How One Rural Indiana Jail Deals with Its “Exploding”Female Population

With growing numbers of women incarcerated around the country, some local authorities are developing innovative programs to help ensure they never return once they’re released. Floyd County in southern Indiana opened a jail-based counseling unit this year that appears to hold promise.

Is there a better way to address the growing numbers of women who find themselves in jail?

One southern Indiana county has developed a program aimed at helping women—including those who have recidivated—gain the tools, skills and confidence to make their current stay behind bars the last one.

The program is the brainchild of Floyd County Sheriff Lt. Brett O’Loughlin and Michelle Cochran, a mental health worker contracted by the jail.

At the beginning of this year, the jail opened a separate block with room for 16 inmates who are committed to focusing on themselves, addressing their addiction issues, and supporting one another in their growth.

And some of the women inmates say it has already put them in the right direction.

“It teaches you how to change your thinking, which is where we all mess up,” said Heather Goff, who’s been in the Floyd County jail for almost a year and a half, and in the program for eight months.

“I was sober for nine years. Since I’ve been locked up, I’ve had time to reflect on where I went wrong and recognize how not to do it again.”

According to Cochran, the recent increase in the number of women in Floyd County jail — largely due to drug issues or drug-related crimes — makes it more important than ever to develop and maintain meaningful programming for them.

“So we started putting it together building a curriculum [with] evidence-based practice,” Cochran said.

The jail has recently been awarded a grant to expand the program to men; she said they started with the women because “that population seemed to explode in a very short amount of time.”

The women in the “program dorm” are given more freedoms and responsibility than those in the general block, and have access to more programming — like specialized classes and yoga.

Coordinators work with them to help hone in on the personal life issues that led to their brush with the law, and to help cut recidivism.

According to Lt. O’Loughlin, programs in other jails around the country are often limited to basics: 12-step program meetings or faith-based programs. While those can be useful, he said, they can lack the more personal focus the new Floyd County program offers.

“Every facility has some type of program, but it ends up being they try to cram everybody into that one-size-fits all,” he said. “They’re just spinning their wheels and the same people keep coming back.

“[This program is] not going to be a one-size-fits all. We’re going to throw everything we can at it and see what sticks.”

Each week, the women draw lots to see which jobs they’ll have for the week — they could serve as a mediator to help sort out interpersonal issues among the inmates, or they could facilitate weekly programming, enforce chores getting done or keep track of records within the program.

“This program means a lot to me because this is the first time that I’m addressing that I have a problem and I am an addict,” Mercedes Hall said. “And that means a lot to … my family. This is the first time in my life I’ve actually had structure and consistency.”

In Floyd County, the average daily female population has nearly doubled between 2007 and 2017 to 59 from 35, a rise that local law enforcement authorities attribute to the drug crisis that’s shaken Southern Indiana in the past several years.

The growth of the male inmate population has been more steady during that time in Floyd County.

Nearby Clark County law enforcement officials have seen similar growth, rising to an average daily female population of 131 in 2017, up from 56 in 2007.

Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel says the growth in numbers comes with challenges to spacing and increased health costs associated with women. On a recent day in Clark County, there were eight pregnant women in jail.

In 2016, Clark County initiated three new programs targeted specifically to address the needs of the growing female population.

A 12-week writing workshop, taught by local freelance journalist Amanda Beam, is designed to help women express themselves through written words. There is a separate group for women who are victims of physical, mental or sexual abuse, to help pave the way for them to become empowered survivors.

There’s also a pregnancy class for women who are, or believe they may be, pregnant.

“The more tools you can give an inmate, especially a female inmate, hopefully [means] they won’t return to jail and that’s what’s best for the family,” Noel said.


Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop says a new jail program started this year specifically for women gives them the chance to break through the old thought patterns and habits, to help prevent them from returning to jail. Photo by Aprile Rickert, News and Tribune .

In Floyd County, nearly all of the women in the program said they have been incarcerated multiple times, and most are currently in for drug-related charges.

“Even if their charge isn’t a drug charge, it’s usually drug-related,” program member Goff said. “Whatever they’ve done, it was to get drugs.”

Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop said the program can change the course of a woman’s life — to keep her from falling into the old ways before jail.

Often, they end up in jail again soon because “they go back to the same environment they had,” Loop said. “The same friends, because they don’t know anything else.”

Cassidy Miller’s story lines up with this.

