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Jails are locally administered, short-term confinement facilities, usually run by the county sheriff or city police, which typically hold persons awaiting trial or other proceedings, as well as convicted offenders serving sentences of one year or less. The transiency and diversity of jail inmate populations cause significant problems for jail administrators, and many believe that local control compounds these (Mattick, pp. 830835). Yet local control and diverse jail functions have deep historical roots, and are not easily changed.

Historical perspective

Among penal institutions, the jail has the longest history. Paradoxically, it is also the one institution about which the least is known. Remote from public view and concern, it has evolved largely by default (Mattick, pp. 782785). As a place of detention of the accused prior to trial, the jail is traceable to the earliest forms of civilization and government. Although there are no reliable descriptions of ancient places of detention, references are found to murky caves, ramshackle cages of timber (standing or suspended), unscalable pits, and strong poles or trees to which prisoners were tied. By the late medieval period, prisoners were detained in a variety of settings, ranging from fortress dungeons and precipices outside high castle walls, town gates, and bridge abutments to the dank cellars of municipal and privately owned buildings. About the only characteristic shared by these structures was their massive and insurmountably secure nature.

The history of the American jail is firmly embedded in Anglo-Saxon society, which has provided the United States with most of its social institutions. As such, the American jail is a curious hybrid of the tenth-century gaol, whose principal function was to detain persons awaiting trial and those convicted but still awaiting punishment, and the fifteenth-and sixteenth-century houses of correction, with their special function of punishing such minor offenders as debtors, vagrants, prostitutes, and beggars. From its very beginning, the jail's functions were broadly conceived and included punishment and coercion, as well as custody. A punitive intent is evident in the earliest source of information on incarceration, the written laws of Alfred the Great (A.D. 871899), the most prominent figure in Anglo-Saxon history. Historians have traced the creation of the prototype of the modern jail as a local governmental institution in the English-speaking countries to the year 1166, when England's King Henry II ordered the construction of jails in his realm (Barnes and Teeters, p. 460).

The establishment of the office of county sheriff coincided broadly with the development of the gaol. The sheriff represented the king in the shire or county, the largest division of the kingdom in matters of local government. His duties were to maintain the peace within the shire and to look after the king's revenues. Since rents from his vast estates constituted the king's principal source of revenue, it was the sheriff's duty to collect these rents together with any fines assessed by the courts. As chief executive officer of the county, the sheriff became the ex officio jailer and had custody over suspected and arrested offendersand thereby the right to control the county gaol. The construction and maintenance of the gaols were the responsibility of the sheriff and the justice of the peace. The sheriff typically contracted, at no salary, with a keeper, since all the prisoner's necessities (including privileges and amenities) were offered on a fee-for-service basis, paid by the prisoner from personal funds, friends' donations, or begging. The schedule of payments varied with the seriousness of the alleged offense and the prisoner's social status. There were also charges for admission to the jail and for discharge, even when prisoners were acquitted after trial.

The American colonists brought with them the customs and institutions of their mother countries. Thus, they established the system of county government, built the first jails, and invested local sheriffs or marshals with the authority to keep the peace and to control the jails. The earliest reference to jails in the United States comes from prerevolutionary Boston, which ordered the construction of a "people pen" in 1632 ( Jordan, pp. 140141). The historical tenacity of these early institutions is seen in the fact that they continue to this very day as the prevailing form of local law enforcement and correction in most of the states. Jails continued their highly limited function in the colonies until the end of the eighteenth century. They detained those awaiting trial when it was feared they might otherwise run away. They also held convicted offenders awaiting sentencing and those unable to discharge contracted debts. However, jails only rarely confined convicted offenders as a means of correction or punishment. In essence, jails facilitated the process of criminal punishment, although they were not themselves instruments of discipline (Rothman, p. 53). At that time, the predominant form of punishment was corporal, with death, physical mutilation, branding, and whipping decreed for the more serious offenses. For lesser offenses the punishment involved public ridicule and humiliation, effectively administered at the stocks, the pillory, the public cage, or the ducking stool. A remarkably wide range of punishment also included fines, banishments, public whippings, or any combination of these options.

