Charity to invest $75 million to reduce U.S. jail population

(Reuters) - The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation said on Wednesday that it will invest $75 million over five years in an attempt to reduce the number of people in the country's jails.

"Jails too often serve as warehouses for those too poor to post bail, nonviolent offenders, or people with mental illness," said Julia Stasch, MacArthur's president, in a statement.

Also on Wednesday, the Vera Institute of Justice released a report entitled, "Incarceration's Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America," which said there are roughly 12 million admissions to the country's 3,000 jails annually, with some 731,000 people in jail any given day.

Some 75 percent of people in U.S. jails are there for nonviolent offenses like traffic, drug and public order violations, the report said, adding that people of color are affected disproportionately. And local jurisdictions spend $22.2 billion a year running the detention centers, the report said.

The MacArthur initiative will award $150,000 to 20 projects aimed at reducing jail populations at the state, city, county, judicial district or county level for systems with 50 beds or more, the foundation said. Then 10 participants will receive as much as $2 million over two years to implement the plans.

"For too long America has incarcerated too many people unnecessarily, spending too much money without improving public safety," Stasch said.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco)