Dealing with the Burgeoning Jail Population

The Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Jail is just about full, Tasha Kates writes in the Progress, and they’re trying to figure out what to do about it. As in the rest of the country, incarceration rates have been climbing for over three decades, despite flat or falling crime rates. (The U.S. has a greater percentage of citizens in prison than any other country in the world.) The jail can fit 580 people, and averages 540 people each day. Now the Thomas Jefferson Area Community Criminal Justice Board is trying to figure out how to empty some beds. The clearest path seems to be to stop jailing the mentally insane and those merely addicted to drugs or alcohol. Other proposed solutions are to let defendants put their bond on a credit card and accelerating the process that moves convicted criminals out of the jail and into prison. Everybody seems to agree that expanding the jail is the solution of last resort.

27 Responses to “Dealing with the Burgeoning Jail Population”


  • I’d like to know exact numbers about this:

    “The Department of Corrections plays a role in jail overcrowding, too. Matthews said inmates who have been sentenced to prison terms longer than a year remain at the jail while the paperwork goes through.

    “Once they get their sentencing order, they should be out within 60 days,” Matthews said. “Sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

    The state pays ‘expenses’ for their prisoners; it doen’t contribute toward the capital costs of building or maintaining the facility. It’s an ongoingly cheap way for the state to outsource its costs to local communities & I really, really want to know more about the financial burden that creates before I look at any other part of the picture.

  • Has the crime rate fallen faster then the population in central VA risen? If not, that could explain the facility being nearly at capacity.

  • Great question, jmcnamera. I’m not sure where to find the numbers on that, but it would awfully interesting to know.

  • sensible citizen

    I’m always amazed when I see this oft-repeated lefty comment “incarceration rates have been climbing for over three decades, despite flat or falling crime rates”. From the NYT, to local liberals, leftists think that putting criminals in jail should make the crime rate go up.

    Please think this through. The guy who mugged your grandmother or raped your sister, or burgled your house, goes to jail or prison. Next week, he’s not out on the street, to do it again. Crime rate goes down, as jail population goes up.

    Yes, human behavior is very complex, and we can all argue forever about the “true causes of crime”, like poverty, drugs, poor education, absent fathers, scarce opportunities, etc. And then propose more government programs to make us think we’re helping there. But, for each crime, at some point, some person (let’s call him the “bad guy”, although we really just think he’s misunderstood, discriminated against, etc.) decides to do something that’ll hurt someone else. In the hoosegow, he has less opportunity to do the bad thing.

    Yes, some people in prison are “innocent”, or unfairly sentenced, or did “victimless” crimes. But, for the most part, the people there are there because they’re criminals, and you wouldn’t want them hanging out behind your house.

  • I’m always amazed when I see this oft-repeated lefty comment “incarceration rates have been climbing for over three decades, despite flat or falling crime rates”.

    I don’t understand. What about it amazes you? You seem to be implying that the statistic is wrong, especially with your “lefty” jab. But you’ve provided no documentation to demonstrate that’s so. My source is the US Department of Justice [1, 2]. If you have evidence to the contrary, I’m sure we’re all ears.

    But, for the most part, the people there are there because they’re criminals, and you wouldn’t want them hanging out behind your house.

    They’re criminals in substantial part because a) we’ve eliminated insane asylums (Carter and Reagan), leaving insane people to be arrested for the crimes that tend accompany homelessness and insanity and b) every year our laws become more rigorous, sending people to prison for lesser crimes and keeping people in prison for longer periods. I don’t want insane people hanging out behind my house, but that doesn’t mean they should be in prison. Hell, if I see anybody behind my house, I’m going to greet them only after I make sure I’ve got my Mauser at hand.

    What’s your explanation? That people are just eviler every year?

  • Well I guess you wouldn’t want us reading your blog either than, since you have bought the propaganada that there is any correlation between state hospital populations and jail populations (there isn’t, it isn’t the same people, 50% were women, most people with mental illness never commit a crime, most homeless are not mentally ill), but whatever Waldo, you don’t care to learn or do your homework on this issue before you slander a large group of citizens, I don’t bother to read your blog anymore and we will both be happier. You are way smarter than this Waldo. You don’t have to buy the myths you are being sold. Maybe you will realize that in 30 years or so.

  • No, the statistic is correct; what amazes is the silliness of the notion that falling crime rates and rising jail populations are incompatible, when clearly the latter supports the former. Another goofy left- …oops, I mean liberal, notion is that criminals are substantially so because there’re fewer insane asylums to which to go.
    And what, murder & robbery & rape, as well as white-collar & organized crime, were okay before, but now are not, as the laws have been tightened? I for one am glad that the laws at least try to keep up with technology-enabled crime, such as internet kiddie porn & child solicitation, identity-theft, computer spam & fraud.
    Well, at least you have the sense to have Mauser in hand, before confronting (“going to greet”) potentially crazy or bad people. Fortunately, you don’t live in our nation’s capital, where such precaution is outlawed, and you’re at their mercy. Let’s hope such stupidity is soon rescinded.
    No, people are no gooder or eviler than before, but that’s plenty bad enough.