Eighteenth-century practices of criminal justice did not survive for long in the nineteenth century. The Quakers of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey colonies were the first to react against the brutality of the harsh British penal codes and practices that had persisted in the New World. Having been at the receiving end of British justice, they sought to eliminate the stocks, the pillory, the branding iron, and the gallows by substituting imprisonment for corporal punishment and the death penalty. The Quakers thus became the earliest American experimenters in penology. Once the colonist had won independence from England, they followed the leadership of the Quakers by rejecting the old punitive laws and rapidly changing their criminal codes. The new codes reflected the classical legal philosophy of the Enlightenment and followed the recommendations of such great social philosophers of that era as Cesare Beccaria, Jeremy Bentham, François-Marie Voltaire, and Samuel Romilly. Thus, the number of crimes punishable by death was greatly reduced, and the predominant form of punishment for most crimes became imprisonment or a fine.

To implement their new laws, Americans had to invent new institutions. In time, individual states began to design and build penal facilities for the incarceration of serious offenders, and the modern prison was born. However, minor offenders continued to be sent to the existing jails, which increasingly became repositories for the petty offender, the vagrant, the debtor, the beggar, the promiscuous, and the mentally ill, as well as the untried. Thus, American jails preceded the prison system, but they acquired their unique and largely contemporary character as a residual function of a larger movement of legal and penal reform (Mattick, p. 784). Historians have yet to pinpoint the period when county jails changed in function from places solely for general detention to places for both detention and incarceration of sentenced minor offenders.

England's local governments had developed penal institutions variously named workhouses, houses of corrections, and reformatories as early as the sixteenth century. Their purpose was to punish by imprisonment persons guilty of religious or political crimes, as well as debtors, and to serve as alternatives to corporal punishment for vagrancy, public drunkenness, prostitution, and juvenile delinquency. By the mid-eighteenth century, these institutions had merged with the local jails (Barnes and Teeters, pp. 460461). American colonials, in turn, ordered the construction of workhouses as early as 1748, when the New Jersey assembly authorized Middlesex County officials to build a workhouse (as distinct from a poorhouse) for the punishment of rogues, vagabonds, and petty criminals (Rothman, p. 29). However, the concept of the workhouses failed to take root, since few of the colonies provided the funds for their construction, and those that were built tended to merge with the existing poorhouses. As a result, these institutions are more accurately categorized as the forerunners of the American prison, rather than as the direct ancestors of the county jail (Mattick, p. 783).

After the American jail had assumed its combined function of detention and correction in the early nineteenth century, it changed very little save for some minor variations in its clientele (Mattick, pp. 784785). The combined effects of the juvenile reformatory movement, the establishment of hospitals for the criminally insane, the development of state farms and adult reformatories, and the evolving practice of probation served to divert an increasing number of misdemeanants from the jail. The growth of cities and the development of urban law enforcement agencies brought yet another hybrid: the city jail. It evolved from the temporary police lockup and the need for a place of detention for interrogation and trial purposes. More by default than by intent, city jails came under the jurisdiction of law enforcement agencies and grew into full-fledged jails serving both detainee and sentenced populations. Both types of jails continue today as the crucible into which the vast majority of accused and convicted felons are shunted, along with confined material witnesses and diverse misdemeanants.

Contemporary jails

Fulfilling a multiplicity of functions, modern jails hold accused offenders, either not eligible for bail, or unable to raise bail due to poverty. Jails also hold persons waiting arraignment, trial, conviction, or sentencing. Jails furthermore detain probation, parole, and bail-bond violators and absconders. Jails house inmates for federal and state authorities when prisons are overcrowded. At times, jails may hold the mentally ill pending transfer to mental health facilities. In many jurisdictions, jails temporarily detain juveniles pending transfer to appropriate county or state facilities. Jails, moreover, hold persons wanted by the military or federal authorities and those held in protective custody, for contempt of court, and as material witnesses. Finally, jails hold convicted misdemeanants, usually sentenced to one year or less. Exceptions to this rule include Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, where inmates may serve much longer terms, ranging from one to five years. Also, some states make heavy use of jails for felony as well as misdemeanor sentencing. For example, two-thirds of convicted felons in Minnesota receive jail sentences of one year or less (Frase, p. 479).

