Editor’s note: This is Part 3. Other reasons will be listed in upcoming weeks.
13. This system creates a lot of jobs. Jails are local, usually for people recently arrested or awaiting trial. Prisons are state and federal and are for people who have already been convicted. There are more than 3,000 local jails across the US, according to the Vera Institute, and together usually hold about 500,000 people awaiting trial and an additional 200,000 or so convicted on minor charges.
Over the course of a year, these local jails process over 11.7 million people. Prisons are state and federal lockups that usually hold about twice the number of people as local jails, or just over 1.5 million prisoners.
14. The people in local jails are not there because they are a threat to the rest of us. Nearly 75 percent of the hundreds of thousands of people in local jails are there for nonviolent offenses such as traffic, property, drug or public order offenses.
15. Criminal bonds are big business. Nationwide, over 60 percent of people arrested are forced to post a financial bond to be released pending trial usually by posting cash or a house or paying a bond company. There are about 15,000 bail bond agents working in the bail bond industry, which takes in about $14 billion every year.
16. A high percentage of people in local jails are people with diagnosed mental illnesses. The rate of mental illness inside jails is four to six times higher than on the outside. Over 14 percent of the men and over 30 percent of the women entering jails and prisons were found to have serious mental illness in a study of over 1,000 prisoners. A recent study in New York City’s Rikers Island jail found 4,000 prisoners – 40 percent of their inmates – were suffering from mental illness. In many of our cities, the local jail is the primary place where people with severe mental problems end up. Yet, treatment for mental illness in jails is nearly non-existent.
17. Lots of people in jail need treatment. Nearly 70 percent of people in prison meet the medical criteria for drug abuse or dependence. Yet, only 7 to 17 percent ever receive drug abuse treatment inside prison.
Bill Quigley is legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor.