An Analysis of Incarceration, Crime, Unemployment and Rural Spaces


Incarceration rates in America remain high compared to other countries. Most attention has focused on urban communities, but rural areas are also impacted.


Research shows incarceration strongly predicts unemployment and poverty at the county, district, and state levels. These relationships hold regardless of demographics or rural/urban location. Rural majority white districts have comparable incarceration and poverty rates to urban majority black districts.

Policy Response

Reducing incarceration for nonviolent crimes could break cycles of unemployment, recidivism, and child poverty. This includes reassessing long mandatory sentences and barriers to employment for those released.

Key Takeaways

  • Rural communities suffer the same long-term economic and social costs from incarceration as urban areas.
  • Reform efforts should encompass both urban and rural areas affected by mass incarceration.
  • Changes reducing over-incarceration could benefit Americans regardless of demographics.