National jail surveys define a jail as a locally administered facility authorized to hold convicted persons and those who have been arraigned in court (which usually occurs within seventy-two hours of arrest). This definition thus excludes socalled drunk tanks, police and court lockups, and all state-run penal institutions for short-term offenders (such as state farms, road and forestry camps, and reformatories). Applying this definition, the 1999 Census of Jails reported that there were 3,365 local jails in about three thousand cities and counties (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000). The vast majority of these jails are county facilities under the control of elected sheriffs or a county corrections agency. Over six hundred municipal jails operate under the control of local corrections departments. At midyear 1999, forty-seven of the nation's jails were privately owned or operated under contracts with local governments in seventeen states (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000). Six statesAlaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermonthad integrated state-level prisons and jails. This type of arrangement is usually referred to as a "state unified system" and is controlled by the respective state department of correction and/or department of public safety. The Federal Bureau of Prisons operates a system of metropolitan correctional centers (MCCs). These centers house both pretrial detainees and sentenced inmates and are located in Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami, Chicago, Brooklyn, New York, Manhattan, and in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The American Correctional Association (2000) categorizes jails by the number of inmates they hold. As such, jails fall into four categories: small, medium, large, and mega-jails. There are over one hundred mega-jails in the United States. Defined as local correctional institutions with more than one thousand beds, mega-jails are located in the nation's largest metropolitan areas. Florida leads the nation with seventeen mega-jails, followed by Texas with thirteen, California with fifteen, and New York with twelve. There are over 500 large jails, defined as local correctional institutions with 250 to 999 beds. There are over 1,200 medium-sized jails defined as local correctional institutions with 50 to 249 beds. Finally, there are over 1,500 small jails, with 1 to 49 beds, making this institution the most frequent modality of all jails.

Jail structure and design characteristics

There is no typical jail. Many jails are part of multipurpose buildings that also serve as the county courthouse, the sheriff's office, or the police station. Others are larger and self-contained. Although it is often charged that most jails are antiquated, the majority of jails were opened between the 1950s and 1980s. Although most jails are small, rural or suburban facilities, almost half of all jailed prisoners are in large urban institutions, which tend to be chronically overcrowded. Many jails utilize double occupancy, perching two or more inmates into cells designed for one. Large numbers of inmates are also housed in dormitories. Many of these arrangements are a far cry from meeting the standards promulgated by the Commission on Accreditation in Corrections. These standards require single celling for maximum security inmates. They also provide that all cells or sleeping areas in which inmates are confined contain thirty-five-square feet of unencumbered space. "Unencumbered" space is defined as usable space not occupied by furnishings or fixtures. When confinement exceeds ten hours per day, a situation found in most jails, the standards call for at least eighty square feet of total unencumbered floor space per occupant (American Correctional Association, 1991).

Architecturally, three generations of jails are discernible since their inception. The first-generation jail design dates back to the eighteenth century. It divided the jail space into inflexible cells and/or cage-like dayrooms. Rows of cells were composed of self-contained cell blocks facing large cages, or "bullpens." Inmates spent their days and nights like caged animals and had little contact with their keepers. Boredom and idleness prevailed, occasionally punctuated by outbursts of violence. Food was passed into the bullpens or cells through slotted doors. While most such jails have been replaced by newer facilities, a few remain along the eastern seaboard and in the northeastern quadrant of the United States. They are characterized by limited access to any sanitary facilities (including toilets) for long periods of time. Access to showers and washrooms is equally limited. Inadequacies such as these, when combined with short supplies of clean bedding, toilet paper, soap and towels, pose serious health and morale problems and clearly contribute to the high rates of infectious diseases found in many jail populations.

The second generation of jails has a linear construction, with multiple-occupancy cells and dormitories aligned along corridors. The latter may be arranged at acute angles creating a spoke-like effect. As was the case with its historic predecessor, the newer version was designed to operate with a minimum of staff. Many such jails utilize closed-circuit television (CCTV) and/or audio surveillance to augment staff supervision and control of the inmates. Again, their design provides little contact between inmates and staff. Supervision is effected by intermittent staff patrols of the jail corridors and technology. About one thousand county and major city jails were built during the 1970s and 1980s, amounting to roughly 30 percent of the nation's jails at that time (National Institute of Corrections, 1985). Despite claims to the contrary, these facilities suffered from the same deficiencies that had plagued their predecessors, including space and program shortages, crowding, inadequate physical separation between different types of inmates, and a myriad of maintenance problems.

