R Sheet on Jail Reform

Key Points

Jails primarily hold individuals prior to trial or for low-level offenses.
Effective jail reform can simultaneously advance human dignity, public safety, fiscal restraint and due process.
Policymakers should endorse policies aimed at reducing jail admissions through more fair and effective police and prosecutorial practices as well as revisions to misdemeanor sentencing and pretrial laws.
Data collection and analysis is necessary to understand each jurisdiction’s unique jail landscape and adequately address its needs through policy change.
Jail reform is not a zero-sum game. It can benefit law enforcement, defendants, taxpayers and the wider public, and should incorporate the input and views of each.

The words “jail” and “prison” are often used interchangeably in popular discourse about incarceration, but they actually represent distinct institutions that deal with very different populations and problems. Thus, understanding the differences between the two is critical for anyone who wants to influence jail policy and the course of the criminal justice system more generally.

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