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Jail trends from Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) sites across the country show that it’s possible to successfully reduce the misuse and overuse of jails. This tool, created by the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance (ISLG) from data provided by SJC sites, allows users to measure progress achieved by the SJC and explore how jail population trends have changed since implementation.
Explore the different trends in jail populations across SJC sites below:
Jail Populations Are Down
Since the initiative launched in 2016, SJC sites across the country have significantly reduced their jail populations.
SJC sites collectively reduced their jail population by 22% since the start of the initiative, resulting in 16,958 fewer people held in jail on any given day. While progress varies across sites, 15 sites reduced their jail population by 15% or more.
Fewer People Are Held Pretrial
SJC sites successfully implemented strategies to reduce their pretrial jail population and ensure individuals can remain in their community while their case is pending.
SJC sites have collectively reduced their pretrial population by 14% since implementation. This reduction accounted for the majority of the decline in the jail population.
SJC Sites Outpaced National Jail Population Declines
When comparing reductions in jail populations, SJC sites achieved greater declines than the national average prior to the pandemic, and declined at a similar rate during the pandemic.
Between 2016 and 2019, the national jail population remained flat (1%) while SJC sites achieved reductions of 11% during the same period. Following the onset of the pandemic, both SJC sites and jails across the country experienced similarly dramatic declines. By 2021, jail populations were down by 20% in SJC sites and 15% nationwide.
SJC Sites Responded To The COVID-19 Pandemic
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused a sharp drop in bookings, a change partly driven by a reduction in arrests and interaction with law enforcement. Since then, bookings in SJC sites have begun to climb.
While bookings were declining across sites prior to the pandemic, bookings dropped substantially—by 57%—between February 2020 and April 2020. Since the low point in April, bookings have been rising. However, as of the most recent quarter, bookings are still below pre-pandemic levels.
Despite the recent rise in many sites following the lows in April 2020, bookings remain lower now than they were prior to implementation, with an overall reduction of 41%.
Take a closer look at the effects of COVID-19 on SJC communities with our latest brief: The Fall and Rise of Jail Populations During the Pandemic.
Outcomes Improved For BIPOC Individuals, But Disparities Persist
While outcomes improved for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), improvement in outcomes for white individuals outpaced those for BIPOC populations.
Jail population declined more than 15% for Black populations in 9 sites, Latinx populations in 4 sites, and Indigenous populations in 1 of 4 sites. Despite this, declines for white populations were greater, resulting in persistent or increasing disparities. Booking trends followed similar patterns.
Take a closer look at the racial and ethnic disparities in SJC communities and the continued challenges in reducing and eliminating them in our latest brief: Declining Populations, Rising Disparities.
About the Data
SJC sites compile and share jail population data with the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance (ISLG) every month, including average daily population (or jail population), bookings, and average length of stay (ALOS). Most sites report some or all of these measures by race and ethnicity.
This analysis also uses secondary data sources, including:
- CDC Population Estimates: These estimates, derived from the U.S. Census, are used in measures that use population data, including racial/ethnic disparity measures. Rates that use population data (e.g., booking rate) are reported per 100,000 of the adult population (over 18).
- BJS Census of Jails 2019, and Annual Survey of Jails, 2020: Used for national jail population trends.
Across all SJC reports, the “Pre-SJC” period is a six-month timeframe prior to SJC implementation: November 2015 through April 2016 for all sites where the initiative launched in 2016; and November 2017 through April 2018 for sites where the initiative launched in 2018. Measures are compared with the site’s Pre-SJC baseline to better understand progress since implementation.
What Sites Are Included
|SJC Implementation in 2016||SJC Implementation in 2018|
Ada County, ID
Charleston County, SC
Cook County, IL
Harris County, TX
Los Angeles, CA
Lucas County, OH
Milwaukee County, WI
Multnomah County, OR
New Orleans Parish, LA
New York City, NY
Palm Beach County, FL
Pennington County, SD
City of Philadelphia, PA
Pima County, AZ
Shelby County, TN
St. Louis County, MO
Spokane County, WA
Allegheny County, PA
Buncombe County, NC
Clark County, NV
East Baton Rouge Parish, LA
Lake County, IL
Minnehaha County, SD
Missoula County, MT
San Francisco, CA
Tracking Measures by Quarter
- This report presents all measures in three-month periods (May-July, August-October, November-January, February-April), or “quarters”, unless otherwise noted (e.g., the COVID-19 bookings chart reports monthly values due to the rapid pace of change at that time).
