[Pnews] In Rural Areas, a "Quiet Jail-Building Boom" Is Taking Place

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Feb 1 23:39:17 EST 2020


In Rural Areas, a "Quiet Jail-Building Boom" Is Taking Place
James Kilgore - February 1, 2020

I live in Champaign County, the heart of the Illinois cornfields. Our
somewhat liberal-minded county of 200,000 is home to the flagship campus of
the University of Illinois, the “Fighting Illini.” But our county has
another distinction: While Black people only comprise 13 percent of our
population, they consistently make up 50-71 percent of those in the local
jail, resulting in one of the highest racial discrepancies in the country.

For the past decade, rather than attempt to correct this gross inequity,
local authorities have punted various plans to build a new jail. So far,
the community, led by the grassroots organizing of Build Programs
<https://programsnotjails.com/> Not Jails <https://programsnotjails.com/>,
has blocked these efforts. However, the battle is not over. In September
2019, architects from Reifsteck Reid came to a county board meeting
packing PowerPoint visuals of their grand plan for a $47 million revamp of
our jail, likely the largest capital project in the county’s history. The
architects, backed by newly elected Sheriff Dustin Heuerman, claimed the
jail needed a mental health service, increased educational space and a more
accommodating visiting area. Back when this all started in 2011, the
sheriff wanted a new jail to “preserve public safety” and “fight crime.”
Now he is concerned about providing services to the “inmates.” New battle
lines are emerging.

Champaign is not the only small county where authorities have a burning
urge for jail building. While jail populations in Chicago, Philadelphia and
most big metropolitan areas are plummeting, as Jasmine Heiss, the director
of the Vera Institute of Justice’s In Our Backyards
<https://www.vera.org/projects/in-our-backyards> project, told *Truthout*,
there is a “quiet jail-building boom” taking place in rural counties and
medium-sized metropolitan areas.

In a new report <https://www.vera.org/publications/people-in-jail-in-2019>,
the Vera Institute noted that since 2013, jail incarceration rates have
fallen by 22 percent in major urban areas while increasing by 26 percent in
rural jurisdictions and 6 percent in small and medium-sized metropolitan
areas; rates in urban areas have declined to 165 per 100,000, slightly more
than half the figure for rural counties and 60 percent of the level in
medium-sized metros. Heiss estimated that in the 11 states she tracks, at
least 100 jails are planned. While criminal justice reform might be
grabbing the attention of the mainstream media and campaigning politicians,
the carceral reality for those of us in the heartland looks a little bit
*Indiana: Ground Zero*

The boom clearly has geographical spread. Remarkably, a Google search for
“Greene County Jail construction” yielded three hits — a recently completed
jail in Indiana
a Missouri
project slated to begin in the spring of 2020; and a controversial facility
in upstate New York where funding has been approved, but local activists
are attempting to halt the ground-breaking.

Expansion of jail capacity does more than lock people up. In many counties,
jails are the largest capital expenditure in the budget. A decision to
build a jail, according to Vera Institute Research Associate Jack Norton,
can shape a county’s development pattern for a generation by draining funds
from social services and other non-carceral programs. In some counties,
jails are central to the economic development plan. Bodies for jail intake
are coming not only from increased local drug arrests, but through
marketing facilities to new niches such as Immigration and Customs
Enforcement detention, holding individuals for the U.S. Marshals Service,
or housing people from nearby jurisdictions where the cells are filled.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing for those of us in Illinois is that our
neighboring state, Indiana, is ground zero for jail building. The Vera
Institute estimates that 72 percent of Indiana’s jails are overcrowded.
According to Heiss, 40 percent of Indiana’s 92 counties are either building
jails or are in the advanced stages of planning jail construction. Here, as
in many states, two factors have contributed to increased jail populations:
the opioid crisis and the consequences of criminal justice reform.

The link between the opioid crisis and jail building reflects the lack of
services in small counties. Treatment programs and mental health facilities
are often non-existent; jail diversion options like drug courts are limited
at best. In addition, the drug warrior mentality persists within much of
law enforcement. But in the long run, the consequences of criminal legal
reform may play an even bigger role in jail growth. The centerpiece of the
Indiana reform process is House Bill 1006, passed in 2015.

