A new interactive map created by the Vera Institute of Justice details the rapid growth in the jail population in every county. And it took 14 million data points to make it happen.
The free online tool culls information from publicly available sources such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Census Bureau on the 3,000 county jails nationally. There are five filters through which the data can be explored. The first one offers the growth-percentage change for each jail for which data is available. The second reveals the ratio of people in jail to the county’s population (x per 100K). The third breaks down the rate for blacks/African-Americans in each county, followed by another filter that does the same for women. The last filter records the combined jail and prison data for New York and California.
It’s a straightforward and factual rendering of a hugely complicated and layered aspect of our criminal-justice system, the motivation for which was offering information to the public to “guide change by providing easily accessible information,” according to a statement. Next America spoke to two leading researchers on the project to get a deeper sense of what they learned and what they plan to do with this digital mountain of information.
Nancy Fishman is the Project Director for Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. Chris Henrichson is the Unit Director for its Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit. She’s the big-picture person and he’s the numbers guru. One of the first things we wanted to know was why the growth was concentrated in small and medium-sized jails. Henrichson was upfront about only having a hypothesis so far, as the team has not had enough time to delve deeper or to make connections with other overlapping trends (such as migration and employment numbers) that could also impact their findings.