Beyond the Jailhouse Cell: How Data Can Inform Fairer Justice Policies

Blog post by Alexis Farmer, Data Driven Detroit
August 2015

Data Driven Detroit (D3)   (Detroit)

Government-provided open data is a value-added approach to providing transparency, analytic insights for government efficiency, innovative solutions for products and services, and increased civic participation. Two of the least transparent public institutions are jails and prisons. The majority of population has limited knowledge about jail and prison operations and the demographics of the jail and prison population, even though the costs of incarceration are substantial. The absence of public knowledge about one of the many establishments public tax dollars support can be resolved with an open data approach to criminal justice.

There are numerous ways that recording and publishing data about jail operations can inform better policies and practices such as better budgeting and allocation of funds; addressing gender and race inequities, and instituting sentencing reforms that take into consideration the charges on which a person is arrested, the length of stay, average length of sentences, charges for which sentences are given, and the length of time from the first appearance to arraignment and trial disposition.  The author discusses seven ways open data about jail operations can benefit policies and practices.