While most counties and municipalities doggedly continued to pursue archaic jail designs when building new jails, a third-generation jail began to emerge during the early 1970s. Under the leadership of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) of the U.S. Department of Justice, several leading architectural firms were commissioned to develop designs for a new generation of prisons and jails. Simultaneously, LEAA funded the development of National Guidelines for the Planning and Design of Regional and Community Correctional Centers for Adults (1971) at the University of Illinois. The guidelines were a direct response to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, which focused national attention on corrections under the Part E Amendment of 1971. The guidelines led to the creation of the National Clearinghouse for Criminal Justice Planning and Architecture at the University of Illinois. LEAA through the clearinghouse provided federal support for programs and facilities that were consistent with advanced practices. Interdisciplinary in nature, the guidelines took an open-system approach. This paradigm focuses on the interrelationship between corrections, police, and courts, and envisions interdependent and interrelated agencies and programs that provide a coordinated and consistent response to the nation's crime problems. The guidelines, coupled with federal subsidies and thousands of technical assistance and demonstration projects, became a major turning point in the nation's quest to improve its corrections systems.

What differentiates third-generation jails (and prisons) from its predecessors is that the new designs were driven by the philosophical mandate that humane treatment of the accused and convicted offender must be at the very heart of the correctional enterprise. Concomitant was the idea that programming considerations should determine the physical design of jails and prisons, and that both should be applied to improve the institutional quality of life, enhance facility safety, and effect humane inmate control. The federal Metropolitan Correctional Centers in Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami, Chicago, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and San Juan are third-generation jails, having been constructed between 1974 and 1993. Today, a growing number of such facilities exist in many county and municipal jurisdictions. The differences between the old and new jail designs could not be more pronounced. Many jails are part of multifunction public buildings, sharing space with the courts and related public and social services. Jail intake is often based on an "open booking" concept, with staff seated behind a counter. Inmate housing is based on a pod or module concept. This means that housing is broken into groups ranging from eight to forty-six inmates. Each module is staffed around the clock by specially trained corrections officers. Modules are self-contained, combining the housing of inmates with visiting, programming, recreation, and related activities. The podular design reduces the need for inmate movement, enhances security, and increases contact between inmates and correctional staff. Interior and exterior finishes and furnishings provide a "normalized" environment in most housing areas except those used for discipline and segregation. Most direct supervision jails have carpeting, wood, upholstered furnishings, splashes of color, and considerable natural light. Housing units are also equipped with counters, sinks, drink dispensers, and telephones accessible to inmates in the dayrooms. Many pods have their own exercise machines. Cells have one or two bunks, a desk and seat, running water, intercoms, and sizable windows. Ongoing assessments of the effectiveness of third-generation jails indicate that they have, for the most part, succeeded in providing a safer and more humane environment for staff and inmates alike (Farbstein et al.). Not surprisingly, research has tied the success of the new facility designs to dedicated managerial leadership, improved human relations skills of correctional staff, and extensive training of all involved (Zupan and Menke).

Jail populations

Until 1970, no national data existed on jails and their populations. That year, the U.S. Bureau of the Census conducted the first national census of jails for the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Additional censuses have been conducted in 1972, 1978, 1983, 1988, 1993, and 1999; sample surveys of jails and jail inmates have been carried out in every noncensus year since 1983.

According to the 1999 Census of Jails, local authorities held and/or supervised 687,973 offenders at midyear of 1999, reflecting an increase of 3.5 percent from the previous year. About 12 percent of these offenders were supervised in alternative programs outside the jail facilities, such as day reporting, weekend reporting, electronic monitoring, community service, or work release programs. The remaining 605,943 inmates were confined within the jails. While jail populations remained relatively stable during the 1970s, the picture changes dramatically during the 1980s and 1990s. The past two decades have witnessed a dramatic expansion of incarceration in American jails and prisons. Since 1990, the country's jail population increased on average 4.6 percent per annum (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000). However, the most recent count of jail inmates shows that the growth rate from 1998 to 1999 is only half the growth rate recorded between 1990 and 1999 (2.3% compared with 4.6%). As a result, there is some reason for hope that the appalling jail expansion of the past two decades may be finally abating.

