B&G’s Dashboard Hunt: Jails
We’re always on the look-out for unusually informative dashboards (and intend to bring you some of the best we find on this website). Most recently, we went on the lookout for superior dashboards for jails.
The quality of their dashboards varies widely. Of the 3,000 plus local and county jails in the US, many lack any kind of dashboard to inform concerned residents, policy analysts, program managers and decision-makers, about who constitutes the inmate population and how long they’re being held. There are many opportunities for improving these dashboards, particularly with more information about access to educational jail programs, job preparation and mental health treatment. That said, we’ve seen improvement in recent years in the timeliness of data, along with efforts to expand beyond relatively simple reports of population, and trend data on bookings and releases, with more places delving into issues of mental health, substance abuse, alternative housing, demographic information, and length of stay.
One particularly interesting dashboard we reviewed was that created by the New York City Comptroller. It stood out for its attention to the city’s well-publicized problems of jail violence. An overview of the dashboard notes that the city’s jail population has decreased dramatically -- from “close to 14,000 in Fiscal Year 2007 to 5,700 today.” But the dashboard, which is updated monthly, contains plenty of evidence that a great deal of stress on the system continues. (Note that the overview is undated, and the latest update to the dashboard on Oct. 1, has the daily population currently at 6,172)
In addition to short-term trend information on headcount, discharges, and serious mental illness, the NYC dashboard includes monthly information on staff sick days, medically restricted staff, assaults on staff, use of force, deaths in custody and jail fights. Of course, the role of the comptroller’s office as an oversight organization provides it with a different outlook than that of county jails that are sharing information about their own operations.