The Role of Jails Is Growing in the Community

Article excerpt

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 1995, the average daily population of the nation's jails was approximately 500,000. However, admissions to jails for that year were between 10 million and 13 million. In other words, the offender population in jails turns over 20 to 25 times each year. This amounts to an immense flow of individuals in and out of the nation's jails, as well as in and out of the communities the jails serve.

Jails are a visible part of the community and they are being increasingly asked to serve their communities in new ways. The flow of individuals in and out of jails provides a setting for medical treatment for a population that is often under-served by the country's public health systems. An individual entering a jail is often compelled to seek entry into educational and drug rehabilitation programs. And the number of mentally ill individuals arrested and placed in jail has steadily increased during the past decade. In fact, of the more than 10 million individuals who enter the nation's jails annually, 6 percent to 8 percent have severe mental illnesses.

In the everyday worlds of mental health, law enforcement, correctional administration and judicial decision-making, the picture of who is responsible for what is rarely clear. Staff of these systems are constantly perplexed by difficult cases of people badly in need of help who have been poorly handled by each of the systems. This situation must be remedied and corrections at all levels will play a key role in this.

While it can be argued that it is not the mission of the country's correctional agencies to provide these services, citizens, nonetheless, expect these types of services from them. While increased funding for public health and education can be requested, the fact remains that correctional agencies will be called upon to perform many of these duties. …