  • Sensible Citizen,

    You are arguing against a straw man here. Who is speaking in favor of releasing violent criminals and thieves? Who is supporting child pornography or identity theft? Nobody. I know that it’s fun to sound ‘sensible’ by arguing against those things, but there’s nobody on the other side of you.

    I’m just guessing here, but somehow I strongly doubt that a significant percentage of people in the Albemarle jail are awaiting trial for sending spam or committing identity theft.

    The increase in laws that send more people to prison isn’t just a matter of creating new classes of crime. It’s a constant pissing contest in which politicians compete with each other to create more and bigger mandatory minimums for existing crimes, mostly for the sake of being able to say that they were ‘tough on crime.’ If the law says that possession of marijuana can be punished with a 6 month sentence in prison, then they’ll demand that it be increased to 2 years. Next election time, some other hack insists that it be 5 years. And let’s call possession of more than one joint ‘intent to distribute. Ok, so now your kid who got busted for some pot in his backpack is going to be called a dealer and let’s give him 7 years. No, make it 10! Until next election season, when someone will make it 20. Why? Just because.

    There are all sorts of crimes that are in fact crimes but aren’t necessarily serious enough to justify actually putting someone in a cage for months or years on end. Maybe some kid smoking pot in his dorm room pissed you off and you want him to rot in prison. Well, I hate people who run red lights – which can actually cause an accident and kill someone. So if you get to see people spend time in jail for smoking pot, how’s about I get to put people in jail for running red lights?

    But it’s pretty stupid in both cases. The fact that someone committed a crime of some sort does not necessarily mean that it’s a good idea to lock them up. Especially when it’s ‘victimless.’ Put them on trial, levy a fine and maybe probation or something. Because among other things, I want to make sure that there’s plenty of room in the jail for the murderers and rapists, thieves and child pornography makers that you and I both want to keep out of society.

  • most people with mental illness never commit a crime, most homeless are not mentally ill

    And I’ve never claimed otherwise.

    Alison, let’s make sure we’re on the same page here. As far as you’re concerned, the current approach is working? Imprisoning people for mental disorders, rather than treating them, that’s working out? (“Making mental illness a crime.”)You’re opposed to mental health courts? Criminalizing homelessness (arresting people for sleeping in parks — “no trespassing after 11am” — or panhandling) is going OK?

    Or is it possible that our criminal justice system has totally failed the mentally ill and the homeless, and that the elimination of societal support structures has led to people being arrested and imprisoned for faux crimes, or for petty crimes committed by people who lack access to mental health services that would have prevented them?

    I suspect you and I agree about the latter. The rest is details about which scholars disagree [1, 2].

  • When the Joint Security expansion program was ongoing I thought there was talk of taking in other localities inmates to generate revenue. I agree that the mentally ill should not be incarcerated, but are those really the folks residing in our jail?

  • Great question, Rick — I wish I knew the answer. The statistics that I know how to find all track national or, at best, state trends.

  • “Prisons have become the nation’s de facto mental health hospitals. There are three times as many mentally ill people in prisons as in mental hospitals (Human Rights Watch, 2003: 1). As many as one in five people in prison or jail suffers from a serious mental illness (American Psychiatric Association, 2000: xix, cited in Human Rights Watch, 2003: 17, fn. 12). A 2006 Justice Department study concluded that 56 percent of state prisoners and nearly two-thirds of inmates in local jails reported mental health problems within the past year (James and Glaze, 2006: 1). The restrictions and isolation of prison life and the poor mental health services in many prisons and jails compound the problems of mentally ill inmates (Human Rights Watch, 2003).” http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-168397573.html
    Also, http://209.85.215.104/search?q=cache:KUzt8FjJyZsJ:sfc.state.va.us/pdf/retreat/Public%20Safety%20_2006%20Retreat_%20FINAL.pdf Charlottesville Incarcerating the mentally ill&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=2&gl=us, p.16 has a chart containing the results of a survey in December, 2005 of area prisons to determine the census of the mentally ill in specific jails.

  • Anybody got any statistics about how many inmates are in only for non-violent drug offenses?

  • Nonviolent? It’s my understanding that so much of the proceeds from drug trafficking support militias around the world.

  • Doesn’t “nonviolent offense” generally refer to the person being arrested and what exactly that person did, rather than (as Cville Eye seems to want to suggest) what a person 18 levels up the crime food chain does with the proceeds from the drug sale? Am I violent offender for selling an ounce of pot because the drug trafficker in another country who originally trafficked the pot killed someone?

  • Cecil, wouldn’t you be part of the pipeline? Are you a violent offender or just equally culpable as the one who used your money to buy weapons and blow up school children? Many states process group guilt.

  • Being part of the pipeline is not the same as committing violence when I sell the pot. Given that there’s only so much room in our jails, do you want the jail full of people who committed no violence when they sold drugs or do you want to fill it with the people who blow up school children? It IS a zero-sum game to a certain extent — we don’t have infinite jail resources. We can only put SOME of the people who do bad things in jail. You seem willing to call someone a violent offender if the drug lord 14 levels above them is violent. I’d like to define violent offenders as the ones who commit violence themselves.

