The Michigan Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration will meet again later this month, and the members need to hear from more people who have been directly impacted by the justice system at the county level. People who have been incarcerated in county jails, or who have loved ones who have been in jails, are invited to share their experiences during a public testimony session scheduled from 1:30 to 4 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 20 at the Grand Rapids Community College Student Community Center – Room 234, located at 122 Lyon St. NE in Grand Rapids. There will also be a meeting of the task force from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
The task force is open to hearing about a wide range of issues involving Michigan’s county jails, including:
- The challenges of meeting bail
- The “pay-to-stay” requirements imposed on incarcerated people by counties
- The problems of meeting substance use and mental health challenges of many people incarcerated in jail
- The growing fiscal burden Michigan’s rising jail population is placing on county governments
If there is any doubt as to why the work of the task force is urgently needed, look no further than a recent report put out by the Prison Policy Initiative, which studied several characteristics of people who were arrested and held in county jails across the nation. Unfortunately, the report wasn’t able to break down statistics to the state level, but the numbers show troubling trends in our country, such as:
- Of the 9 million people arrested and jailed nationally last year, more than a quarter were incarcerated more than once in a twelve-month period. Three-and-a-half million people were arrested one time; 928,000 were arrested and incarcerated twice; 428,000 were arrested and incarcerated three or more times in one year.
- Among those who were arrested multiple times, many were underemployed, undereducated, live under the poverty line or face other disadvantages:
- 36 percent of those jailed two or more times had no high school diploma, compared to the general population where 11 percent lack a high school diploma.
- Of those jailed two times or more, 49 percent had an annual income of less than $10,000 compared to 21 percent of the general population.
- The unemployment rate of people jailed twice or more was 15 percent, compared to 4 percent among the general population.
However, people who were arrested and jailed multiple times in the past year don’t tend to pose a serious risk to public safety. Among that group, 88 percent of had not been arrested for a violent offense in the past year.
The study also pointed to one of the reasons the rise in incarceration may be causing a serious financial strain on local governments. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, people who were arrested multiple times had a higher likelihood of having a serious physical or mental health need. Those needs have to be cared for by the local government while they are incarcerated — an expense borne by taxpayers. Specifically, the study found that:
- 52 percent of people with multiple arrests had a substance use disorder in the past year, compared to 7 percent of the general public.
- A quarter of people arrested and incarcerated multiple times reported having a serious or moderate mental health concern, compared to 9 percent of the general population.
- The prevalence of HIV among people with multiple arrests in the past year was 1.68 percent, far greater than the overall prevalence in the U.S. of 0.15 percent.
With so much at stake, it’s critically important that the task force hear from as many people as possible who know firsthand the effects of being incarcerated in county jails — whether overnight or for many months. The more justice-impacted people the task force hears from, the better informed their recommendations will be.