A new study from the Vera Institute of Justice suggests that mass incarceration, typically focused in urban centers, is growing fastest in suburbs and rural areas, reports The Washington Post.
The U.S. already has a massive imprisonment problem — despite having 4 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. And now, the problem is spreading beyond cities. In 2014, densely populated counties had 271 inmates in jail per 100,000 people, whereas sparsely populated counties had 446 inmates per 100,000 people — nearly double the amount.
According to The Washington Post:
It wasn't clear from the data why jail populations have increased so dramatically in sparsely populated areas, said Nancy Fishman, who directs the Vera Institute's work on jails.
Part of the explanation could be that the demographics of America's suburbs have changed, with many poor households emigrating out of the city. In the country's 100 largest metropolitan areas, there are now fewer people living in poverty within the city limits than outside them, according to research conducted at the Brookings Institution.
Because of their poverty, members of those households might be less likely to make bail when they are arrested, with more people spending time behind bars as a result.
Fishman also suggested that building and maintaining jails is expensive for local governments, especially in sparsely populated areas, and that some jurisdictions might use the threat of jail to extract fines and fees from residents to cover the cost of their expanding criminal-justice systems in a vicious cycle.
The Vera Institute has an interactive map of the U.S. that displays incarceration data available here.