Hays County Launches Jail Population Dashboard to Further Transparency and Reforms

Public-facing dashboard provides up-to-date granular data on Hays County jail population

(Hays County, TX) - Hays County Commissioners Debbie Ingalsbe and Lon Shell today unveiled a new public-facing jail population dashboard that will provide timely, granular insight into the Hays County Jail population, furthering good governance, community oversight of the local justice system, and evidence-driven policy reforms. While local jails are one of the most ubiquitous facets of the justice system, the drivers and consequences of jail incarceration often receive inadequate attention.

The Hays County Jail Population Dashboard, developed in partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice’s In Our Backyards (IOB) initiative, reveals data that speaks to racial and socioeconomic inequities in the justice system. Like most places across the country, the Hays County legal system disproportionately impacts Black people, who make up just 4.6 percent of the county population but 15.8 percent of the Hays County Jail population. While there is no information about the socioeconomic status of the people in jail, the impact of money bail speaks to the poverty of most justice system-involved people: 80 percent of people in the county jail are being held pretrial—most on bonds that are $25,000 or less. Research shows that being detained for even a few days in jail has severe consequences and can undermine public safety since the experience of incarceration is so profoundly destabilizing for employment, housing, and families, and increases a person’s likelihood of future contact with the justice system. The dashboard further reveals that nearly eight percent of the jail population is being held on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), illustrating the overlap of the criminal legal and immigration systems. These data points highlight important questions about inequities in the justice system and opportunities for reform.

“Behind this data is a human cost,” said Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe, Precinct 1. “We've only just started collecting the data, but it’s already raised important questions, and revealed opportunities for intervention. The dashboard enables us to view and analyze all available data so we can act faster, do better, and implement policy changes that ensure that individuals who shouldn’t be in jail, aren’t in jail. Unfortunately, in many of these cases, individuals require a different kind of support and services, and we need to make sure that’s available to them in the community. We will continue to work together to ensure that we are safeguarding people’s civil liberties and ensuring true public safety, for everyone in our community.”

“Never before has this information been charted and made so easily accessible to decision makers and the public,” said Commissioner Lon Shell, Precinct 3. “The Hays County Jail Population Dashboard will allow us to make sound decisions for our criminal justice system based on granular, real-time data. We are partnering with the Vera Institute of Justice to analyze who is in jail and why, so we can see where taxpayer resources are going and how we can reduce the jail population while simultaneously improving public safety.”

The dashboard has been developed in partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice’s In Our Backyards initiative as part of their innovative Jail Population Project, which makes granular, real-time data about local jail populations more widely accessible—particularly in smaller cities and rural counties that are often left out of the national conversation about criminal justice reform. Vera analyzes anonymized information provided directly by the Sheriff’s office to show day-to-day breakdowns of the jail population by categories including bond amount, charge, gender, race, and length of stay.

“Nearly every community in the country has a jail, and everyone is impacted by the policy and public spending choices that drive or reduce jail incarceration in their backyards,” said Jasmine Heiss, the director of Vera’s In Our Backyards initiative. “In Hays County and across the country, the majority of the people occupying jail beds are unconvicted, and nearly everyone in the nation’s jails is marginalized. 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.”

By making this newly available dashboard publicly accessible, Hays County has underscored a commitment to understanding how jail incarceration impacts the community’s diverse population and to continuing to engage both justice system stakeholders and community members in efforts to safely and meaningfully reduce the jail population and otherwise improve the systems that people rely on for justice and security.

"When President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a onetime San Marcos resident, sought to tackle bail reform in 1966, his key partner for the monumental undertaking was the Vera Institute of Justice,” said Jordan Buckley, a spokesperson for Mano Amiga, a social justice advocacy organization. “Today, Mano Amiga is proud to see Hays County leaders like Commissioner Shell and Commissioner Ingalsbe join with Vera to ensure far greater transparency—and, therefore, the potential for superior policymaking that confronts the evil of unnecessary mass incarceration—by way of this Jail Population Project. We applaud county officials for this vital step forward, and urge them to expand on this important achievement by pursuing a public defender office and cite & divert program with urgency—particularly now that we are equipped with a superb dashboard to monitor the impacts of these best practices for prudently transforming our criminal legal system."

Hays County’s innovative approach provides a national model for counties committed to data transparency, community engagement, and ongoing oversight of local justice systems.

Access and review the Hays County Jail Population Dashboard here: https://hayscountytx.com/jaildashboard/

About the Vera Institute of Justice:

The Vera Institute of Justice is a justice reform change agent. Vera produces ideas, analysis, and research that inspire change in the systems people rely upon for safety and justice. Vera collaborates with the communities most impacted by these systems and works in close partnership with government and civic leaders to implement change. Across projects, Vera is committed to explicitly and effectively reducing the burdens of the justice system on people of color and frames all work with an understanding of our country’s history of racial oppression. Vera is currently pursuing core priorities of ending the misuse of jails, transforming conditions of confinement, providing legal services for immigrants, and ensuring that justice systems more effectively serve America’s increasingly diverse communities. Vera has offices in Brooklyn, NY; Washington, DC; New Orleans, and Los Angeles.