Jail Population Up; Crime Down

By: Whitney Holmes
By: Whitney Holmes

April 27, 2005

More and more people are getting locked up. In fact, one in every 138 U.S. citizens have been behind bars.

At the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail, Superintendent Colonel Ronald Matthews says the population has increased steadily over the past decade by seven percent.

But the population growth cannot be attributed to more crime, but instead to harsher punishments.

"Abolishment of parole, that's a big part of it," said Matthews. "Also, there's longer sentences, mandatory sentencing, and people are just tired of crime."

It used to be, you commit a crime, you get off easy. But now with the stricter laws, people are in jail longer, with the hope that word gets out.

"It evolves through people getting the mandatory sentences and then citizens learning that there are mandatory sentences. And hopefully they are deterred from choosing the criminal approach," explained Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Richard DeLoria.

But harsher punishments are not the only reason why jail populations are on the rise.

Cutbacks in the medical field are another reason why cells are filling up. Hospitals do not have enough beds for the mentally ill, so they are kept in jail until there is enough room.

"If there is no room for them, what do they do? They bring them to jail," said Matthews.

"It's very difficult to get people into the state hospitals now. If they go there, they are usually back here in 24 to 48 hours. Even for an emergency, it’s hard to get a bed," said Juanita Morris, Medical Services Director at the jail.

To cope, Morris has had to hire extra staff and may have to expand the medical center.

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