A new tool released Wednesday gives the public a daily snapshot of the demographics of inmates booked into Salt Lake County jails.
The interactive dashboard has been in the works for about a year, said Salt Lake County Sgt. Kevin Hunter. County officials tapped employees to create it in response to residents’ concerns about who is incarcerated and to inform ideas for alternatives to jail.
The tool shows the demographics of the jail population as of 4 a.m., the time of its daily update. It shows the gender, age, employment status, race, martial status, and housing status of inmates, in addition to other metrics, such as the average length of stay for current inmates and a breakdown of the population by the arresting law enforcement agency. It also allows a user to filter information by a certain demographic — for example, female inmates — to see how their circumstances differ from the jail population as a whole.
“The sheriff’s office collects and has a lot of really valuable data but didn’t really have anything in place to help visualize that or engage in dialogue with people about what it looks like, in a way that people can understand,” said Noella Sudbury, Salt Lake County’s Criminal Justice Advisory Council director.
Sudbury said the goal in creating the dashboard was, first, to increase transparency. Second, the county aimed to give residents an idea of who is in the jail and, finally, to start a conversation about how taxpayer money is spent on the jail and criminal justice in general.
“We can take a look at the dashboard and ask ourselves: Are we keeping the right people in jail, the people who are threats to public safety?” she said. “And can we help others who are maybe not a threat to public safety succeed and get out of the criminal justice system and not come back?”
The dashboard doesn’t currently show the ethnicity of inmates because the jail tracks that information differently than the U.S. Census, and its numbers would likely overrepresent the number of people in jail who identify as “white.”
County officials plan to roll out additional features and metrics in coming weeks — such as the ability to show trends over time and track ethnicity — and will take public feedback into consideration, Hunter and Sudbury said.