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In recent years, we’ve seen a bipartisan focus on criminal justice reform in the U.S., but to measure progress—and understand the breadth of the issue—we need data on who is being incarcerated and why. The last nationwide jail census was conducted in 2013, and the federal government’s most recent estimate of the U.S. jail population is from 2017. Because it takes so long to get up-to-date information on jail populations, Vera–an organization working to improve justice systems–started a project to collect the data themselves.
In Our Backyards looks at jail population data from state and local government websites to understand who’s behind bars simply because they can’t afford bail, or who’s being charged with a non-criminal offense like unpaid child support. As part of our work using data science and technology to help solve some of humanity’s biggest challenges, Google.org contributed to the project with a $4 million grant. Additionally, 12 Google.org Fellows spent six months doing full-time pro-bono work on the project.
Today, Vera released the results of this project: People In Jails in 2019. We learned that while the U.S. has made strides in prison reform, rural jail occupancy is actually on the rise. Cities like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia are reducing jail populations, but over the last several years, rural counties and smaller cities have sent more people to jail, driving an increase in the nation’s total jail population.
I sat down with Google.org Fellow, Aria Ashton, who participated in the Fellowship with Vera…
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