Miller, who has been in jail multiple times, admitted she intentionally courted arrest because she knew she needed a change from the life she was living on the outside.

“I was doing everything right on the outside [but] everything was still screwing up,” she said. “I was very, very tired, and I knew I wanted something different.

“We’re all just tired of that life. We want something different and this is the first step to that.”

While some jail opportunities, like receiving a GED or other certifications can mean credit off of their sentence, this is not the case with the new Floyd County program.

Cochran, the mental health worker, said this helps ensure that everyone in the program is there because they want to be, and because they’re committed to doing the work.

Because the women are housed in a separate dorm, they’re not around the negative influences of others in jail who aren’t ready or don’t wish to try to change, Cochran said.

The program effectively begins as soon as the women enter the dedicated block.

“[We ask] ‘what are your goals, what are you going to do different, where are you going to be that’s safe when you leave here,'” she said.

Program participant Miller said living in the dorm creates a sense of solidarity and mutual concern among the inmates.

“In here, we call each other on our B.S.,” she said. “Or if we’re thinking something wrong or we’re down on ourselves, we check ourselves and each other because we care enough to see everybody do well.”

Another inmate, Joanie Watson, recently received a certificate for completing a class that she helped show her that progress was possible.

“It’s a confidence boost, even doing your homework is a sense of accomplishment,” she said. “Something little you accomplished and something bigger and it just builds up.”

But the hardest challenge may come when the inmates are released.

The county Sheriff’s Department and staff say they are working to increase partnerships with community organizations who will be available for continued post-incarceration health and addiction care.

“That’s how we’re going to prevent recidivism,” Cochran said.

Aprile Ricket

Aprile Rickert

“That’s how we’re going to keep them clean, keep them sober and keep them medicated.”

Aprile Rickert, a crime and courts reporter at the News and Tribune, is a 2018 John Jay Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a condensed and slightly edited version of a story published in the News and Tribune as part of her Fellowship project. Follow Aprile on Twitter: @Aperoll27. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Rural Jails Struggle to Cope with Rise in Mentally Troubled Inmates

The growing population of offenders with mental health or substance abuse issues is a nationwide problem, but it’s especially challenging in rural communities. One Wisconsin jail has risen to the challenge.

When someone is booked into Polk County jail in rural Wisconsin, the first step is a screening process to determine the individual’s medical and mental health care needs. The information from that screen is reviewed by the jail nurse and jail sergeant, who determine if the jail nurse needs to follow up.

Once in the general jail population, the inmate can submit a nurse call slip for non-emergency mental health concerns, and the nurse or jail staff member will follow up as needed. An urgent mental health need is handled through a request by call slip to a nurse or staff on regular rounds.

Many big-city jails, which are now the main source of medical help and counseling for the mentally ill, have used similar strategies to deal with a growing roster of inmates who need special medical help.  But the approach has now spread to smaller rural jails in states like Wisconsin.

“Our jail staff is excellent in recognizing symptoms of mental health and of untreated mental health issues, notifying me, and addressing those issues,” said Donna Johnson, the Polk County public health nurse, who has worked in the county jail for 20 years.

Rural jails often bear the brunt of what has become a growing national problem. A 2016 survey of 230 jail staff members across 39 states found that 96 percent reported having inmates with serious mental illnesses during the previous year.

Three-quarters of the jails reported seeing more or far more seriously mentally ill inmates compared to five to 10 years ago.

More than 80 percent of people incarcerated in the Polk County Jail have mental health needs, according to Johnson.

“For the people we’re seeing with serious and pervasive mental health issues in the jail setting, methamphetamine (addiction) is by far the greatest issue that we’re dealing with,” she said.

According to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA),  the toxic effects of substances can mimic mental illness in ways that can be difficult to distinguish from mental illnesses.

Substance-induced mental health disorders involve psychiatric symptoms that are caused by using a substance. People can also have co-occurring mental disorders, where they have a mental illness and a substance use disorder.


The 160-bed Polk County Jail in rural Wisconsin has seen a rise in inmates suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues. Photo courtesy Leader-Register.

Rob Drew, captain of the Polk County Jail, estimates that around 70 percent of the county jail’s inmate population would benefit from some type of mental health care, be it from a counseling session or meeting with a psychologist.

“We have a fairly low number of people that rise to the level of being suicidal, but the number of people that could benefit from general mental health services is very high,” said Drew, who oversees the county’s 160-bed jail.

