The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday released detailed data on the county jail population.
Published in partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice, the jail “dashboard” is expected to be updated daily to help policymakers, advocates and researchers better understand the race, case status and incidence of mental illness — among other characteristics — of the people held behind bars. View the website at: https://www.vera.org/care-first-la-tracking-jail-decarceration
Supervisor Janice Hahn recommended releasing the data publicly.
“We can’t create effective policy to address our overcrowded jails if we don’t understand our jail population,” Hahn said.
Reflecting the push by social justice advocates for less incarceration and more community-based programs, the presentation was dubbed the Care First L.A.: Tracking Jail Decarceration dashboard.
“This online decarceration dashboard breaks down all the data we have about our jail population and displays it in a way that makes it easy to understand and spot trends,” Hahn said.
Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who co-authored the motion, said the data would help make clear how many people currently in jail could be safely diverted into treatment and counseling rather than continuing to serve time.
“This data dashboard will be an important tool as we move toward responsibly closing Men’s Central Jail,” Mitchell said. “It will show how the jail population has changed over time, what factors are contributing to increases in the jail population, and who can safely be targeted for diversion initiatives to help decarcerate the jails.”
The move to reduce the jail population has benefited from the example of what was accomplished during the COVID-19 emergency, when thousands of people held in overcrowded county jails were released to limit the spread of the virus. The jail population has ramped up again as a moratorium was put on transfers to state prisons. However, the board’s stated goal is to bring the population down permanently through steps like eliminating bail for non- violent, non-serious crimes and diverting residents suffering from mental illness or addiction into treatment rather than holding them in a cell with limited access to treatment.
Hahn highlighted those possibilities.
“If you looked at the data dashboard today, you would see that the number one reason that people are in our L.A. County jails is because they can’t afford bail. Almost 40% of our jail population is pretrial, which underscores just how critical bail reform is,” Hahn said. “Equally high is the percentage of our jail population with mental health needs — 36% of men and an astounding 66% of women in our jails have mental health needs. And these percentages have increased dramatically over the last year, confirming the need to scale up our mental health diversion programs, especially for women.”
Peter Espinoza, a former judge who heads the county’s Office of Diversion and Reentry and Jail Population Review Council, said the data would inform his decision-making.
“Access to consistent and clear data about who is in the jails is essential for the council — and county as a whole — to reduce the jail population, address overcrowding, identify and reduce racial disparities in incarceration, and successfully move towards the Care First, Jails Last vision that the board is committed to,” he said.
The motion passed unanimously.