As important as jail population counts are for understanding the magnitude of the local corrections problem, they do not begin to explain the full impact jails have on the lives of inmates or on America's system of justice. This is because jail inmates are highly transient populations, with some detainees staying for as little as a few hours and about half of the sentenced population serving six months or less (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1998). The full importance of jails only emerges when population movement is considered. Jails in the United States admit and release over twenty million people per annum. Jails, therefore, handle more inmates than prisons. With the exception of traffic enforcement encounters, jails touch more lives than does any other agent of the criminal justice system.

During the 1980s and 1990s, jails became dangerously overcrowded due to the rapid increases of jail populations. While many jails systems furiously added bed capacity, inmate populations outpaced most of these efforts. As a result, the occupancy capacity in many jails exceeded 100 percent. For example, in 1990, the rated capacity of local jails, which is the number of beds or inmates assigned by a rating official to facilities in each jurisdiction, was 389,171 beds. Even though 21,402 beds had been added that year in various jurisdictions, the percent of capacity occupied was 104. During much of the 1990s, jail capacity hovered around 97 percent. The first turnaround in these dismal statistics did not come until 1999. That year, the rated capacity of the counties local jails reached 652,321, reflecting an increase of almost forty thousand beds added during a twelve-month period ending at midyear of 1999. This singular spurt in construction of jail bed space brought the occupancy rate down to 93 percent. But little comfort can be taken from this statistic. This is because jail populations vary much at the regional, state, and local levels. For example, in 1999, seven states incarcerated more than half of all local jail inmates: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana. By contrast, ten states with the smallest jail populations each held fewer than three thousand inmates. Collectively, the latter states held only 3.1 percent of the country's total jail population (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000). Seven states and the District of Columbia exceeded jail capacity, with occupancy rates falling between 102 and 120 percent. By contrast, the total jail population of six states was below 80 percent.

It is important to note that jail populations bear no close relationship to the size of the population the jail serves or to a particular jurisdiction's crime rates. This fact emerges most clearly when incarceration rates are examined. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2000), the number of jail inmates per 100,000 in the population reached 220 by midyear 1999. Of the seventeen states with rates greater than that for the country, eleven were in the South, four were in the West, one was in the Northeast, and one in the Midwest. States with the largest number of jail inmates per 100,000 population were Louisiana (585), Georgia (421), Tennessee (358), and Florida (337). By contrast, the incarceration rates of four statesMaine (89), North Dakota (92), Iowa (104), and Minnesota (105), were less than half of the national rate. Population size and the crime rate do have a modest effect on the size of jail populations, but other issues have greater relevance (Klofas). For example, there are substantial variations in statutes, law enforcement, and court practices, the use of alternatives to incarceration, the assumption of state control over local facilities, the closing or opening of correctional facilities, court orders to reduce prison and jail populations, and public opinion. Together, these factors explain much of the variance in the nation's jail incarceration rate.

Characteristics of jail inmates

In contrast with the growth of jail populations, the characteristics of jail inmates have remained predictably stable. Jails are predominantly repositories for young males, minorities, drug addicts, the mentally ill, the poor, and the down and out. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2000) male inmates made up 89 percent of the local jail inmate population in 1999. Females made up 11 percent of jail inmates. However, since 1990, the female jail population has grown at a faster pace (6.8%) compared with males (4.2%). By midyear of 1999, local jails held approximately 1 in every 181 adult men and 1 in 1,538 women in the country. Minorities are a majority in jails. Census data show that African American (non-Hispanics) made up 41.5 percent of the local jail population in 1999. White (non-Hispanics) made up 41.3 percent, Hispanics 15.5 percent, and other races (Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and Alaska Natives) constituted 1.7 percent. This translates into the fact that African Americans are six times more likely than whites, two and one-half times as likely than Hispanics, and sixteen times more likely than Asians to be incarcerated in local jails (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000). Census data for 1999 indicate that over half of all jail inmates (54%) were awaiting court action on their current charges. The remainder (278,400) were serving a jail sentence, awaiting sentencing, or were serving jail time for a probation or parole violation. Examining private jails, the 1999 Census notes that almost fourteen thousand inmates were jailed in privately owned or operated facilities. While the percentage of inmates housed in private jails is still small when compared with public institutions (2.3%), private jails are growing at a remarkably brisk rate. Census data reflect that between 1993 and 1999, privately owned or operated jails increased from seventeen to forty-seven. States with the largest number of jailed inmates in private facilities are Texas (3,469), Tennessee (2,278), Florida (1,931), and Pennsylvania (1,592). Finally, in 1999 jails held almost ten thousand persons under the age of eighteen. Over 90 percent of these young persons had been convicted or were being held for trial as adults in criminal court.