Drew said it is difficult to calculate the specific amount of people in jail with mental health needs due to the variation in inmate mental health needs, which aren’t tracked with jail records.

Polk County’s Johnson says that the mental health of those in the county jail has always been a concern, but it has dramatically changed over the years.

“It used to be a rare occasion when we had someone who displayed [suicidal tendencies] … (and was in need of) psychiatric services,” said Johnson.  “Now it is really the norm,”

Looking back to the first methamphetamine epidemic that occurred about 20 years ago, Johnson says that they had people in the jail displaying acutely psychotic behavior where they experienced both auditory and visual hallucinations.

“We see that on a chronic basis now,” said Johnson, who believes the mental health issues the county is experiencing right now are largely due to methamphetamine and alcohol use.

“Alcohol remains our Number One issue,” said Johnson. “It (alcohol) doesn’t get as much attention because it’s legal.”

The American Psychiatric Association reports that chronic heavy methamphetamine use can cause temporary paranoid delusional states that may last for weeks, months and even years. Symptoms can also include dementia, psychotic episodes, and evidence of “bipolar” disorder.

Heavy long-term alcohol use can cause brain damage that causes symptoms of dementia that are not entirely reversible even with sobriety.

However, most substance-induced symptoms begin to improve within hours or days after substance use has stopped.

In 2017 the Leader-Register reported that Polk County leads the state of Wisconsin in per capita criminal prosecutions of methamphetamine. That year there were 184 individuals arrested for methamphetamine alone with 393 drug charges against them.

The Polk County behavioral health unit pychiatrist, Dr. James Rugowski, visits the jail once a month for about five hours to handle medication assessment, management and to assess individuals’ mental health needs.

Crisis workers connect incarcerated individuals with behavioral health services before they are released from jail, so there is a continuation of care. Before their release individuals who are identified in need get help processing their (medical assistance) BadgerCare application from a county health department staff member.

“When they walk out of the jail doors, they can have their BadgerCare application already processed so they have insurance to cover their mental health services, medications and medical needs,” said Johnson.

Stark and Johnson also provide suicide and mental health training to jail staff.

“From administration all the way down to the line staff, we all strongly believe that it’s equally as important to care for [inmates’] mental health as it is to care for their physical health,” said Johnson.

The county offers a crisis call line through Northwest Connections, a third-party organization contracted by the county’s mental health unit to handle the county’s crisis call work. This allows the county 24/7, 365-day coverage for crisis calls and is used in the jail.

“The officer can bring the inmate to the phone and give the call taker a synopsis of what’s going on and the inmate will speak to the crisis call person and they determine the appropriate care for them,” said Drew.

Challenges they still face include serving non-county residents, and a lack of resources for proactive care and the continuation of care outside of jail.

“I do think we are doing a really good job of managing what we have with the resources that we have available,” said Drew.

“More resources would be nice, but you can only play with the cards you’re dealt.”

Johnson has found connecting individuals from outside of Polk County to services once they leave jail a challenge, because not all counties have the same services or resources.

“I can’t always have an appointment scheduled for them when they walk out the door, whereas I can if they are a Polk County resident,” she said.

Barriers for individuals continuing their mental health care outside of jail include finding housing and transportation to appointments. Those that are enrolled in BadgerCare can access the state’s nonemergency medical transportation services.

However, in Johnson’s experience, that extra step of organizing transportation can become a barrier for some people.

Polk County has one transitional housing facility for those returning to society after incarceration called the Serenity Home, but its future at its current location, in the old county jail, is uncertain.

“It has been a godsend to have them where they are, but unfortunately the county board opted not to renew their lease when it is up,” said Johnson.

The Serenity Home, operated by the Salvation Army, is located across the street from the Polk County Jail and neighbors the county’s behavioral health unit.

Looking to the future, Johnson and Drew are hopeful about the potential to better serve individuals incarcerated in the county jail who have mental health needs.

Recently, the county’s community services unit proposed two positions to expand behavioral health services. The positions are an additional half-time jail nurse, specializing in mental health services, and a full-time nurse practitioner for the behavioral health unit.

Drew supports both positions.

“If that comes to fruition, which I am hoping it does, I think it will be a really good model for other counties to provide more preventative care,” said Drew.

Danielle Danford, a staff writer for the Leader-Register, is a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a condensed and slightly edited version of a story written as part of her Fellowship project. The full story is available here.


