Data Analysis Jail Populations Racial Disparities November 18, 2022

Measuring Progress: Declining Populations, Rising Disparities

Cecilia Low-Weiner, Kailey Spencer, Benjamin Estep, CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance

Exploring Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Safety and Justice Challenge Communities

Attempts to reform the criminal legal system are often driven by calls to fix the pervasive racial and ethnic disparities within it. However, these reforms, despite their intentions, can fail to improve or even exacerbate the same disparities they sought to fix.

Since 2015, cities and counties across the country have joined the Safety and Justice Challenge (SJC) to develop and implement data-driven initiatives to reduce jail populations and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities within these jails. While prior analyses by the CUNY Institute for State & Local Governance (ISLG) highlight major strides toward the first goal of reducing overall jail populations, the findings were less encouraging regarding reducing disparities: in many SJC communities, despite often dramatic reductions in bookings and/or jail populations across all racial and ethnic groups, disparities have persisted or even in- creased among these groups.

Reducing these disparities continues to be a challenge within SJC communities, indicating that the benefits of SJC’s strategies aren’t being felt equally among all racial and ethnic groups. This brief seeks to further explore the disparities highlighted in Measuring Progress—an online tool developed by ISLG that measures jail trends since SJC implementation—and set a course for further analyses.