Criminal record and demographic characteristics

Because of the jail's function as the intake center for the entire criminal justice system, its population is the most heterogeneous and transient of any correctional institution. Recent data on jail inmate stocks reveal a distressed population, frequently in trouble with the law. (National data on the characteristics of jail "flows"persons admitted to and released from jailsis not available; such data would probably reveal a less criminally experienced groupbut a much more heterogeneous, more transient, and more vulnerable one (Frase, pp. 482483; 501).) Over half of jail inmates were already under the supervision of the courts or corrections at their most recent arrest (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1998). More than two-thirds of jail inmates had prior sentences to probation or incarceration. Almost half of the inmates had already served three or more sentences. Compared with a 1989 population profile by the Bureau of Justice, offender drug use (marijuana, stimulants, hallucinogens, depressants, and opiates) had increased appreciably. Half of the inmates had used cocaine. Over one-third reported some physical or mental disability. Twenty-five percent of inmates had been treated at some time for mental or emotional problems. Almost half of the jailed women had been physically or sexually abused prior to their admission. Almost 30 percent had been raped. The distribution of offenses for which inmates were being held ranged from violent crimes (26%), to property offenses (27%), to drug offenses (22%), and public-order violations (24%). Pretrial detainees were more likely than convicted inmates to be in jail for serious offenses. Male inmates were nearly twice as likely as female inmates to be in jail for violent crimes. Women were more likely than men to be in jail for drug offenses. Proportionately more African American and Hispanic inmates than whites were in jail for drug offenses. And African American inmates were more likely than whites or Hispanics to be in jail for violence crimes. Among whites, the most common offense was driving while intoxicated (DWI).

Social and demographic characteristics of jail inmates reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics reinforce the image of a distressed and troubled population (1998). About 2.3 percent of the nation's jail population were under the age of eighteen. Almost one-quarter of jail inmates was between the ages of thirty-five and forty-four, reflecting a growth in the middle-aged population compared with previous years. This finding is consonant with the aging of America's population. More than one-third (36%) of inmates were unemployed before their most recent arrest. By contrast, 64 percent of inmates were employed at the time of their arrest. Of these, almost half worked full time, about 10 percent worked part time, and about 5 percent worked occasionally. In general, inmates had low incomes compared with the general population. Almost half had incomes of less than $7,200 per annum. Almost one-fourth of the inmates received some kind of government assistance: Welfare, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), food stamps, Social Security, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Only 15.7 percent of the inmates were married. The vast majority (58.6%) were never married. The remainder were widowed, divorced, or separated. The educational attainment of jail inmates is quite limited. Only about 14 percent had some college education (or more); 40 percent were high school graduates; 33 percent had some high school and a full 13 percent had an eighth grade education or less. Jail inmates were over twice as likely to have grown up in a single-parent household. Almost 12 percent had lived in childhood households without any parent. Another 14 percent had lived in a foster home or state agency at some time of their lives. Almost half of the inmates had at least one family member who had been incarcerated. Many had alcohol and drug abuse in their homes. Almost 12 percent of jail inmates were veterans.

Personnel and costs

Given the unprecedented expansion of local, state, and federal imprisonment since around 1975, corrections has turned into a huge enterprise. In 1994, local jails employed an estimated 205,426 persons in various capacities (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1995). That same year, local governments spent over $11.1 billion to operate the nation's jails (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1998). Excluding capital expenditures, the average cost to keep one jail inmate incarcerated for one year was $19,903 in 1997. Gender, race, and ethnicity of jail officers and staff reflected the following patterns in 1997: 71.6 percent were male, 28.4 percent were female. Less than 22 percent of local corrections staff was African American. Hispanics, Asian, and other racial minorities were seriously underrepresented when compared to their numbers in the general population (Criminal Justice Institute).

