Your Views: Rock County can do more to reduce incarceration levels
A recent editorial (“Outsiders get region’s story wrong again,” Thursday) pushing back against clichéd, bleak portrayals of Rock County dives into the Vera Institute of Justice’s jail incarceration data to make a worthwhile point—Janesville is not an outlier when compared to many neighboring counties. But as we use data to better understand what’s happening in jails across the country, history is just as important as geography.
The overall rate of jail incarceration in Rock County has more than doubled in the last three decades, and the rate of pretrial incarceration is nearly four times higher than in 1987. Furthermore, when you count state prison and local jail numbers together, more than 1 in 100 people between the ages of 15 and 64 from Rock County are behind bars. High incarceration has massive implications that ripple beyond individuals into families and the community at large, leaving fiscal and human costs in their wake.
Vera’s jails data provides another window into the pain of a small city grappling with a number of very real challenges. But, as the editors rightly point out, the challenges a place confronts are not necessarily a reflection of its essential character. And the size of a jail is the product of a discrete set of policy choices that can be reversed.
The same energy and vision that has driven the economic revitalization of downtown Janesville can help reduce unnecessary incarceration and make the community safer—but that change will rely on the insight, engagement and hope of the people on the ground.