Periodically, rural leaders and citizens face once-in-a-lifetime community decisions regarding whether to build a new jail or to pass a jail bond. The study described here identified frameworks, methods, and relative costs for a sample of 8 rural county jails with a capacity of less than 50 to assist community development practitioners who might be asked to facilitate and provide information of use in decision making regarding rural community jails. Parameters from site visits were used to estimate 1997 jail costs and to analyze several local alternatives for providing jail services. The cost variations found in this study mean that a variety of inmate housing strategies may be feasible. The findings support case-by-case analyses by community development practitioners because the relative feasibility for a given set of jail alternatives will vary depending on specific distances and cost factors found in the local community and other jails within the region.
Many rural community leaders and citizens periodically face once-in-a-lifetime decisions regarding whether to build a new jail or to pass a jail bond. Such decisions are important because they often involve factors that influence community security and livability. However, because these decisions only occur periodically, they may challenge the normal realm of community practitioner expertise and knowledge. This study was designed to identify frameworks, methods, and cost estimates for a sample of rural jails to assist community development practitioners who may be asked to facilitate local jail discussions and to develop information to assist in rural community jail decisions.
The Community Development Practitioner Context
Historically, rural community development has focused on economic issues such jobs, income, and economic growth to bring prosperity to rural communities (Summers, 1986; Wilkinson, 1989). One reason is rural economic conditions have lagged behind those of metro areas (Luloff & Wilkinson, 1990; Pulver, 1994). Others (Castle, 1993; Hart, 1995) argue that rural community development practitioners must address social and environmental problems. In more recent years, some community development practitioners have sought to sustain development by reversing negative community trends and by creating more livable communities (President's Council on Sustainable Development [PCSD], 1996).
Negative trends may show up in any one of more than a dozen economic sectors as well as a similar number of interrelated social networks in the community. Sustaining community development requires attention to the community's priority concerns and attributes. Such priorities often represent complex sets of multiple-faceted tasks. In rural communities, effective decision making is often thwarted by a lack of information and access to technology, and an eroding base of voluntary leadership. Unfortunately, once choices have been made and physical and social infrastructure built, reversing mistakes is difficult and costly (Hosler, 1998).
Community livability is influenced by the perceived security, level of justice, and incidence of social problems, which are in turn influenced by the related effectiveness of local courts, law enforcement, jail services, and programs for prevention, intervention, and rehabilitation. State constitutions often articulate legal principles of equal access to justice and equal opportunity, including those who live in rural areas (Iowa Supreme Court Commission [ISCC], 1996). However, increasingly the real rural reality has become the subject of debate.
New state and federal crime laws implemented during the 1990s increased penalties for a variety of crimes and were followed by efforts to "beef up" local law enforcement (Petroski, 1997). Criminal caseloads before the courts increased and some states expanded judicial positions …