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An Examination of Pennsylvania Rural County Jails

Justice Center researchers conducted a survey of county jail wardens to learn more about treatment services and programs. They also analyzed jail population trends, demographics, and capacity. Most notably, very few jails offered programs that address criminal thinking and decision making skills.

Project Team

  • Principal Investigator: Gary Zajac, Ph.D. (
  • Research Associate: Lindsay Kowalski, M.A.

About the Project

  • Funded by Center for Rural Pennsylvania to examine the operation of PA’s 44 rural county jails.
  • Investigated jail population, demographics, capacity, and treatment programs and services over the period 2004-2011.

Research Questions

  • What are the population trends for PA’s rural county jails?
  • What are the key factors involved in the jail infrastructure and specifically, what treatment/rehabilitative services are offered?

Project Details

  • Utilized existing administrative data from PADOC.
  • Conducted survey of county jail wardens/sheriffs.


  • Rural county jail system operated at 84% capacity and jail population grew by 17% from 2004-2010.
  • 27% of jails offered programs that aren’t related to goal of recidivism reduction.
  • Only 16% of jails had programs that target criminal thinking and decision making skills.

Final Report