‘Kindness of Strangers’ a Last Resort for the Rural Mentally Ill

In rural Nebraska, police and medical providers have teamed up to divert troubled individuals from the justice system, but it’s still a struggle to get adequate resources.

Even though more services are becoming available to divert the seriously mentally ill from the justice system, rural communities are struggling to find the resources they need to bring those services to the people who need them.

Transportation, for instance, can make the difference between success or failure.

“We have no public transportation here,” said Pamela Hopkins, a Fremont, Neb., lawyer who is running for Dodge County Attorney. “Many of these people are unable to drive, for one reason or another, whether it’s because they use alcohol as a substitute for their treatment and they lost their licenses because of that, or they’re too poor to have a car.

“They’ve got to depend on the kindness of strangers.”

Without ready access to counseling or treatment often located far from their homes, defendants might otherwise find it hard to prove to judges that they are serious about addressing their problems.

Nebraska, like many states with large rural populations, is at the sharp end of the challenges of dealing with mentally troubled individuals. Most of the state is experiencing a shortage in mental health and psychiatric providers, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Rural Health.

Linda Witmuss, deputy director of the DHHS Division of Behavioral Health, acknowledged that the system needs to undertake a “richer review of data” to better determine how the state’s finite resources should be allotted to meet the need.

But she argues that mental health reforms launched by the state in 2004 have led to more services at the community level.

“There’s always room for more services—don’t get me wrong there,” she said. “ (But) all of our rehab options (and) services, including expansion of medication management, came about as a result of that reform.”

In 2004, the Nebraska legislature passed Bill LB1083, which was designed to reduce the use of inpatient psychiatric services at the state’s three Regional Centers in Lincoln, Norfolk and Hastings, and invest more in outpatient and community-based services that could help those struggling with mental health in their own communities.

The reduction of inpatient beds was consistent with nationwide efforts to move away from institutionalizing the mentally ill and instead treat them in their communities. But those interviewed by the Tribune say that the infrastructure for community care was slow to materialize, and it still isn’t adequate for those who may be in need of more intensive care.

“There’s a lot of people who aren’t even leaving their homes to get the services that they need because they’re just homebound because of their anxiety,” said Hylean McGreevy, a licensed mental health practitioner and alcohol and drug counselor at Methodist Fremont Health’s Behavioral Outpatient Services.

“They’re not functioning well and they fall through the cracks.”

According to numbers provided to the Tribune by the Nebraska Jail Standards Board, of 1,225 individuals discharged from the Regional Centers in a four-year period following mental health reform, nearly 500, or around 40 percent, ended up in the county jail system at least once.

About six percent ended up in the prison system.

Collaboration Between Police and Health Providers

The challenges often begin at the street level, where rural law enforcement encounters individuals in desperate straits.

“There is a lot of stress on the community,” said Fremont Police Lt. Kurt Bottorff. “Times are hard for certain people — the stress builds up and that’s where some mental health breakdowns can take place.

“Their behavior ends up being a law violation and they’re sometimes jailed because of it, instead of addressing the core problem.”

Under a pilot program that started in July, the Fremont Police Department became one of only two departments in the state to hire a crisis response co-responder—a licensed mental health practitioner who works directly in the police department two days per week, responding to 911 calls alongside officers when she believes mental health is an issue in the complaint.

The pilot program, funded by a two-year grant from the Behavioral Health Support Foundation and operating in collaboration with Lutheran Family Services, aims to help keep those struggling with mental health issues out of the criminal justice system or avoid involuntary hospital stays, and to connect them with community resources.

Until recently, even the nearest medical services were a 40-minute drive away, in Omaha.

Now, mental health practitioner Rachel Wesely can respond at her own discretion instantaneously, from within the department, and can follow up with callers after law enforcement leaves.

‘When people are released (from jail) into the community, and they don’t have the supports in place, it becomes a revolving door.’

But as concern mounts about a growing number of mentally ill individuals entering the criminal justice system and winding up in county jails, local stakeholders are taking a more focused approach to line those individuals up with more appropriate services.

“There’s a need for access to treatment in jails and when individuals are incarcerated, it’s not getting filled,” Wesely said. “Sometimes when people are released back out into the community (and) they don’t have the supports in place, it kind of becomes a revolving door.”

Medication and services can be expensive. Many lack insurance to help cover costs, though some programs offer sliding fee scales, which can adjust payments based on income and family size. In recent years, co-pays and deductibles have become more expensive even for those who have insurance, providers say.

Additionally, treating mental illness is more complicated than treating physical ailments, and ensuring compliance to treatment plans poses challenges, providers say. Psychiatric treatment requires significant “trial-and-error” to find the right medications, doses and strategies. That means lots of time spent taking medications that may ultimately need to be adjusted or changed, and that may carry unpleasant side effects that deter compliance.

It’s a process that requires patience and follow-up. And ensuring that patients comply with their treatment plans, remain stable or avoid self-medicating with illicit drugs and alcohol is a challenge that’s only exacerbated by barriers like access and affordability.

“Let’s just use a hypothetical,” said Dodge County Attorney Oliver Glass. “I can’t afford my medication, my medication makes me feel strange anyway, but I do know that when I self-medicate with street drugs or alcohol, that’s going to make me feel better at least.

“And that’s when, at least in my experience here, a lot of crimes are committed.”

Intensive Care Challenges

The Regional (Health) Center has some space available to the regions for more intensive care. It houses individuals who have been ordered by a court to receive a competency evaluation or restoration, as well as individuals committed by a local mental health board. The latter process only occurs if an individual in crisis refuses to be voluntarily committed and is put under an emergency protective custody.

But wait times to get into the often crowded Regional Center have gone up, officials say.

Witmuss of the DHSS said that the state is looking into the need to increase capacity, but cautioned that opening new beds alone wouldn’t solve the problem.

“We have a lot of complex cases,” she said. “When you can’t discharge folks, then you can’t admit folks, either.”

Mental health programs and services are funded through Medicaid as well as the state’s behavioral healthcare regional system. Providers contract with one of the six regions, which then funnels funding from DHHS’ Division of Behavioral Health, federal block grants and county-level matching funds.

But grants and pilot programs, like the Lutheran Family Services’ co-responder program, are only guaranteed for fixed periods of time. Agencies and organizations are always shifting their appropriations to keep up with where the demand is highest, which can lead to changes in program availability.

Meanwhile, at the local level, stakeholders are giving new focus to the issue. Providers are exploring more innovative solutions to staff shortages, such as Telehealth, which would allow for remote counseling or med management.

Last year, Behavioral Health Care Region 6, which encompasses Douglas, Dodge, Cass, Washington and Sarpy Counties, hired Vicki Maca as a full-time employee, dedicated to trying to keep mentally ill individuals out of the criminal justice system.

That hiring decision was spurred by a nationwide initiative involving the National Association of County Officials, the American Psychiatric Association and the Council of State Governments known as the Stepping Up Initiative.

The initiative is a data-driven effort to reduce the number of people with serious mental illness booked into jail, shorten their average length of stay, increase the connection to care for those individuals in jail and reduce rates of recidivism.

While other behavioral health care regions are engaging with the Stepping Up Initiative, Region 6 is the only one that’s hired a full-time employee devoted to the topic.

But officials and providers remain optimistic. Rachel Wesely, the co-responder at the Fremont Police Department, law enforcement’s enthusiasm and willingness to cooperate with the co-responder model has led to success, she said.

Lt. Bottorff agrees.

“What I’m seeing now is reduced calls for service for the same problem,” he added. “There are times when we get so bombarded with the same situation—they didn’t have the tools to fix their problem.”

James Farrell, a staff writer for The Fremont Tribune, is a 2018 John Jay Rural Justice Reporting Fellow. This is an edited version of  Part Two of a series exploring the intersection of mental health and the criminal justice system in rural Nebraska. To see the full version, click here. Part One can be accessed here. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Survey Finds Opioid Epidemic is Biggest Concern Among Rural Americans

Almost a quarter of rural Americans consider drug addiction or abuse as the most urgent health problem facing their communities, and more than half reported they knew someone struggling with addiction, according to a Harvard survey released this month.

Almost a quarter of rural Americans consider drug addiction or abuse as the most urgent health problem facing their communities, and the opioid crisis alone now edges past the economy as their major preoccupation, according to a survey released this month.

The survey, conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in partnership with with National Public Radio and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and released as part of the Harvard Shorenstein Center continuing series of “Resources for Journalists,” polled a sample of 1,300 adults living in rural America between June 6, 2018 and Aug. 4, 2018.

Nearly half of those polled reported they knew someone struggling with addiction.

