Since 2017, the Vera Institute of Justice has documented a surprising and dramatic shift in the geography of mass incarceration: while big cities and urban areas have started to curb the number of people entering their local jails, rural counties and small cities are experiencing a staggering rise in their jail populations. Although research on the reasons behind this problem is emerging, more is needed. Further, policy interventions that have worked in large cities are often not feasible in small communities.

To fill this critical gap in our knowledge and reform efforts, the Vera Institute of Justice has formed partnerships with research teams at Washington State University and the University of Georgia as part of the Rural Jails Research and Policy Network, funded by Arnold Ventures. The project supports collaborative research and capacity-building with local justice systems in Washington and Georgia—two states where rural counties are facing significant and diverse challenges in reducing the reach and impact of mass incarceration.

To receive updates about the Rural Jails Research and Policy Network, please email us at

Project Objectives

  • Advance local-level justice research.

  • Drive policy and practice reform.

  • Reduce the use of jails.

Key Fact

Between 2003 and 2013, pretrial incarceration rates increased 26% in rural counties while they declined 13% in large urban counties.