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Focus Areas

Prisons and Jails

Generating national, state, and local data on correctional facility operations and informing strategies to improve the health, safety, and well-being of those who live and work in correctional facilities.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with nearly 1.5 million adults in state or federal prisons and nearly 750,000 individuals held in jails in 2017. More than 400,000 correctional officers serve in county, state, and federal detention facilities, often facing stressful working conditions and mandatory overtime.  Correctional facilities around the nation struggle with the costs and safety risks of staff shortages and attrition. Corrections stakeholders need high-quality data on key aspects of facility operations, including officer workload issues, inmate risk assessment and service delivery strategies, and other emerging issues relevant to correctional facilities. Research-based solutions are key to making correctional facilities safer and healthier for both those who work and live in them.

Our experts lead research, evaluation, and training and technical assistance efforts to improve corrections system outcomes.  We provide high-quality data collection and analysis to inform decision-making for corrections stakeholders at the national, state, and local levels.  Through our involvement in several ongoing, federally funded corrections studies, we have decades of experience collecting data from correctional agency administrators, facility administrators, correctional officers, and incarcerated individuals.

Hands holding prison bars
Hands holding prison bars

Census of Jails and Annual Survey of Jails

The Census of Jails (COJ) has been collecting jail facility and population data every 5 or 6 years since 1970. The COJ is the only collection that enumerates local jails in the United States and provides inmate counts at the jail facility level. Started in 1982, the Annual Survey of Jails (ASJ) has been conducted in years between the censuses to produce national estimates on jail populations. Administered to a sample of approximately 950 local jails (city, county, regional, and private) nationwide, the ASJ collects information on the number of individuals confined in jails, demographic characteristics and criminal justice status of the jail population, holds for federal and state prison authorities, counts of admissions and releases, number of jail employees, and rated capacity. The COJ and ASJ are the primary sources of high-quality, national data on local jails, tracking changes in the number of jails, national capacities, and inmate population size and characteristics. RTI has served as the data collection agent for these collections since 2013, supporting the project through experts from RTI’s Center for Courts and Corrections Research, Survey Research Division, Research Computing Division, and Division for Statistical and Data Sciences. Through this work, RTI staff have developed working relationships with every eligible jail jurisdiction in the United States.

Person in handcuffs
Person in handcuffs

National Inmate Study

This national study involves conducting a congressionally mandated survey to collect direct reports of sexual violence from individuals held in federal and state prisons and to provide a comprehensive statistical review of the prevalence and associated effects of being sexually victimized while incarcerated. RTI works with all 50 state Departments of Correction and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to arrange access to sampled prison facilities and carry out interviews with incarcerated individuals using audio computer-assisted self-interview technology with a touchscreen laptop and headphones to maximize respondent confidentiality and minimize literacy issues. RTI has served as the data collection agent for the National Inmate Study since 2005, with the contributions of experts from RTI’s Center for Courts and Corrections Research, Survey Research Division, Research Computing Division, and Division for Statistical and Data Sciences.