How many people in your state go to local jails every year?

New data shows that local jails impact more people in your state than you may think.

by Wanda Bertram and Alexi Jones, September 18, 2019

County and city jails have been called “mass incarceration’s front door,” but campaigns to reform or close jails often don’t receive the attention they deserve. Why? Because the traditional way we measure the impact of jails – the average daily population – significantly understates the number of people directly affected by these local facilities.

Because people typically stay in jail for only a few days, weeks or months, the daily population represents a small fraction of the people who are admitted over the course of a year. But the statistic that better reflects a jail’s impact on a community – the number of people who go to jail – is rarely accessible to the public.

Thankfully, we can now get close to closing this gap in the data and making the impact of jails clearer. Building on our new national report Arrest, Release, Repeat, we’re able to estimate the number of people in every state who go to local jails each year.

To produce these estimates, we analyzed results of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual survey that primarily concerns health trends but also contains useful data about individuals who have been arrested. The table below shows the results of our state-by-state analysis. For a rich demographic breakdown of people who go to jail (including how many go to jail multiple times a year), see our national report.

Sources and data notes: Estimates of the average daily jail population in every state come from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Mortality in Correctional Institutions Statistical Tables (2014). Daily population estimates are not available for six states (Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont) where the jail system is mostly or entirely integrated into the state prison system. Estimates of how many people in every state go to local jails every year come from our own analysis of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) 2-Year RDAS (2016-2017). It is important to note that the NSDUH survey methodology excludes several groups, including two groups of people likely to be arrested: people in “group quarters” (like jails, prisons, and hospitals) and people who are homeless and do not use shelters. Because of these exclusions, our estimates of how many people go to jails each year represent a minimum. For a detailed analysis of who goes to jail every year and how many times they go, see our national report Arrest, Release, Repeat. To find out how many people every year are admitted specifically to your county jail, ask your county sheriff.
State Number of unique annual jail admissions State population Unique jail admissions per 100,000 state residents Average statewide daily jail population
Alabama 90,000 4,867,646 1,849 14,322
Alaska 11,000 740,659 1,485 n/a
Arizona 117,000 6,962,456 1,680 13,961
Arkansas 45,000 2,996,255 1,502 7,945
California 368,000 39,416,565 934 82,440
Colorado 87,000 5,568,630 1,562 12,209
Connecticut 45,000 3,587,935 1,254 n/a
Delaware 18,000 957,319 1,880 n/a
District of Columbia 12,000 689,154 1,741 1,969
Florida 350,000 20,820,495 1,681 54,002
Georgia 236,000 10,371,500 2,275 43,720
Hawaii 15,000 1,428,111 1,050 n/a
Idaho 27,000 1,698,485 1,590 3,685
Illinois 173,000 12,818,875 1,350 22,536
Indiana 122,000 6,650,413 1,834 17,234
Iowa 40,000 3,138,290 1,275 4,326
Kansas 60,000 2,910,427 2,062 7,483
Kentucky 89,000 4,445,151 2,002 22,028
Louisiana 86,000 4,685,245 1,836 31,169
Maine 14,000 1,333,070 1,050 1,820
Maryland 83,000 6,038,465 1,375 11,164
Massachusetts 70,000 6,841,770 1,023 10,228
Michigan 163,000 9,947,878 1,639 16,990
Minnesota 69,000 5,550,828 1,243 6,930
Mississippi 84,000 2,984,758 2,814 13,071
Missouri 128,000 6,102,354 2,098 11,350
Montana 18,000 1,044,575 1,723 2,318
Nebraska 30,000 1,913,840 1,568 3,489
Nevada 38,000 2,968,647 1,280 7,286
New Hampshire 25,000 1,338,905 1,867 2,200
New Jersey 86,000 8,992,030 956 14,997
New Mexico 49,000 2,086,751 2,348 8,278
New York 267,000 19,842,843 1,346 27,453
North Carolina 128,000 10,215,054 1,253 19,412
North Dakota 13,000 755,471 1,721 1,418
Ohio 150,000 11,640,582 1,289 19,112
Oklahoma 96,000 3,926,036 2,445 13,599
Oregon 42,000 4,114,383 1,021 5,985
Pennsylvania 170,000 12,796,311 1,329 37,764
Rhode Island 19,000 1,058,603 1,795 n/a
South Carolina 89,000 4,992,096 1,783 11,501
South Dakota 25,000 865,604 2,888 1,733
Tennessee 117,000 6,682,694 1,751 27,210
Texas 505,000 28,104,729 1,797 66,434
Utah 32,000 3,073,077 1,041 7,352
Vermont 9,000 623,506 1,443 n/a
Virginia 111,000 8,442,200 1,315 30,159
Washington 98,000 7,343,339 1,335 12,311
West Virginia 34,000 1,822,247 1,866 4,292
Wisconsin 129,000 5,784,200 2,230 13,209
Wyoming 8,000 582,113 1,374 1,940
Overall 4,889,000 324,562,557 1,506 750,128

Understanding the true number of people directly affected by local jails allows policymakers to better assess the impact of jail policies. But more importantly, these statistics ought to prompt state and local policymakers to question whether it is necessary to jail so many people in the first place.

As we found in Arrest, Release, Repeat, people who go to county and city jails are disproportionately likely to have a substance use disorder, suffer from a serious mental illness, and lack health insurance. They’re also significantly more likely to be unemployed, have incomes under $10,000, and lack a high school diploma. States and counties should not be using incarceration to address these serious problems of public health and economic inequality.

Moreover, most jail bookings do not improve public safety. Research from the Vera Institute shows that only 5% of arrests every year are for violent offenses, and our analysis in Arrest, Release, Repeat indicates that even the vast majority (88%) of people arrested multiple times per year don’t pose a serious public safety risk.

Needlessly jailing vulnerable people isn’t only a waste of public money: Even short stints in jail can throw an individual’s life into disarray by forcing them to miss work, isolating them from loved ones, and cutting off any medications they are taking. Considering the enormous human costs of excessive incarceration, policymakers should use this new data to assess whether their jails are being used to protect the public or as a temporary – and ineffective – remedy for social problems.

Wanda Bertram is the Communications Strategist at the Prison Policy Initiative. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact) Alexi Jones was a Policy Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact)

One response:

  1. John Neff says:

    I did a nine year study of jail admissions for my county jail in Iowa and about 80% of those admitted did not return. Some of those that did return did so many times and were known as “frequent flyers”. There we a few that had been in and out jail for more than 20 years.

    If deterrence works it is at the time of the first admission to jail. Prisons are homes for the undeterred.

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