Hays County Jail aims for more transparency with new population dashboard

Hays County Jail

Hays County Jail in San Marcos, TX

HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The new Hays County Jail Population Dashboard provides information on the demographics of prisoners in order to make the jail a more transparent institute.

Developed as a partnership with Vera Institute of Justice’s In Our Backyards initiative, the dashboard was unveiled Monday.

The dashboard uses data provided by the Hays County Sheriff’s Office to break down the jail population by race, gender, charge, bond and length of stay. The In Our Backyards initiative focuses on implementing this kind of data analysis in small cities and rural counties to start a conversation about criminal justice reform.

Jasmine Hiess, director of In Our Backyards, said the initiative hopes to redirect public policy toward lowering the number of incarcerations.

“Helping to shine sunlight on this facet of our justice system can equip policymakers and communities to address the harms of the criminal legal system and ensure that public safety means the safety of everyone,” Hiess said. 

In most of the country, including Hays County, Black people are a disproportionate amount of prisoners. The dashboard shows while Black residents only make up 4.6% of the county population, they make up 15.8% of the Hays County Jail population.

The dashboard also shows an overlap in the criminal and immigration systems, according to a press release from the county. Nearly 8% of prisoners at the Hays County Jail are being held for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe said analyzing the data allows the county to understand what kind of services the community needs.

“Behind this data is a human cost,” Ingalsbe said. “We’ve only just started collecting the data, but it’s already raised important questions and revealed opportunities for intervention.”

The dashboard will be used to analyze where the county is spending taxpayers’ money and improve public safety, said Commissioner Lon Shell.

“Never before has this information been charted and made so easily accessible to decision makers and the public,” Shell said.

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