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White House Seeks to Reduce Local Jail Populations

Grant Whittington headshotWords by Grant Whittington
New Activism
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With more than 11 million people passing in and out of its local jails annually, the United States boasts the largest incarceration population in the world. But the White House isn’t particularly proud of that figure, and it plans to trim the number with its new Data-Drive Justice Initiative.

The initiative aims to “break the cycle of incarceration” by moving low-level offenders with mental illnesses from the criminal justice system to doctor’s offices. This plan would target the 64 percent of people in America’s 3,100 local jails who suffer from mental illness, according to a news release from the White House.

The initiative’s second approach to lowering incarceration rates will place low-risk offenders who cannot afford to post bail but pose no threat to the community back in their homes while they wait for their trial date.

Sixty-seven states, cities and counties have committed to joining the DDJ Initiative, including some of the most populated — and incarcerated — areas in the United States. Among those cities are Los Angeles, New York City, Washington, D.C., Dallas and Oakland, California. None of the 20 most incarcerated states per 100,000 residents — with Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alabama leading the way — are participating in the initiative, according to state-by-state data from The Sentencing Project.

Local governments spend approximately $22 billion a year managing the millions of people who funnel in and out of local jails. As CBS News reported in 2014, Americans pay an average of $260 per year on corrections, more than triple the amount a taxpayer paid in 1980. The Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project revealed that the country spent $80 billion for incarceration in 2010.

The DDJ Initiative will serve as an experiment, and could potentially spread to other states if implemented successfully. The program will require oversight to judge whether or not the accused are able to return home while they await their trial. And it could also free up space in overcrowded local jails and save local governments millions, possibly billions, of dollars.

Here's a snapshot of American prison stats from Mic:


  • The U.S. has 5 percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of the world's prisoners.

  • Sixty-five million Americans have criminal records.

  • In 2012, one in every 108 adults was incarcerated.

  • Public defenders in California are handling an average of 400 felony cases each year.
Image credit: Matt B/Flickr

Grant Whittington headshotGrant Whittington

Based in Washington, DC, Grant works as a program assistant at SEEP Network, an international development nonprofit. A proud graduate of the University of Maryland, Grant spent four months post-grad living in Armenia where he worked for Habitat for Humanity and the World Food Programme. Grant is passionate about humanitarianism and finding sustainable approaches to international development. He enjoys playing trivia with friends but is still seeking his first victory - he ceaselessly blames his friends lack of preparation.

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