I need your help. I co-founded the Prison Policy Initiative to put the problem of mass incarceration — and the perverse incentives that fuel it — on the national agenda. Over the last 17 years, our campaigns have protected our democracy from the prison system and protected the poorest families in this country from the predatory prison telephone industry. Our reports untangle the statistics and recruit new allies.

But now, more than ever, we need your help to put data & compassion into the conversation.

Thank you.
—Peter Wagner, Executive DirectorDonate

Jails

One out of every three people behind bars today is held in a county or city jail. The U.S. jail population has tripled over the last 30 years, driven by an increase in pretrial detention and money bail, policies that keep legally innocent people behind bars before trial and increase the likelihood that they will plead guilty.

We're putting the need for jail reform directly into the national conversation, helping both lawmakers and the public keep a close eye on jail growth and conditions. Below is some of our key research:

 

Reports

report thumbnailArrest, Release, Repeat: How police and jails are misused to respond to social problems

Our national analysis finds that at least 4.9 million people go to county and city jails each year, over 25% go multiple times, and people who go to jail are disproportionately likely to be impoverished and face serious health problems.

report thumbnailDoes our county really need a bigger jail? A guide to avoiding unnecessary jail expansion

We lay out 33 questions that local decision-makers should ask before green-lighting proposals for jail expansion. We also explain ways that counties can reduce jail crowding without building additional jail space.

report thumbnailEra of Mass Expansion: Why State Officials Should Fight Jail Growth

What's behind the rapid jail growth of the last three decades? Our report exposes the key drivers — pretrial detention and the renting of jail beds to other authorities — with over 150 state-level graphs and state-by-state comparisons.

report thumbnailMass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019

How many people are in jail nationwide? Our report and graphics break down where people in the U.S. are incarcerated and why, including how many people are in local jails and what percentage are still legally innocent.

report thumbnailDetaining the Poor: How money bail perpetuates an endless cycle of poverty and jail time

We explain how the pretrial detention and bail process works. We also show why paying money bail is so difficult: For a typical defendant, money bail represents about eight months' pay, and even more for women and people of color.

report thumbnailWomen's Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2019

231,000 women are locked up in the U.S., and more are held in local jails than in state prisons — in stark contrast to incarcerated men. Our report explains this trend and explores the impact of jail on women.

Briefings


issue thumbnailCommunication and contact

For people in jail, few services are more critical than visits and phone calls, which allow them to stay connected with their loved ones and lawyers. But jails make staying in touch expensive and difficult, particularly for poor families.

issue thumbnailExploitation

People in jail and their families are a captive market, one that private companies — in collusion with jail administrators — are all too eager to exploit. We are bringing these practices to light and fighting back.



Research Library

Didn't find what you were looking for? We also curate a database of virtually all the empirical criminal justice research available online. See the sections of our Research Library on jails and pretrial detention.



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