Then-Gov. Mike Pence championed 1006, boasting
during the 2016 election he had signed criminal justice reform and was
“very proud about it.” HB 1006 did two things. First, it eased penalties
for low-level felonies. Under this law, anyone serving a sentence of less
than two years must do their time in a jail. Previously, the limit on a
county jail sentence was one year. Second, the Act levelled harsher
penalties for so-called violent offenses, upping the percentage of time
served on long sentences from 50 percent to 75 percent. The bill passed the
Indiana house 97 to 0.

In the two years after the bill was passed, the state’s jail population
rose by 32 percent as those with low-level felonies left the state prison
system. While counties were taking in more bodies from the prison system,
the state was reimbursing local authorities at $35 per person per day for
these new arrivals. This was approximately 35 percent of the actual costs
to local authorities, putting more economic pressure on counties. The
shortfall and overflowing jail populations forced sheriffs to scramble for
money to cover increasing jailing costs while taking on the bigger hunt of
raising capital for jail construction. Moreover, while HB 1006 did reduce
the prison population initially with the release of people with low-level
felonies, for the last two years, the prison population has been rising.
With those entering the system now staying behind bars for longer, that
prison population will likely continue to creep up.

Indianapolis, a medium-sized metro, provides a template of how law
enforcement used the reform moment to expand its reach. Authorities chose
to deal with jail overcrowding through a dual strategy — securing a bond
for a 3,000-bed jail at a cost of over $500 million and pushing people out
of the jail onto electronic monitors. According to documents *Truthout*
received from Marion County via a Freedom of Information Act request,
Indianapolis now has more than 8,000 people on ankle monitors annually —
more than any other city in the country.

Indiana’s restructuring has even prompted new hybrid jail formulations,
such as proposed Regional Holding Facilities
*,* which would hold overflow population from local jails, at times as a
temporary solution while jail construction was taking place.

While sheriffs in Indiana are jumping on the construction bandwagon,
investment in a jail is not risk-free. In the early 2000s, 12 Illinois
counties entered into contracts with Chicago’s Cook County to house the
overflow from a then-exploding jail population. However, in the last five
years, the population in Cook County Jail has fallen by 40 percent. Piatt
County joined that trend by building a 76-bed jail to capture the Chicago
market. As of last month, only 10 beds were occupied in Piatt County Jail.
The mantra of “build it and they will come” doesn’t always ring true.

Moreover, while jail building may be the dominant trend, popular sentiment
doesn’t support this growth. Norton’s field work reiterates the findings of
a 2018 survey
that jail construction rates a distant last in terms of popular priorities
for investment. Votes on jail bond issues echo these sentiments. In recent
years, voters have consistently defeated referendums for jail construction.
In Pueblo, Colorado, voters overwhelmingly rejected
a tax hike slated to contribute to jail building. In Douglas County,
Kansas, a local coalition led by Justice Matters
<https://www.justicemattersinkansas.org/more_background> also mobilized the
electorate to vote “no” on a proposed jail. In my own Champaign County, a
2016 referendum to increase sales tax to finance jail building was defeated
2 to 1. The activists’ slogan, “the sales tax is a jails tax,” resonated
across party lines.
*Moving Beyond Jail Fights*

Electoral victories slow down local incarceration machines and buoy the
spirit of struggle. However, lasting change requires building resistance
that connects criminal legal system issues to other manifestations of
structural poverty and inequality. This means recognizing the
intersectionality of those impacted by incarceration. The rural poor who
are captured by jails are also likely to be housing insecure
<https://www.thenation.com/article/rural-homelessness-housing/>, have unmet
physical and mental health needs, be unemployed
or under-employed, and be substance
They are often
<https://newrepublic.com/article/147136/whitewashing-trump-country> Black,
Latinx, Native American or LGBT <http://www.lgbtmap.org/rural-lgbt>. The
fundamental demand in halting jail building is to reallocate the resources
spent on carceral construction to meet the needs of the poorest sectors of
the population. In the absence of transformation, this sector of the
population will continue to be criminalized for their poverty and locked up
in increasingly modern hi-tech facilities.
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