Legal rights of jail inmates

Until the late 1960s, state and federal courts refused litigation by jail and prison inmates against their keepers, preferring a "hands off " doctrine grounded in the constitutional separation of powers between the judicial and executive branches of government. This situation changed during the early 1970s owing to the expansion of defendants' pretrial rights and of judicial review of administrative agency activities. Federal writs of habeas corpus, litigation under the Civil Rights Act of April 20, 1871, 42 U.S.C. section 1983 (1976 & Supp. III 1979), and class action suits have brought relief in the form of release, injunctions, damages, and declaratory judgments for violations of inmates' constitutional rights.

Pretrial detainees are entitled to the presumption of innocence; hence, any imposition of punishment on them constitutes a denial of due process. In Brenneman v. Madigan, 343 F. Supp. 128 (N.D. Cal. 1972), the court stated that convicted offenders are denied their liberty in the interest of satisfying such objectives of the criminal law as punishment, restraint, or rehabilitation. Consequently, they have fewer rights than detainees and can be subjected to a range of restrictions and correctional programs. By contrast, pretrial detainees have not been convicted of any crime and therefore should not be treated in the same manner. Since Brenneman, a number of courts of appeals adopted the "least restrictive alternative test" for detention, holding that jailers must use the least restrictive means when depriving detainees of their liberty pending trial ( Jonesv. Wittenberg, 323 F. Supp. 93 (N.D. Ohio 1971); Moore v. Janing, No. C-72-0-223 (D. Neb. 1976)).

In 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled this test in Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979), holding that restrictions on pretrial detainees violate the Constitution only if they affect an independent constitutional right or if they amount to the imposition of punishment. Although confirming that the due process clause prohibits officials from punishing persons awaiting trial, the Court noted that not every condition of confinement amounts to punishment. Thus, it upheld as reasonably related to the effective management of a detention facility such practices as housing two persons in cells designed for one. The Court also held that neither blanket prohibitions on contact visits for pretrial detainees, nor routine body cavity searches of inmates after contact visits, nor random "shakedown" searches violated the constitutional right to due process. However, since most correctional standards recommend single-cell occupancy (with the exception of housing for work release or similar minimum-security programs), contact visits (when appropriate), and protections against unreasonable searches, the Bell decision is clearly a backward step for corrections.

Since Bell, the determination of whether a particular restriction imposed on pretrial detainees violates due process requires courts to decide whether that restriction is for the purpose of punishment or whether it is reasonably related to a legitimate and nonpunitive governmental purpose (Robbins, 2000). In spite of this legal setback, Bell does not affect the rights of convicted prisoners, nor does it affect cases in which any or all aspects of incarceration are challenged in particular facilities. In general, Eighth Amendment prohibitions continue to set a minimum below which jail conditions may not fall. Recent data on jail litigation provide strong evidence of continuing court involvement with jail conditions. Of 112 reporting jail systems, sixteen percent indicated that one or more of jail facilities they were operating were under a court order in 1998. An additional 20 percent noted they were under court-mandated population caps, and 6 percent had facilities under the supervision of a court monitor or master (Criminal Justice Institute, 1998). Finally, definitions of what is considered cruel and unusual punishment will continue to change because of what a previous Supreme Court has called "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society" (Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 (1958)).

Organizational characteristics, inspections, and standards

The American jail owes its unique organizational characteristics to the fact that no single unit or branch of government has the power, interest, or resources to alter fundamentally a jail's purpose, organization, management, and operation. Local courts and county grand juries are traditionally charged with inspecting jails. In some jurisdictions their visitations and reports are mandatory. In others, they are merely authorized. Since few grand juries or judges consider jail reform their primary function, jail visits are infrequent and perfunctory at best. In some states, visiting citizens' committees, local officials, fire, health and building inspectors share responsibility for inspecting jails.

In a notable effort to move things forward, some states have assumed statutory responsibility for developing standards for local detention and corrections facilities and for inspecting these jails to oversee compliance. Today, over two-thirds of the states have set standards for their local corrections institutions. In over half of those states those standards are mandatory. Since 1977, the American Correctional Association (ACA) has promulgated Standards for Adult Detention Facilities. As such, the Standards serve as the foundation for accreditation activities involving an increasing number of jails all over the country. The ACA Committee on Standards continually reviews and updates its accreditation standards to ensure that they depict the current professional requirements in the field of corrections. As a result, executive, legislative, and judicial branches of local, state, and federal jurisdictions increasingly refer to the standards as the professional benchmark for judging the quality of a detention operation. ACA standards are reinforced by the publication of national standards promulgated by several professional associations, such as the American Bar Association and the National Sheriff 's Association, all of which are actively pursuing jail reform.