  • So a woman who pays someone to kill her husband should not be going to jail. In this case, too, the murderer actually committed the violent act. Her money enabled it. And, yes, I want them all in jail and I am not worried about how overcrowded the jails become. Apparently they still have 45 empty beds or so. Every seven years somebody at the jail begins making a case to expand the jail, nothing new. I’d particularly like to slam those who give girls drugs for sex in there. Nasty business full of lnast people.

  • I use a lot of oil every day. Am I “a violent offender or just equally culpable as the one who used your money to buy weapons and blow up school children?”

  • I guess it depends on where your oil comes from. If you think about it, you, as an individual, has little control over that issue — it’s mainly a corporate-industrial-government decision.

  • Would you say I would not belong in jail if I sold semi-automatics on the streets of D.C.?

  • Cville Eye,

    The woman who contracts for her husband’s killing intends that her payment cause the killing of her husband. The person who buys a joint has no intention that the money, down the road, be used to finance militias.

    Though it might in cases be difficult to draw, there is a line between knowing the consequences and intending the consequences.

    Moreover, do you really want to push that argument? Do you know where the proceeds from all of your purchases end up? It is not too hard to argue that the high demand for oil puts resources in the hands of anti-U.S. militants, nor is it hard to argue that high demand for oil creates tensions in the mid-East that lead to the killing of American soldiers. Alternatively, purchases of products made in China almost certainly help keep pressure off of the Chinese in regards to Burma and Tibet. If you aren’t particularly worried about mid-East tensions, Burma, or Tibet, pick your dilemma and I don’t doubt you can connect your own purchases to it. I suppose you could identify some test of reasonable connection, but my guess is that buying some weed or even some coke on the streets in Washington is going to be on the same side of that line as buying a tankful of gas in Fairfax or buying a shirt at a chain store in the mall.

    Craig

  • “The person who buys a joint has no intention that the money, down the road, be used to finance militias.” I don’t know why. I hear it in the media at least once every two weeks. In fact, it was discussed yesterday by Steve Roberts on the Diane Rehm Show.”
    “…there is a line between knowing the consequences and intending the consequences.” What about ignoring the consequences?
    “…nor is it hard to argue that high demand for oil creates tensions in the mid-East that lead to the killing of American soldiers.” I believe members of the U.S. military are being killed because we are actively engaged in war.
    “Alternatively, purchases of products made in China almost certainly help keep pressure off of the Chinese in regards to Burma and Tibet.” I missed the pressures.

  • Cville Eye- Ever buy anything made in China despite the many media stories about the dreadful, sometimes slave like, conditions some Chinese products are made in? I think your argument leads to radical non-consumption which most of us are not going to alter our lives enough to achieve. I question whether small purchases of marijuana are more harmful to society than filling up my car.

  • I’m guessing that filling up your car leads to far more criminal/terrorist activity that smoking a joint does.

    Let’s be very, very simple: make it legal & tax it & cartels from Afghanistan to Columbia crumble; plus we gain revenue rather than losing it for things like…. the medical costs of addiction. Also reduce crime because it’s cheaper and fewer people have to boost a stereo or TV to buy the stuff…

    I’m just saying…

  • Waldo posted: “Or is it possible that our criminal justice system has totally failed the mentally ill and the homeless, and that the elimination of societal support structures has led to people being arrested and imprisoned for faux crimes, or for petty crimes committed by people who lack access to mental health services that would have prevented them?”

    -> Who or what is the original culprit? The US healthcare system has a large share in the blame, since it has made itself unavailable unless there are substantial means to grease their wheels (and members especially!)

    Cvile Eye posted: “Nonviolent? It’s my understanding that so much of the proceeds from drug trafficking support militias around the world.”

    -> America is jail happy these days. Plus, the worst part, is justice has become a terrible farce against the ‘have-nots’. BTW, America was founded by our own “militia”. Maybe you should choose your words with more background knowledge rather than regurgitating what you’ve devoured on Fox News.

  • A State of Virginia report http://209.85.215.104/search?q=cache:KUzt8FjJyZsJ:sfc.state.va.us/pdf/retreat/Public Safety _2006 Retreat_ FINAL.pdf outlines how we may have arrived at the problem of some of our mentally ill ending up in jail; there’s no reason to argue with Waldo.
    “The US healthcare system has a large share in the blame, since it has made itself unavailable unless there are substantial means to grease their wheels (and members especially!)” Region Ten Community Services.
    “Maybe you should choose your words with more background knowledge rather than regurgitating what you’ve devoured on Fox News.” I don’t recall ever having watched Fox News. You are right, I should have chosen my words more carefully, but I got them from Radio IQ (NPR and BBC) in a discussion of militias in Afghanistan and Mexico at war with their governments and financing their war with proceeds from drug trafficking. I hope I was not offending anyone that belongs to officially-sanctioned militias, government-sponsored. I had assumed that my comment would be read in context.

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