Jail population declines for first time since '82 - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Jail population declines for first time since '82

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation's local jail population has declined for the first time since the federal government began keeping count, officials said Thursday, two weeks after reporting a drop in the crime rate.

The number of inmates in county and city jails was about 767,600 at the end of last June, down by nearly 18,000 inmates from a year earlier.

Growth in the U.S. jail population has been slowing since 2005. The latest total was down 2.3 percent and represented the first decline since the Bureau of Justice Statistics began its annual survey of jails in 1982.

The reversal took place as crime in the United States fell dramatically. Violent crime fell 5.5 percent last year, and property crime was down 4.9 percent, the third straight year of declines.

The drop in local jail populations, like the crime decline, coincided with the economic downturn that has taken a heavy toll on city and county budgets.

"County governments are looking at how they want to spend their resources and are deciding that maybe jail isn't the best place," said Nancy La Vigne of The Urban Institute. She said jails tend to house many people who are chronically homeless or have chronic mental illness and alcohol and substance addiction problems. "Communities may be using more non-jail alternatives now," said La Vigne, director of the institute's justice policy center.

The report found population declines at two-thirds of the 171 jail jurisdictions with 1,000 or more inmates on an average day.

La Vigne also suggested that prosecutors are increasingly seeking sentences that exceed one year — a practice that could boost the number of people serving time in state or federal prisons as opposed to local jails.

At the end of June 2009, the local jail population was down by more than a thousand inmates in Miami and Dade County, Fla.; down by over 900 inmates in Orange County, Fla.; down more than 750 in New York City; down 420 in Santa Clara County, Calif.; about 250 in Cook County, Ill.; and 220 in San Diego County, Calif.

At midyear 2009, over 42 percent of local jail inmates were white, over 39 percent were black and over 16 percent were Hispanic, according to the government report.

Unlike prisons, more than 60 percent of people housed in local jails await the filing of criminal charges or their trials. The rest await sentencing, transfer to state or federal prison or have been sentenced to serve time in jail.

The capacity for all jails nationwide reached 849,544 beds at midyear 2009, up more than 2,000 from 12 months earlier. Local jails admitted an estimated 12.8 million inmates during the 12-month span ending last June 30.


Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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