Asked what they felt was the “biggest problem” facing their community, 25 percent said drug addiction or abuse, and 21 percent named economic concerns.

Poll organizers said the survey results represented a new window into the thinking of Americans living outside mainstream population areas.

“For over a decade, the discussions about rural America have been about serious economic concerns,” according to Robert J. Blendon, a professor of public health and health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and a co-director of the poll.

“When we asked people in their own words, it turned out that drug abuse was essentially the same [level of concern as economic issues]. This has never been reported before.”

Blendon’s comments came in an interview with Chloe Reichl for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School.

Some 49 percent of those surveyed said they personally knew someone who struggled with opioid addiction, and 48 percent said that the problem had worsened in the past five years.

One surprising result of the survey, according to Blendon, was that a majority felt that government had a major role to play in solving the addiction crisis and other problems. Most of the respondents believed effective help could come from state or local governments, but 18 per cent felt the federal government had a major role

Blendon said this contradicted the common assumptions that rural Americans were resistant to governmental intervention.

He said rural Americans in some cases seemed more optimistic than experts in their beliefs that short-term solutions were possible.

There’s “a gap where people do believe you can make some really short-term progress in treatment and education (while) a lot of experts say this could be turned around, but it could take decades.”

Respondents to the phone survey were 78 percent white, 8 percent black, and 8 percent Latino. Most of the respondents (80 percent) were not college graduates.

A related briefing paper produced by Journalists Resources noted two recent studies which showed that patients in the rural South are more likely to receive opioid prescriptions for their pain than patients in the urban North.

The complete survey on “Life in Rural America” can be downloaded here.


Safety and Justice Challenge Expands to 12 New Cities

Citing “significant progress and growing interest in criminal justice reform,” the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) has announced it is giving an addition $22 million in grants to cities and countries for projects aimed at reducing jail incarceration.

Citing “significant progress and growing interest in criminal justice reform,” the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) Innovation Fund has announced it is giving an addition $22 million in grants to cities and countries for projects aimed at reducing jail incarceration.

The program, described as a a “national initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails, ” has provided over $148 million to support  projects in 52 cities and counties across 32 states  since 2015.

The new funds will go to 12 new cities and countries, as well as 13 sites that have already received funds, the Foundation said.

Under the program, local leaders commit to working with a broad group of stakeholders, ranging from elected officials, health providers, and law enforcement to formerly incarcerated residents, to address over-incarceration, address racial and ethnic disparities, and make local systems more just and equitable.

The foundation says significant improvements have already occurred as a result of the program, citing for example a 36 percent decrease in Philadelphia’s jail population  through an increase in diversion programs for drug-related offenders and new, early bail review processes.

Similar efforts have cut the the jail population in Cook County, Il.(which includes Chicago) by 26 percent, the Foundation said.

“There is growing demand for criminal justice reform across the country, and local jurisdictions are leading the way,” said Laurie Garduque, MacArthur’s Director of Justice Reform, in a statement accompanying the announcement.

“MacArthur is increasing our investment because we are seeing promising results and an appetite for more reform as evidenced by the diversity and creativity of the solutions implemented and tested across the Network.”

The 12 new jurisdictions chosen to receive grants up to $50,000 are:

  • Baltimore City, MD
  • Bernalillo County, NM
  • Camden County, NJ
  • Cumberland County, ME
  • Franklin County, OH
  • Gwinnett County, GA
  • Hennepin County, MN
  • City of Long Beach, CA
  • Norfolk County, MA
  • Sangamon County, IL
  • City of St. Louis, MO
  • Tuksa County, OK

Their innovations will range in focus from crisis intervention to behavioral health to pretrial release and supervision — ranging from partnerships with local domestic violence centers for justice-involved women to establishing a Community Crisis Center to divert adults with mental illness from jail to treatment and services.

Editor’s Note: The Center on Media, crime and Justice at John Jay, publisher of The Crime Report, has received support from MacArthur and the Ford Foundation for a fellowship program aimed at helping reporters cover rural justice issues.

The journalists’ stories, which analyze some of the projects funded by the Safety and Justice Challenge, can be seen here.

To see reports

A full coy of the report can be found here.


Jail-Building ‘Boom’ Financed by Dept of Agriculture Funds: Study

Rural communities are quietly getting funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to build jails that in some cases far exceed their needs, according to a new study released by the Vera Institute of Justice.

