Local jail populations are declining around the nation, says a Pew Charitable Trusts study quoted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The high cost of keeping people in jail has communities looking at alternatives to incarceration that still maintain public safety, says “Local Jails: Working to reduce populations and costs,” from the trust’s Philadelphia Research Initiative. County jails are used mostly to hold defendants awaiting trial and convicted offenders serving short-term sentences or awaiting transfers to other prisons.
The Pew report found average jail population in more populous communities nationwide down 2.3 percent in 2009 from the previous year. “It is too soon to tell whether this one-year dip is the start of a new trend, but many jurisdictions seem intent on reversing the population growth of prior years,” the study said. The number of prisoners in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County jail dropped by an even larger amount, said Warden Ramon Rustin. Jail commitments in 2009 totaled 18,141, down almost 11 percent from 2008’s total of 20,383. Rustin credited the county court’s Pretrial Services Department for helping to reduce the number of prisoners sent to the jail. Last year’s decline in local jail commitments follows a decade of increases. Between 1999 and 2008, jail populations climbed 30 percent nationally.