Jail Data Collection in NC and Beyond

Project Team

Team profile by members of the Harnessing Data from North Carolina's Jails to Inform Effective Policies project team

This year, our team set out to better understand the utility of standardized jail data collection at the state level and develop materials to assist decision-makers as they attempt to implement such collection efforts in North Carolina.

There are immense benefits to a regular and in-depth jail data collection process. Collecting jail data is critical to understanding a state’s correctional landscape. This understanding informs better carceral policies, drives research on jail populations and increases public awareness of criminal justice issues.

Our first task was to draft a report describing what current jail data-collection efforts look like in each U.S. state. We found that forty-five states do not have a unified jail database. The states that do are Texas, Colorado, California, New York and Georgia. These states consistently demonstrate an improved ability to tailor specific policies for their jails and to ensure their jails are properly following procedure and stay up-to-code. Additionally, criminal justice advocates and non-profits in these states are able to better address and advocate for the needs of jail populations.

Our quantitative team did more in-depth analysis of the data from California, Colorado and Texas. A brief summary of the main findings is below:

  • Using scraped data from the California Jail Profile Survey, we analyzed how jail populations and lengths of stay have changed over time, especially in the wake of policy changes, such as realignment in 2011. We found that five years after realignment, the median change in population was 8.45% and the median change in length of stay was 2.06 days for pretrial detention and 10.5 days for sentenced detention. Also, we found that five years after, the ratio of those unsentenced to sentenced decreased by 0.25.
  • Using Colorado’s state-wide public jail dataset (HB19-1297), we analyzed COVID-19 population de-densification efforts in jails using regression modeling. In Colorado, we saw that urban jails decreased their jail population by 12 percent more than rural jails on average, all else held constant.
  • This study relies on scraped data files to assess Texas’ compliant versus non-compliant jails. The research made clear that 1 in 6 people detained in Texas in any given month reside in a non-compliant jail, that low-income county jails are more likely to house convicted felons and be deemed non-compliant than high-income county jails are, and that high-income counties spend more money to detain immigrants than low-income counties do.

Our qualitative team conducted interviews with a variety of stakeholders to answer a number of research questions related to the design, implementation and utilization of standardized jail data collection efforts. A few of these research questions included:

  • What variables are important to collect from NC jails?
  • What purposes are jail data used for?
  • What barriers exist to jail data collection?
  • How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted jail data collection efforts and needs? 

Lastly, each week during class, we discussed a variety of topics related to jail incarceration in the U.S. and in North Carolina. Throughout the semester, we had guest speakers come and share their insights. Speakers included jail health care providers; researchers conducting work on police-citizen interactions; lawyers and organizers from the ACLU; law enforcement officials; county drug treatment program coordinators; and justice-involved individuals.