The Problem

America incarcerates more people than any other country, and the problem begins in local jails.

Jails are primarily meant to detain people awaiting court proceedings who pose a danger to public safety or a flight risk. But with 11 million admissions a year, America’s jails hold many who are neither. In many places, jails have become crowded, overused warehouses for people who are too poor to post bail, who lack housing, or who suffer from mental illness, addiction, or both. In many cases, these people have been convicted of no crime—62% of people sitting in jails across the country are presumed innocent. And most have not even been accused of crimes that would threaten public safety—75% of people in jail are there for nonviolent offenses.

Jailing people unnecessarily has huge costs—especially for families and communities. They include lost income, damaged families, untreated mental and physical illness, wasted taxpayer dollars, more unemployment, more homelessness, and more crimeresearch shows that even a small amount of time spent in jail before trial is associated with increased criminal involvement later on.

Families and communities of color pay the heaviest price for America’s overuse of jails. Jails reflect our long history of racism in America. Across the country, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color are over-policed, over-charged, and over-incarcerated in jails. Human rights and dignity—especially the rights of people of color—are being denied.

Top Things to Know


While Black and Latinx people make up 30% of the U.S. population,


In the last 30 years, the proportion of the "pretrial" population in jails-people who have not been convicted of anything—


of people in jail have not graduated high school or passed the General Education Development (GED) test, reducing economic and job opportunities.


Serious mental health issues are more common in jails than in the general population. after admission.


of people in jail have suffered from addiction to drugs, alcohol, or both.


Local jurisdictions , and that does not include non-correctional costs like pension plans for jail staff and healthcare for inmates.


Both violent and property crime have been steadily declining since 1991, —nearly doubling from 1983 to 2013.


of people charged with felonies spend their entire pretrial period in jail. are detained simply because they cannot afford bail.

Uneven and Unjust Impacts

Jail Growth

Jail incarceration and jail admissions have grown dramatically since the 1970s. In many parts of the country, the growth continues unabated.

Learn More >

Mental Health Issues

Having a mental health issue is not a crime. When in crisis, people with mental health issues need proper medical treatment and care, something jails are not equipped to provide.

Learn More >

Unhoused People

The criminalization of homelessness leads to a cycle of incarceration and a life without stable housing. Jails should not be spaces for unhoused people who have committed minor offenses. Rather, law enforcement, behavioral health services, and housing services should collaborate to ensure people receive appropriate assistance.

Learn More >

Communities of Color

People of color are grossly overrepresented in jails, which reflects a long history of racism in America. Entire communities and families have been disrupted and traumatized by the over-policing and over-incarceration of people of color, with particularly devastating effects on Black people, families, and communities.

Learn More >

Learn More

Download View Report


Data Analysis Jail Populations Pretrial and Bail

November 19, 2020

Dollars and Sense In Cook County

Download View Report


Human Toll of Jail Jail Populations Pretrial and Bail

February 24, 2016

The Human Toll of Jail

Download View Report

Issue Brief

Data Analysis Human Toll of Jail Pretrial and Bail

April 23, 2019

Justice Denied: The Harmful and Lasting Effects of Pretrial Detention