Covering America’s Jail Crisis


Photo by mksfly via Flickr





Sponsored by John Jay College’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice, the Ford Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

On July 10-11, 2018, John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice (CMCJ) held a two-day conference to kick off a year-long media fellowship program designed to strengthen the capacity of journalists in rural and smaller jurisdictions to investigate the causes of the growth in jail populations, and report on policy remedies and alternatives.

The conference, “Rural (In)Justice: Covering America’s Hidden Jail Crisis,” will bring together selected journalists with a VIP list of experts, practitioners and academics to explore the factors driving the increase in jail populations in smaller towns and rural communities across the United States, and the best practices underway to address a crisis often overlooked in discussions about mass incarceration.

Twenty-eight journalists, most of them from small and rural communities in the US heartland, where the crisis is most keenly felt, were chosen as Reporting Fellows to attend the conference, which launches a one-year reporting and mentoring program on jail issues.

Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s recently elected District Attorney, headed the list of speakers. Other speakers included: Cherise Fanno Burdeen, CEO of the Pretrial Justice Institute; Judge Steven Leifman, associate administrative judge for the 11th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida; Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues; Tona Monroe, Blount County (TN) Commissioner;

State Rep Chuck Elfstration (GA); John Tilley, Justice Cabinet Secretary (KY); G. Larry Mays, author of “Trouble in the Heartland;” Larry Amerson, former president of the National Sheriffs Association; Christian Henrichson of the Vera Institute of Justice; and Emily West of the MacArthur Safety & Justice Challenge.

The Rural Justice reporting fellowship is one of the ongoing programs administered by the John Jay College Center on Media, Crime and Justice (CMCJ) to help journalists expand their evidence-based reporting on criminal justice topics. CMCJ is a member of the Research Consortium of John Jay College.


The Crime Report, Nov. 22, 2019

Why Do Rural Areas Keep Building New Jails?

The Crime Report, Oct. 24, 2018

Safety and Justice Challenge Expands to 12 New Cities

Rural Blog by Al Cross. Aug. 22,2018

California legislature is on the verge of virtually eliminating money bail, an increasing problem in much of rural U.S.  

Marianne Dodson and Dane Stallone/TCR July 11, 2018

Rural (In)Justice: The Hidden Crisis in America’s Jails

Laura Binczewski, TCR  July 12, 2018

Lucas County, Ohio: A Case Study in Fixing America’s Broken Jails

Elena Schwartz, TCR, July 11, 2018

Re-think Sentencing for Violent Offenders: Philly DA Larry Krasner

Elena Schwartz, TCR July 12, 2018

Will a Polarized National Climate Derail Justice Reforms?


Deborah Berry, USA Today

Money bail targeted by Sen. Bernie Sanders, progressives who want to end US ‘debtor prison’ system  July 25, 2018

Paul Cuno-Booth, Keene Sentinel

Sept 2, 2018

Can ‘Preventive Detention’ Replace Money Bail?

Danielle Danford, Leader-Register

Nov 19 2018

Rural Jails Struggle to Cope with Rise in Mentally Troubled Inmates

June 25, 2019

How America’s Drug Problem Overwhelms Rural Jails

Kelsey Davis, Mississippi Today

Sept 19, 2018

Suit accuses Cleveland of routinely incarcerating ‘mentally disturbed individuals’

Whitney Downard, Meridian Star

Dec. 21, 2018

Can For-Profit Providers Help Rural Jails Cut Health Costs?

Whittney Evans, WCVE

Jan 23, 2019

Driving While Poor: How Unpaid Traffic Fines Land Some Motorists in Jail

James Farrell, Fremont Tribune

Jan 19, 2019

Life After Prison: Nebraska’s ‘Growing Pains” With Probation Reform

Oct. 24, 2018

‘Kindness of Strangers’ a Last Resort for the Rural Mentally Ill

Oct 22, 2018

Rural Jails and Mental Health: The Hardest Challenge

Dan Glaun, MassLive

July 28, 2019

How One Massachusetts DA is Changing the Bail System

Nicholas Graziano, The Cortland Standard

Dec 29, 2018

A Rural Corrections Officer’s Life: Quiet Job—‘Until All Hell Breaks Loose’

Dec. 24, 2018

When Jail is an Early-Warning Center for the Mentally Ill

Matthew Hopf, Herald-Whig (IL)

Jan. 14, 2019

Illinois Jail Uses Video to Address Inmate Mental Health Issues 

 Eric Jankiewicz, NationSwell, Butler Eagle

Jan 28, 2019

For the Mentally Troubled, a Pennsylvania Jail Offers ‘High-Visibility’ Cells

Aug 31, 2018

How to Address Jail Overcrowding: Rethink Who Goes in Them

Eric Killelea, Hibbing Daily Tribune

July 14, 2019

Where Law and Order Meets Mental Illness

Drug and Alcohol Court Aims to Stop Revolving Door  July 1, 2019

Courts Try a New Approach to Continuing Problem June 30, 2019


Ben Kleppinger, The Advocate-Messenger

Are defendants in Boyle and Mercer counties kept locked up for being poor? June 23, 2018

Can Boyle and Mercer change course on incarceration? Preliminary data says peak jail population could be close to 700 by 2040  July 14, 2018

Ky. justice secretary talks jail reform in NYC July 16, 2018

Report: Boyle, Mercer Countries Need a Bigger Jail, Sept. 21, 2018

Boyle, Mercer Counties Least Likely to Let Defendants Out With No Money Feb 15, 2019

Sept 26, 2018

The ‘Legal Culture’ That Blocks Rural Jail Reform

Elizabeth Murray, Burlington Free Press

Nov 20, 2018

Do America’s Sick, Aging Inmates Deserve the Right to Die at Home?

