The purpose of this paper is to examine the problem of jail crowding in the United States, look at suggested solutions to the problem, its causes, dangers, legalities and the like, and examine emergency measures and other aspects.
Jail crowding is a complex issue that demands immediate attention and brave solutions. Unfortunately, our knowledge of the problem lags behind the problem itself. And as with so many difficulties that rise from public institutions, jail crowding cannot be assigned to one cause or remedied by one solution. Nor can crowding's cause and effect in one jail in one locale be compared with confidence to another jail somewhere across the country; indeed, in some cases comparisons cannot be made even across the state.
In addition to the diversity of the jails themselves, there is no continuing monitoring of county jail populations and therefore no reliable nationwide data. Although it is difficult to know the size of the national annual jail population, it has been estimated that approximately 3,500 jails receive 7 million persons every year. From 1970 to 1982, the one-day count of jail residents increased from 160,863 to 209,582, a growth of 30 percent (Colson 64).
Although there are some state-run jails and a few detention centers run by federal authorities, most jails are operated by a unit of local government and as such house persons convicted of crimes as well as those suspected of crimes. Approximately 57 percent of a jail's population is awaiting trial or being tried. Other inmates are serving jail sentences; still others are being held for probation, parole, immigration violations, or suspected violations, among other reasons. In addition, jails hold those who have been sentenced to prison and are awaiting transfer to the state facility. In 1988, because of prison crowding, over 8,200 inmates were held in jails until the prisons could find room for them. This back-up of state prisoners h...