Policy decisions regarding local jails can drastically affect how much municipalities spend on incarceration, according to a new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
For the first time in three decades, the average jail population of large cities dropped by about 2.3%. Study author Claire Shubik-Richards from Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative says that decline in population usually brings with it a decrease in jail spending.
Shubik-Richards says both of those statistics can be at least partially attributed to cost-cutting maneuvers by local governments. She says a city’s jail policies are often more influential to the jail population than the area’s crime rate. Those policies can range from consolidating multiple hearings to speeding up the trial process.
Shubik-Richards says the policy changes are probably a reaction to the tough economic times, where cities that spend a significant portion of their budgets on jails must find ways to save money while maintaining public safety.
Allegheny County's jail population increased 49% from 1999 to 2009. During that same time period, jail spending shot up 19%.