- Measures are presented quarterly because the interval allows for a better view of progress over the course of a year relative to six-month or yearly metrics, while at the same time reducing the potential for aberrant months to skew trends.
- Quarterly measures are an average of the three months in the quarter.
Agencies in SJC sites capture race/ethnicity data differently. This variance sometimes limits the ability for sites to report this data consistently and compare across sites; specifically, not all sites track ethnicity separately. For this report, race/ethnicity data is reported in the following categories: Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, Indigenous Peoples, Latinx, and White.
SJC sites began providing race/ethnicity data to ISLG in 2018, whenever possible. All SJC sites did not provide measures broken down by race/ethnicity. These limitations are noted under charts throughout the report.
Note: These are the definitions provided to sites for their use in compiling aggregate jail data. However, sites may use slightly different operational definitions for their local jail data, including whether contract or non-local populations are included.
Jail Population: Individuals who are physically confined in jail all or part of the time, with the exception of individuals who are held on contract for another jurisdiction (federal, state, or other), individuals who are held for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with no other pending or sentenced charges, and juveniles. Jail Population is the daily population of the jail on any given day. It is calculated by adding up the number of people in the jail population in each day of a given period and dividing that figure by the total number of days in the period.
Pretrial: Individuals with one or more pending criminal charge, including those in jail for a probation or parole violation. Individuals who have pending criminal charges and other statuses (e.g., they were sentenced on another charge) are counted in this category. This category may also include people held on warrants and for failure to appear in court.
Jail Booking: Any individual who is booked into the jail (for a pending charge, sentence, warrant, other hold, etc.) during a given period. Bookings are defined to include anyone who is booked and admitted into the jail, booked and released, or transferred to a jail from another facility. Individuals who are booked multiple times in a given period are counted as multiple bookings.
Booking Rates: Bookings rates are calculated by taking the total bookings and general adult population in an individual site, dividing the total bookings by the general adult population, and multiplying by 100,000. For all breakdowns by racial/ethnic group (including legal status), booking rates are calculated by taking the total bookings for that racial/ethnic group, dividing bookings by the general adult population of that racial/ethnic group and multiplying by 100,000.
Jail Population Disproportionality: A measure of over- or under-representation of a particular racial/ethnic group in the jail on any given day, compared to their representation in the general adult population. The disproportionality ratio is calculated through a two-step process: The first step is to divide the ADP for that racial/ethnic group in the jail by the total number of people in the jail, and the number of people in the general adult population in that racial/ethnic group by the total adult population in the jurisdiction. The second step is to divide the proportion of that racial/ethnic group in the jail by the proportion of that racial/ethnic group in the general adult population. Numbers higher than one reflect disproportionately higher representation of that racial/ethnic group in the jail on a given day (the higher the number, the greater the disproportionality). Numbers below one reflects disproportionately lower representation of that racial/ethnic group.
Booking Relative Rate Index: The relative rate index (RRI) is a measure of over- or under-representation of particular racial/ethnic groups, compared to a reference group, in the rate of jail bookings in the jurisdiction. For this report, the reference group is White people (see definition). The RRI is calculated through a two-step process: First, separate booking rates per 100,000 county residents for groups of interest (e.g., people of color, Black, Latinx, and White people) are calculated. Next, booking rates per 100,000 for each racial/ethnic group of interest are divided by the booking rate for White people. This final result is the RRI. RRI numbers higher than one reflects disparately higher booking rates for the racial/ethnic group of interest, relative to White individuals (the higher the number the greater the disparity). Numbers below one reflects disparately lower rates for the racial/ethnic group of interest, relative to White individuals. For example, if the RRI of people of Color is 0.9, this indicates that people of color have a disparately lower booking rate as a group than White people.
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