Kyle Ocker, The Daily Iowegian

Feb 4, 2019

One Solution to Rural Jail Budget Woes: Import Prisoners

Tom Olsen, Duluth News Tribune

Dec 10 2018 (part 2 of series)

How a Minnesota County Found Alternatives to Jail

SIDEBAR story Dec. 10, 2018

Northland Officials Keep Watch as Bail Reform Gains Momentum

Dec 9, 2018 PART 1

St. Louis County seeks to Buck Trend as Jail Growth Surges Nationwide

Aprile Rickert, News and Tribune

Nov 19, 2018

Opioid Crisis Adds New Burden to Rural Indiana Courts and Jails

Dec 4, 2018

How a Rural Indiana Jail Deals with ‘Exploding’ Female Population

Mitch Ryals, The Inlander (Spokane)

Dying Inside: Grappling with a string of suicides in the Spokane County Jail July 12, 2018

 Another Spokane County Jail inmate found dead, sixth to die in custody in past 13 months July 18, 2018

 Inmate death in Spokane County Jail is seventh in 14 months  Aug. 9, 2018

Spokane County sheriff says Geiger officials tainted a rape investigation into one of their own Aug 23, 2018 

Sept 2, 2018

Rural Jails Grapple With Opioid Epidemic’s ‘Revolving Door’

H. Rose Schneider, Altamount Enterprise

Nov 1, 2018

After Raise the Age, Where Will Adolescent Offenders Go?

Renatta Signorini, Tribune-Review

Feb 16, 2019

Increase in Female Inmates Linked to Opioid Crisis, Poverty


Jessi Stone, Smoky Mountain News

Solving America’s Rural Jail Crisis, One Jail at a Time


Illustration Courtesy Smoky Mountain News

Covering the rural jail crisis, 18 July 2018

Many rural county jail populations are growing at a higher rate than urban county jails or even state prisons, according to research done by the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute of Justice.

The cost of incarceration August 1, 2018

As The Smoky Mountain News embarks on a yearlong investigative project to explore the rural jail crisis, we wanted to first take a look at how much incarceration is costing the taxpayers in Western North Carolina. Financial data was collected from the four counties in our coverage area — Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain — to analyze how much each spends annually on local detention centers and how it impacts the overall county budget. What we’ve found is that costs are rising annually and budgeting can be difficult with so many fluctuating expenses to consider.

Snapshots of WNC jails: Not all jails are created equal August 8, 2018

In a criminal justice system that is often operated under rigid regulations and protocols, people may be surprised to find the disparities within the walls of local jails. All the jails have the same basics — sally port, booking area, magistrate office, holding cells, inmate pods and control rooms with security cameras — but each facility is set up a little differently.

High pressure, low pay: Detention officers pay price for crowded jails August 8, 2018

Taxpayers aren’t the only ones paying the price for the growing number of incarcerations and overcrowded jails. 

To build or not to build: Sheriffs assess need for future jail expansion August 8, 2018

When county jails are constantly at or over capacity, the easiest answer seems to be to build a bigger one.

Civil rights advocates call for death of bail bonds August 21, 2018

The use of bail bonds dates back centuries as a means to settle disputes peacefully and to ensure a defendant shows up to court by having a friend or family member agree to pay the debt if the accused flees. 

Case study, Durham County: Changes can begin by offering pre-trial services August 21, 2018

The Durham County Detention Facility opened in the summer of 1996 with a capacity of 576 single cells. By 2005, the jail was at or over capacity a majority of the time.

Women behind bars: Female jail population quadruples since 1970 August 15, 2018

Women make up the fastest growing segment of inmates in the U.S. correctional system. According to a 2016 study conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice, the number of women in jail grew from under 8,000 in 1970 to over 110,000 in 2014 and nearly half of them are in small county jails. 

Jail program offers wake up call for women August 15, 2018

At 27 years old, Samantha Ledford found herself addicted to prescription pills and heroin. Her daily life had become consumed with finding her next high and there didn’t seem to be a way out. 

Greg Wehner, Southampton Press,

SEPT 10, 2018

Monetary Bail Amounts Could Soon be a Thing of the Past in New York 

California recently enacted legislation to remove monetary bail from its justice system, making it the first state to take such measures. Some legislators in New York say the Empire State could follow suit in the coming  years.

Alyssa Zhu, Springfield News-Leader

Dec 26, 2018

Missouri’s Trailer Jail: Innovative Solution or ‘Recipe for Disaster’?