hays county jail

A room in the Hays County Jail, Monday, March 11, 2019, in San Marcos.

During a March 22 press conference, Hays County revealed its new jail dashboard set to track population data in the Hays County Jail.

The Hays County Jail Dashboard was implemented in partnership with the national research and policy nonprofit organization Vera Institute of Justice and its In Our Backyards (IOB) initiative. 

The IOB initiative seeks to provide jail statistics more routinely and accurately in an effort to inform the community on who is in jail, what is driving growth in jailed citizens as well as track future jail-related reform.

Jasmine Heiss, director of the Vera Institute of Justice's In Our Back Yards initiative, believes while collecting data on jail populations is an important step toward a new understanding, it is people who create reform.

“[Vera Institute of Justice] is committed to making timely granular information about who is in our nation's jails and why, available to policymakers and the public,” Heiss says. “We know that people enact policy and people transform systems, even with all the data we can provide there is no substitute for the leadership and vision on this call.”

The dashboard breaks down jail population statistics into subcategories including bail amount, charge, gender and race; data is refreshed every two weeks. Hays County Commissioner Lon Shell thinks the collected data will help the county evaluate whether or not incarcerated individuals need to be held in jail. 

As of March 21, the jail is currently occupied by 499 inmates, 73% of whom have not yet been to trial. Men make up 88% of the inmate population, while Black men make up 14% of inmates despite being less than 5% of Hays County's population.

“There was conversation with some of us at the county, asking what is happening with our jail population, why does it look this way and what was it in the past,” Shell says. “In this region, we are watching other jails be constructed and we’re seeing those citizens and taxpayers say this is costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Are we sure everyone that’s there needs to be there right now or is there a better way to do things?”

Eric Martinez, policy director for Mano Amiga, a nonprofit activist organization, sees common-sense approaches to criminal justice as being the most efficient way of reform. According to Martinez, the new jail dashboard will allow for more equal treatment at every level of the legal system.

“When we find ourselves involved in the criminal legal system, we hope the people we’ve elected won’t disregard our own safety, and we’ll all be given fair treatment," Martinez says. "Simply put, we need common-sense approaches that uphold our community’s values and ensure fairness, equal access to justice and human dignity for all.” 

For more information on the Hays County Jail Dashboard visit the dashboard website.

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