Impoverishing Rather Than Empowering Jacksonville: Big-Government Criminal Justice Spending Threatens Quality of Life
This past November, I took a group of UNF students on a tour through the downtown Duval County Jail. It was more crowded than I have ever seen it; Ive been there dozens of times. Inmates were huddled on the floor in makeshift beds and packed into the pods. Prisoners were literally bouncing off the walls. Days later, an inmate committed suicide. The facility was built in 1991 for about 2,200 inmates (its rated capacity) but temporary beds were added to raise that number to 3,092.
American jails are often more dangerous than state prisonsbecause unlike prisons, jail populations can fluctuate dramatically even day-to-daygenerating fresh meat into what amounts to an unceasing internal power struggle. Violence in American jails is fed by street rivalries, mental illness, racial tension, testosterone and just plain limited space. The correctional officer leading our tour, a senior officer Ive known for years, explained the challenging dynamics of running the jail: constant intimidation and violence over commissary items, trustees (inmates with some mobility in the jail) taking orders and mail to people over all parts of the building, racial tension, and the unremitting threat of coercive sex. Yes, rape has happened, the officer explained, noting that a JSO corrections officer had not long ago been brutally raped by an inmate.
Issues of jail overcrowding, of course, are not new for Jacksonville. In 1974, the City was successfully sued over local incarceration practices and the jail placed under federal oversight. This lasted until the early 1990s and coincided with the appearance of the new jail, the John E. Goode Pre-Trial Detention Facility.
My colleague Dr. Dan Pontzer and I are not the first to raise concerns about the current population of the jail. In November 2009, Chief Circuit Judge Don Moran sent a letter to both Angela Corey and Sheriff John Rutherford expressing concern, complaining of both jail overcrowding and State Attorney Angela Coreys filing practices. Moran, who has legal responsibility for maintaining the flow of caseload through the circuit and for monitoring jail conditions, made two key points in his letter: 1) This city is not in a position, financially, to plan for a new jail. (and) Furthermore, Im not sure a new jail is needed if better management techniques were implemented; 2) Moran encouraged Ms. Corey to work out more cases before trial in order to mitigate jail overcrowding. At the time of Morans letter in 2009, the Average Daily Population of the Duval County jail was 2,862.
As we note in our recent report (March 2012), by the end of 2011, the average daily population in the jail was 3,990. That is, despite a substantial downturn in both reported crime and arrests, the facilities comprising the Duval County Jail are more crowded than ever. Meanwhile, downturns in local incarceration characterize the jail populations of other large Florida jurisdictions, including Miami-Dade, Orange and Hillsborough counties, which also include substantial DECREASES in crime. In 2010, Duval had the highest incarceration rate of any jurisdiction over 500,000 in Florida. Jail populations are down dramatically nationwide as well. 
Of course, the overwhelming reality noted by my almost entirely white group of students, however, is always that the vast majority of inmates in the jail are young black men. These men come disproportionately from areas of town we refer to in class as Zip Code Prisons, areas of town blighted by high unemployment, failing schools and broken families. The reason we have persistent high crime in Jacksonville is not that we are not tough enough on offenders from these 'Zip Codes', but because we have failed to address the underlying causes of crime. At great expense to taxpayers, warehouse prisons and high incarceration generate chronic recidivism, returning young men from broken homes and isolated ghettos back to the streets with nothing to show for their time. Far MORE resources could be given over to offenders for rehabilitation programming if we strictly limited use of custody for those offenders that are a danger to the community. Overspending on incarceration impoverishes communities, while enriching the custodians. It's a failed model, disproven many times over. Custody weakens families and impoverishes communities. Sentencing reform with electronic monitors and community-based treatment could easily be used here--at great savings to taxpayers.
While Jacksonville prides itself on being a low tax city even as it loses population (and tax base) to surrounding counties with higher taxes and better services, it continues to robustly fund its criminal justice system. Whether in floating its nearly $2 billion public safety pension debt, its new $400 million courthouse, or its still antiquated bond schedule, Duval County remains committed to big government criminal justice. But has this really been a sound investment? As I write, the Finance Committee of City Council is contemplating cuts to Jacksonville Journeys TEAM UP programs, which supervise after-school and homework programs for poor children. Let us stipulate for the moment that Angela Corey really is the toughest prosecutor in Florida and that Jacksonville Sheriffs Office is the best police department in the nation. What are we doing about the underlying causes of crime in Jacksonvilles "Zip Code Prisons"? Building a new jail? I find that shameful.
Editorial by Michael Hallet.
Dr. Michael Hallett is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice at the University of North Florida. His research interests are justice policy, critical theory and the sociology of punishment. Dr. Hallett was appointed by Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton to the Jacksonville Journey Oversight Committee and directed the program evaluation of nine Jacksonville Journey programs for the City of Jacksonville. Dr. Hallett frequently discusses criminal justice issues in public forums:http://www.unf.edu/coas/ccj/news.aspx
Dr. Hallett received the Outstanding Graduate Alumnus Award from his doctoral alma mater, Arizona State University, in 2007. In 2006, he received the Gandhi, King Ikeda Award from Morehouse College for his book Private Prisons in America.
For more on Michael Hallett visit http://www.unf.edu/coas/ccj/faculty/hallett.aspx
1.See Jerome Miller (1996), Search and Destroy: African Americans and the Criminal Justice System. Cambridge University Press. This important book specifically examines Duval county.
2 See: Rules of Judicial Administration 2.215
3 See: Duval Jail Population is up despite fewer arrests. By Paul Pinkham, Florida Times Union. Nov 15, 2009. http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2009-11-15/story/duval_jail_population_is_up_despite_fewer_arrests
4 See: FL DOC/ Florida County Detention Facilities Average Daily Population. http://www.dc.state.fl.us/pub/jails/index.html
5 Florida County Detention Facilities Average Daily Population Annual Report. http://www.dc.state.fl.us/pub/jails/2010/AR_2010.pdf
6 Jail Inmates at Mid-year 2010. US Department of Justice. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/jim10st.pdf
7 Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse. By Todd Clear (2007) Oxford University Press.