Jails matter! But don’t take my word for it.
Talk with your local public safety leaders. Check out agency websites. If you know someone who works in a jail or has spent time in one as a volunteer or a detainee, see what they can tell you.
Find out who is in your city or county jail. What are they in for? How long have they been there? How many times have they been in jail before? What does it cost per day to house an inmate?
How many are sentenced, and how many are waiting for their trial?
How many could not pay bail, so they can’t get out?
How many are considered too dangerous to be released before trial because of their current charge or criminal history? How many have been violent while in the jail?
How many have tried to injure themselves? How many have a mental illness? How many are addicted to alcohol, painkillers, or other drugs? How many are in on domestic violence charges?
Is the jail able to provide treatment and counseling to everyone who needs it? Are there waiting lists? What’s the pharmacy bill?
How many have chronic diseases? How many are homeless?
How many had a job when they were arrested? How many didn’t make it through high school? How many can’t read above a 5th grade level? How many don’t speak English?
How many are pregnant? How many are working in the sex trade and supporting a “manager”? (Euphemism mine.) Are they also addicted and unable to leave him? Does one guy seem to visit a lot of different women?
The fact is, jails are the front line for confronting all kinds of social issues. The first step is understanding who ends up in jail and why. Then we can ask if the jail has the funding it needs, and the alliances it needs, to get people on the right track. So they don’t end up in jail (or the emergency room) again.
Does your local corrections agency have an effective online presence? See my article on jails and social media from 2010. And tell me what’s working well (or not so well) today.