Proposals and prospects for jail reform

The history of jail reform is replete with resistance to improvement. When John Howard first published his devastating but valid The State of the Prisons in England and Wales in 1777, the modern jail reform movement was born. Howard's purpose was to relieve the wretchedness of the people incarcerated in English jails. Since his time, ideas and knowledge have seldom, if ever, been combined with the resources of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government in a sustained, adequately funded effort to bring about lasting solutions. Given that piecemeal reforms and political patchwork have only ameliorated but not solved the American jail problem, more systematic solutions are needed that transcend the individual jail and that see it for the central and integral part of the criminal justice system that it is.

Until recently, jails have been the forgotten element in corrections. Unlike prisons, they have managed to escape the glare of public scrutiny. But this is no longer the case. Jail reform is currently taking place along the paths previously identified in the literature (Flynn, pp. 7385; Frase, pp. 494502; Mattick, pp. 821843). Each path varies in comprehensiveness and ranges from procedural changes to dramatic realignments of policies, resources, and practices.

The first mode of systematic jail reform involves relatively simple shifts in administrative procedures and policies. It entails expanding the current use of decriminalization, diversion, reduced penetration into the system, and alternatives to incarceration. This approach, coupled with screening out of low-risk, less serious offenders at the pretrial stage and the sentencing of minor offenders to such noninstitutional alternatives as fines, misdemeanant probation and parole, electronic monitoring, day reporting, and community service, is one of the more significant and positive developments in local corrections.

A second mode of jail reform builds upon the first path and looks upon the jail as the focal point of a community rather than as a remote and isolated institution. This view is based on the recognition that jails, for better or for worse, receive, process, treat, impact, and release hundreds of thousands of citizens including drug abusers, alcoholics, the mentally ill, the homeless, and the physically ill (Wallenstein). Jails must deal with a wide range of public health problems, ranging from persons infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), those with AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), sexually transmitted diseases, and various forms of hepatitis and tuberculosis. One of the unintended consequences of deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill has been their "diversion" from mental health facilities straight into jails. Jails are receiving a growing number of persons with multiple physical and mental disorders. Recognizing that jails were never meant to function as public hospitals or mental health treatment centers, jail reformers take the position that interactive linkages must be built between the jails and existing service agencies in the community. But linkages are more than just referrals or recommendations. They are true collaborations with sister service agencies and include information sharing from the time detainees or offenders arrive at the jail until they depart. To function properly, the services delivery should be seamless (Wallenstein).

The third mode of jail reform is by far the most dramatic in that it advocates the elimination of local control of detention and correctional functions and seeks to abolish the jail in its present form. This view encourages the development of regional or community based correctional centers as part of an integrated correctional system under regional or state control. At this point, there are many multi-jurisdictional corrections facilities in existence across the country (National Institute of Corrections, 1991). Six states and Washington, D.C., have assumed responsibility for pretrial detention. In addition, some state, regional, and local jurisdictions have replaced their jails with intake (or court) service centers to provide short-term intake screening, diversion of lesser offenders, pretrial and presentence investigations, and coordination of in-house and community-based services and referrals.

The last decade of the twentieth century finally brought forth multiple and varied efforts at jail reform. At this point, it is too early to predict success, given the fierce resistance to reform experienced since the inception of the jail. Nonetheless, there is agreement among scholars and practitioners alike that change must come and that alternative ways must be found to bring relief to the mass of humanity passing through jail doors.

Edith E. Flynn

See also Bail; Criminalization and Decriminalization; Criminal Justice Process; Criminal Justice System; Pretrial Diversion; Prisoners, Legal Rights of; Prisons: History; Prisons: Prisoners; Prisons: Prisons for Women; Prisons: Problems and Prospects; Speedy Trial.


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Brenneman v. Madigan, 343 F. Supp. 128 (N.D. Cal. 1972).

Jones v. Wittenberg, 323 F. Supp. 93 (N.D. Ohio 1971).

Moore v. Janing, No. C-72-0-223 (D. Neb. 1976).

Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 (1958).