Washington Post Opinion Writer Shines Light on Local Jails

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Katrina vanden Heuvel's opinion for the Washington Post covers a popular issue - criminal justice reform - but not about the topics of prison overcrowding, harsh federal sentencing, and violence perpetrated on civilians by police officers. The opinion covers local jails, an issue that hasn't received as much attention in the major media, as far as we can tell, and which vanden Heuvel claims is just as big a problem (if not more) and in need of as much reform.

Citing the cases of New Orleans's jail, apparently the "worst city jail in America," and Maricopa County's Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is generally alleged to have amassed a record of abuse a mile long, vanden Heuvel appears to claim, generally, that there's not much point to the abuse.

"[N]early 75 percent of local-jail admits," vanden Heuvel writes, "are suspects who have committed nonviolent crimes like traffic, property, drug, or public-order offenses - people, in other words, who rarely pose a significant risk to public safety and who don't need to be incarcerated."

Here are some of the key take-aways in terms of the problematic issues:

  • The social cost, in terms of the human impact on people admitted to local jails and on their families.
  • The monetary cost (the tax impact) in terms of what it costs society at large to house those who are admitted to local jails.
  • The system itself, which vanden Heuvel describes as a patchwork system of local jails run by 3,000 different sheriffs, each with their own "approach," so to speak, of how people booked into local jails are treated.

For more, read vanden Heuvel's opinion here.

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