Rural communities are in the midst of a quiet jail boom, financed in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), according to a new study released by the Vera Institute of Justice.

“USDA funds are now increasingly being directed to helping some rural counties build new, expanded jails, and helping others stay in the business of immigrant detention,” authors’ Jack Norton and Jacob Kang-Brown said.

This past summer, the Trump administration announced that the USDA would give farmers up to $12 billion around harvest time to insulate them from the effects of the administration’s trade wars, the study, titled “Farm Aid for the Big House,” noted.

At the same time, according to public records, the Trump administration also increased USDA investment in jail construction, the study continued. 

“Over the past four decades, and in the context of increasing inequality and economic decline in rural areas, the construction and expansion of the infrastructure of incarceration has been justified in terms of rural development.”

Researchers looked specifically at USDA funding in New York, Green County and Baker County, Florida, and found that USDA funding is building new jails that the majority of the community does not want.

In upstate New York, Greene County is going forward with a $39 million low-interest loan application to the USDA to build a massive new jail “that many in the community simply do not want.” And, in Baker County, Florida, a USDA refinancing loan is essentially bailing out investors in a large, county-run jail and immigrant detention center.

The planned Greene County facility was designed to hold nearly 100 people, despite an average daily population of 50 in the jail last year. Filling the new jail would put Greene County in the top 10 largest New York jails on a per capita basis, the study noted. To pay for the project, which is unusually costly because it will be sited on poorly drained clay, the county has submitted a $39 million loan application to the USDA, according to authors. 

Researchers found the debate over the proposed jail in Greene County has become a debate over the meaning of development in this rural county.

“What they [the USDA] seem to be doing,” one Greene County activist said in the report, “is helping to make people more disadvantaged upstate. And one of the key questions is, are they really encouraging people who borrow money to have more [jail] beds?”

More, in 2008, Baker County, in northern Florida, took on $45 million in debt on the municipal bond market to build a 512-bed jail, data showed.  The objective, according to documents sent to investors, was to rent the new beds to federal agencies in order to create a revenue stream.

“By building a jail that far exceeded the county’s needs, Baker hoped to earn enough to pay for incarcerating an increasing number of people held for the county,” authors said.

Researchers concluded that the USDA, by offering low-interest loans for jail construction in agricultural areas, is facilitating investment in incarceration rather than other community needs.

The USDA Community Facilities program, meant to improve economic development and quality of life, is instead increasingly being used to fund the infrastructure to detain and incarcerate more people in rural counties across the country.” 

A full copy of the report can be found here.

This summary was prepared by TCR staff writer Megan Hadley.


The Challenges of Prison Alternatives for Women and Rural Communities

Most common alternatives to incarceration are failing women and rural communities as they traditionally focus on men and nonrural jurisdictions, but a new research study by the Urban Institute is shining light on how the needs of women and people living in rural communities can be met.

Most common alternatives to incarceration are failing women and rural communities as they traditionally focus on men and nonrural jurisdictions. A new research study by the Urban Institute is shining light on how the needs of women and people living in rural communities can be met.

For 15 months, researchers assessed a new intervention program to address the needs of women in jail in Campbell County, Tennessee, called Women In Need Diversion (WIND). They found that women in the program had a high level of needs, especially concerning mental health disorders and substance abuse.

The researchers propose that intervention programs targeting people in rural areas must be collaborative with minimal bureaucracy and institutional hierarchy.

Geographic challenges in small and/or rural communities limit service delivery and accessibility.

Community Health of East Tennessee, and the Campbell County Department of Children’s Services partnered to develop the WIND program. It is a a 9- to 12-month specialized court that targets women at least 18 years old with no violent offenses or weapon convictions. Women who also have taken a plea at arraignment are ineligible.

The population of women in prisons and jails increased by nearly 700 percent between 1980 and 2014, according to the study.

Rural areas with populations between 10,000 and 50,000 have the highest rates of pretrial detention, according to the study. Some factors may include limited alternatives to incarceration, rising pretrial detention rates, and increasing financial incentives to contract out jail beds.

The full study can be downloaded here.

The rural justice and women’s study is one of six case studies produced by The Urban Institute in partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for  the Innovation Fund, which has created space for 20 jurisdictions to test bold and innovative ideas on how to safely reduce the jail population while maintaining or enhancing public safety.

Watch The Crime Report tomorrow for reports on other studies.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern J. Gabriel Ware.