The number of people housed in jails on any given day in the country has increased from 224,000 in 1983 to 731,000 in 2013 . . . even as violent crime nationally has fallen by nearly 50 percent and property crime has dropped by more than 40 percent from its peak.And who are those people?
Jails across the country have become vast warehouses made up primarily of people too poor to post bail or too ill with mental health or drug problems to adequately care for themselves, according to a report issued Wednesday. The study, “Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America,” found that the majority of those incarcerated in local and county jails are there for minor violations, including driving with suspended licenses, shoplifting or evading subway fares, and have been jailed for longer periods of time over the past 30 years because they are unable to pay court-imposed costs.Because people accused of minor crimes sometimes just don't show up for trial -- and because of lobbying by bail bondsmen, who have way too much influence on this -- judges have lately been imposing bonds for even trivial offenses, and people too poor to post a $1000 bond are spending weeks in jail awaiting trial.
Another part of the study found that a large portion of jail admissions are a small group of people who are admitted repeatedly:
In New York City, from 2009 to 2013, about 400 people were sent to jail on at least 18 occasions each, which accounted for more than 10,000 jail admissions and 300,000 days in jail.These are mainly homeless drunks or belligerent lunatics, and frankly the cops keep tossing them in jail and then letting them out after they sober up because nobody knows what else to do with them.
We could do a lot better, if we cared.