Demographic Trends in County Jails: A Comparative Analysis

Demographic Trends in County Jails: A Comparative Analysis

All forms of imprisonment are not the same. Federal penitentiaries are the highest form of imprisonment and are often due to the harshest crimes. Many other offenders get sent to county jails throughout the country.

In the United States, the incarceration rate is roughly 573 people per 100,000 residents. If you're trying to understand the criminal justice system and how it works, you need to take a critical and analytical approach to the situation.

So, who's behind bars? This article will explain these points in detail so that you have a better idea of county jail trends throughout the country.

Who's Behind Bars?

People have long studied the demographics of incarceration in the United States. The reason for this is that it shines a light on so many different factors affecting the country and the people in it.

Who's behind bars? There are some main points to consider when exploring these factors:

Racial Disparities and Breakdowns

There are currently 2.3 million people incarcerated, largely at unequal rates based on race and ethnicity. Much of the conversation regarding the criminal justice system in the United States has a racial component to it.

Many of these conversations involve police presence, disparities in sentencing, racial bias, and several socioeconomic factors.

The same applies to county jail systems. In county jails all over the country, Black and Hispanic men and women are typically a large part of the population. This is a large reason that people have pushed prison reform throughout the years and why it remains a hot-button issue to this day regarding county jail arrests.

Jail Population By Sex

In county jails, men are always the largest component of the population. Men are more likely to commit certain types of crimes and also more likely to receive longer sentences.

Both prisons and county jails separate male and female inmates, mostly for the safety of the inmates. Today, males make up more than 93% of inmates while females comprise roughly 7% of the inmate population.

Age of Inmates

It's also worthwhile looking at the average age of inmates in today's criminal justice system. The numbers start to climb after you pass the mid-twenties.

The largest group of inmates are between the ages of 36 and 40 years old, comprising roughly 18% of the inmate population. Ages 31 to 35 are a close second at just under 17%. Ages 41 to 45 are also roughly 17%.

There are also large numbers of people sent to jail between the ages of 18 to 25. A judge is more likely to show leniency for younger prisoners, in addition to lighter sentences and a higher opportunity for receiving parole. These younger prisoners still have much of their lives in front of them and a chance to turn it around.

County Jail Trends

Now that you understand how some of the demographics break down, it pays to also explore how county jails operate as a whole. In many cases, there are several factors that will dictate county jail arrests and how prisoners end up in jail in large numbers.

You should also explore how county jails operate when compared to prisons. For instance, different jails have different sets of rules depending on the level of security and the type of offenders they house. Below are some of the main factors to explore as you get to know the criminal justice system.

The Types of Crimes

One of the main things to consider when exploring county arrest trends is the type of crime most offenders are in for. For county jails across the country, drug offenses are a large reason why people are behind bars.

This is often a holding place for people who are unconvicted but awaiting trial on such charges. This includes crimes like possession of controlled substances and possession with the intent to distribute. Many people interested in reforming the criminal justice system shine a light on drug offenses.

The rationale is that a person caught using substances has an addiction issue and it should be treated as such, rather than a criminal situation. People who support these reforms might also push for lighter sentences for people selling substances as long as it is not in the commission of a violent offense.

We are seeing drug epidemics all over the country and have for the past few decades. Drug charges aside, people are often in county jail for charges related to theft, weapons charges, assault, and burglary.

County Jail Sizes and Populations

It's also important to get to know the size of the jail you're dealing with. New county jails are springing up across the country, largely because building and running them is big business. The population of the jail will play a large role in the way that sentences and regulations are approached.

For example, many jails across the country are overrun and overpopulated. When this is the case, there's often a push to release. When it is shown that they are not a danger to society and actively trying to change their lives, these prisoners are more likely to be granted release.

When jails are overcrowded, advocates often push for prisoners' rights to make sure that they are being treated humanely. Overcrowding can lead to unsanitary conditions and mistreatment across the board. Always do your research into the size of the jail when considering the factors at play within the confines of the jail.

County Crime Trends

You should also consider the trends of the crimes happening all throughout the county. In many cases, this will reveal a lot about the types of crimes people are being arrested and convicted for in the area.

For example, certain counties throughout the United States have had problems with meth, opioids, crack, and other substances. When these issues are rampant, it's highly likely that the county jail population will increase as well.

Counties with lower job prospects and a higher likelihood of violence also put young people on the track to jail and prison at younger ages. Do your due diligence when studying county arrest trends and it'll help you understand how these cycles continue.

How Much Time People Serve

When exploring a county jail system, be sure that you also explore the average time that prisoners serve. Some jurisdictions are tougher than others due to political issues and initiatives to correct long-standing problems.

Different judges are also more likely to hand out harsher or more lenient sentences depending on their backgrounds and preferences. You should also study the rate at which prisoners are paroled for their charges. Since county jail is often a holding place for people awaiting trial, research how cases are handled in the county and whether lengthy trials and continuances are commonplace.

These factors converge to dictate how much time people spend behind bars on average. Study the jail turnover rate and how this also plays a role in how much time the average county jail inmates spend in jail.

Bias and Heavy Policing

There is often a bias and racial component involved with how places are policed. Impoverished Black and Hispanic neighborhoods throughout the country often have a larger police presence.

This could be a contributing factor to why 1 in 36 Hispanic men and 1 in 15 Black men aged 18 and older are incarcerated. With these factors in mind, it's no surprise that certain county jail populations will have larger rates of Black and Hispanic prisoners year after year.

Economic Downturns and Trends

In many situations, people get locked up based on crimes of opportunity. Those who live in poverty might get heavily involved in crimes involving theft. Economic downturns also cause crime to go through the roof in certain areas.

When the economy is poor, we're more likely to see situations of people breaking into construction sites and properties to steal copper plumbing. The reason for this is copper is a valuable metal that can fetch you a lot of money at scrap yards. People also start breaking into cars to steal catalytic converters and other parts that can bring in plenty of cash.

Keep an eye on these trends anytime the economy is poor and it will paint a clear picture of how people get locked up in counties across America.

Poor Education and Infrastructure

Finally, it's also important to factor in infrastructure and how it plays a role in people becoming county jail inmates. Certain counties have subpar education, which leads to disengagement, franchisement, and fewer opportunities.

When people have not had much opportunity or haven't been properly educated, they're also more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. This is why low education, economic disparity, and imprisonment are often linked to the point of being interchangeable.

Educators often have a passion for inspiring people when they are young to keep them out of jail or prison later. Many jails also offer educational opportunities for inmates to make up for this lack of opportunity in the outside world.

A Crime Analysis

Who's behind bars? When you understand these sorts of details, it gives you a better picture of the criminal justice system.

Jail Exchange has you covered when you need pertinent information related to jails, prisons, and the criminal justice system as a whole. Check out our inmate search function and get in touch with any questions that you have.