Platform, by NYU’s Public Safety Lab, Provides First-of-Its-Kind Insights into Local Jail Shifts Across Multiple Demographic Categories

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New York University’s Public Safety Lab has launched a dashboard that displays up-to-date U.S. jail statistics, offering daily insights into who is in the nation’s local jails, for how long, and under what charge. The resource seeks to fill gaps in existing data sets, including bail amounts and categories of criminal charges.

“The data are presented in a dashboard that conveys both expansive and granular views of jail populations that can help inform future policy decisions,” says NYU Professor Anna Harvey, director of the Public Safety Lab and co-creator of the resource, which is part of the lab’s Jail Data Initiative (JDI). 

“The JDI data can also help inform future reporting and research by giving analysts another tool to address systematic questions on the impact of incarceration on voter turnout, pandemics, and other phenomena,” adds co-creator Orion Taylor, the Public Safety Lab’s lead data scientist.

For example, the New York Times used earlier Public Safety Lab data as part of its 2020 analysis on the relationship between incarceration and spread of COVID-19.

The Pew Charitable Trusts, one of JDI’s funders, will host a virtual tutorial of the functionality and use of the site on Thurs., November 10, at noon EST. To participate, sign up on the registration page

According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), county jails saw approximately 10.3 million new admissions in 2019, which dropped to 8.7 million as of June 2020—during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the researchers note, no federal data are available on what has happened to jail populations since then. Additionally, they add, BJS data provide limited information on those in jail. For example, data are supplied by race or sex or age—but not in any combination of these demographics, limiting the scope of analyses. Moreover, there is no charge information available, beyond “misdemeanor versus felony,” and there is no information on bail amounts. Further, BJS data do not report daily changes in jail populations. 

To address these data gaps, the Public Safety Lab’s JDI created an automated data system that captures and connects daily publicly available data from over 1,300 county jail rosters—roughly one-third of the nation’s jails. These data form the centerpiece of the newly launched dashboard, a free tool that produces downloadable snapshots and the ability to filter by geography, demographics, and time frame.

“Jail snapshots can be generated that, depending on the data available, present key data points around trends in jail population, charges, length of stay, admissions compared to releases, and demographics of those in jail,” observes Taylor, a graduate of NYU’s Center for Data Science masters program. “Without this kind of data, it’s difficult to evaluate the costs of using jail to address minor offenses and other issues.”

About the NYU Public Safety Lab and Jail Data Initiative

  • The NYU Public Safety Lab uses the tools of data science and social science to support communities’ efforts to improve public safety outcomes. Coordinating the work of researchers across multiple disciplines and universities, the lab aims to achieve more productive allocations of public safety resources. 
  • The Jail Data Initiative is a founding project of Arnold Ventures’ National Partnership for Pretrial Justice and has also received support from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Center for Data Science at New York University, and the Proteus Fund. 

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