Between 1990 and 2008, the jail population in the United States doubled from 400,000 inmates to 800,000. During much of this period, crime rates were steadily dropping, falling to levels not seen in decades. The number of defendants held in jail awaiting disposition of their charges drove much of the increase in the jail population. Up until 1996, jail populations were comprised evenly of about 50 percent sentenced and 50 percent pretrial inmates. Beginning in 1996, the number of pretrial inmates grew at a much faster pace than the sentenced inmates. Currently, 61 percent of inmates in local jails have not been convicted, compared to 39 percent who are serving sentences. This shift has resulted in a dramatic change in how jails are being used.
This White Paper takes the position that most of the money spent to house defendants who cannot post a bond is unnecessary to achieve the purposes of bond – to protect the safety of the community while the defendant's case is pending, and to assure the appearance of the defendant in court. With local jurisdictions laying o" teachers, police o#cers and !re!ghters and cutting back on vital services because they do not have the money to pay them, this waste of money is unconscionable.