concept Shows New $70 Million Sarpy County Jail That Could
Replace Overcrowded Facility,” Omaha World-Herald, February 20,
2019, https://perma.cc/HN6S-6472.

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

63

Acknowledgments
The authors would like to thank Mary Crowley, Nancy Fishman, Jasmine
Heiss, Chris Henrichson, Jack Norton, and Jim Parsons for their thoughtful
review of and input into early manuscripts; Cindy Reed for editing the
report; Paragini Amin for design; Maris Mapolski for editorial support; and
Tim Merrill for proofreading.
This report was created with support from the John D. and Catherine
T. MacArthur Foundation as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge
initiative, which seeks to address overincarceration by changing the way
America thinks about and uses jails. Core to the challenge is a grants
competition designed to support efforts to improve local criminal justice
systems in jurisdictions across the country. The Foundation is supporting
a nationwide network of selected local jurisdictions committed to finding
ways to safely reduce jail incarceration—particularly the disproportionate
incarceration of racial and ethnic minorities. More information is available
at www.SafetyandJusticeChallenge.org.

About citations
As researchers and readers alike rely more and more on public knowledge
made available through the Internet, “link rot” has become a widely
acknowledged problem with creating useful and sustainable citations. To
address this issue, the Vera Institute of Justice is experimenting with the
use of Perma.cc (https://perma.cc/), a service that helps scholars, journals,
and courts create permanent links to the online sources cited in their work.

64

Vera Institute of Justice

Credits
© Vera Institute of Justice 2019. All rights reserved. An electronic version of this report is posted on
Vera’s website at www.vera.org/broken-ground.
Cover image: Alex Nabaum c/o Theispot
Graphics: Paragini Amin
Interior photos: p.4, iStock.com/Joe_Potato; p.9, iStock.com/stevegeer; p.16, iStock.com/J.
Michael Jones; p.28, iStock.com/Joel Carillet; p.35, iStock.com/PhilAugustavo; p.40, iStock.com/
disorderly.
The Vera Institute of Justice is a justice reform change agent. Vera produces ideas, analysis, and
research that inspire change in the systems people rely upon for safety and justice, and works in
close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement it. Vera is currently pursuing
core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, and ensuring
that justice systems more effectively serve America’s increasingly diverse communities. For more
information, visit www.vera.org.
For more information about this report, contact Ram Subramanian, editorial director, at
rsubramanian@vera.org. For more information about Vera’s work to reduce the use of jails,
contact Nancy Fishman, project director, Center on Sentencing and Corrections, at nfishman@
vera.org.

Suggested citation
Chris Mai, Mikelina Belaineh, Ram Subramanian, and Jacob Kang-Brown. Broken Ground: Why
America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead. New York: Vera Institute of
Justice, 2019.

Broken Ground: Why America Keeps Building More Jails and What It Can Do Instead

65

This report was created with support from the John D.
and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation as part of the
Safety and Justice Challenge, which seeks to reduce overincarceration by changing the way America thinks about
and uses jails.

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