In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there is much discussion in the media and policy circles about how local jails are coping and the measures that they are taking to protect the health of staff and people who are incarcerated. We examine publicly available data from the NYU Public Safety Lab to visualize current trends in rural Georgia jails. As the charts below show (click to enlarge), both urban and rural county jails have experienced significant declines in local jail populations, especially since an initial judicial emergency order was issued by the Georgia Supreme Court on March 14, 2020.
The first chart (left) shows jail population trend lines for all of the rural counties for which data are available from the end of February to the beginning of April. Notable declines in jail population are evident for both smaller and larger jails.
The second chart (right) displays the percentage change in jail populations for the available urban and rural jurisdictions. With the exception of Effingham, Forsyth, Haralson, Lamar, McDuffie, and Pickens counties, all local jails have experienced declines in their jail population since the end of February. Six rural counties have experienced decreases of over 40 percent of their jail population (Jackson, Lumpkin, Rabun,Tattnall, Union, and Upson). In addition, four urban counties (Catoosa, Dougherty, Floyd, and Liberty) have seen over a 50 percent reduction.
The next series of charts breaks down these trends in rural jail populations by jail capacity. Among jails with capacity below 150 beds, Rabun, Tattnall, and Union counties stand out with steep reductions in current populations of about 50 percent or more. Other counties in this group have reduced their incarcerated population by anywhere from 8 to 31 percent.
Most jails with capacities between 150 and 200 beds have also experienced significant declines in population. By the end of the period shows, all but two jails of this size (Dodge and Elbert counties) had declined by between 8 to 49 percent.
Five rural jails with available data have capacity over 250 beds. These facilities also show substantial population declines over the time period. Of these, Polk County Jail's population decreased by 29 percent. In addition, Bulloch and Gordon county jail populations fell by 26 percent, while Ware County and Laurens County jails dropped by 22 percent and 18 percent, respectively.
These trends are notable and important, but we do not yet understand the drivers of these declines. Clearly, the judicial emergency issued on March 14th had an impact, but it is not clear whether this resulted in fewer admissions, more releases, or some combination of both. We further do not yet know how these drivers vary by county and by rural/urban status. Our project is designed to answer these and other critical questions in the months ahead. Stay tuned!
Data source: publicly accessible data collected as part of the Jail Data Initiative (JDI) by the Public Safety Lab at New York University, https://github.com/Harvey2016/PublicJDI