The Look in Brief

Report: Tennessee rural jail expenses climbing

By: - March 5, 2021 4:00 am
(Photo: Darrin Klimek/Getty Images)

(Photo: Darrin Klimek/Getty Images)

While Tennessee’s biggest cities have reduced their jail populations, suburban and rural counties increased incarceration rates —and local spending on jails — according to a new report by the Vera Institute of Justice which includes an online tool to examine trends in each of the state’s 94 local lockups.

Expenditures fluctuated widely from county to county, but in all instances it is local taxpayers who have had to pick up the largest slice of the incarceration tab.

In Madison County, where Jackson is the county seat, total jail spending rose by 87% between 2007 and 2019 to account for more than a third of the county budget. The costs associated with incarcerations and upgrades to the Madison County’s three  jail facilities cost each county resident approximately $158 in 2019.

In contrast, Davidson County jails cost county residents, on average, $87, each, while in Williamson, the costs were just $31.

Costs are offset in counties by payments from federal and state officials to house prisoners serving sentences in county jails, rather than prisons, and for inmates awaiting transfer to other facilities.

In the 2019 fiscal year, counties spent $534,252,066 to incarcerate men and women in the state’s 94 local jails. Counties spent an average of $5,744,538 or 15 percent of their total budget on jail expenses.

The report relied on data through the 2019 fiscal year. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted incarceration patterns in most counties, with jails releasing nonviolent offenders to reduce overcrowding.

The Vera Institute county-by-county jail expenditure report can be accessed here.

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee.