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Data-Informed Jails: Challenges and Opportunities (2020)

Jails are the entry point to the correctional system in the United States. There are approximately 3,100 jails in the United States, and on any given day, these facilities hold more than 745,000 individuals who are either awaiting trial or serving short sentences. Beyond serving their fundamental detention mission, jails have increasingly become a crucial resource for the larger community because they often serve the medical and behavioral health care needs of large numbers of disenfranchised individuals who come into contact with the justice system. As a result of the sheer number of individuals entering jails and the expanding scope of services that jails are expected to provide, vast amounts of diverse data are generated and used. Despite the opportunity to leverage these data to inform policies and improve both operations and outcomes, most jails, for a variety of reasons, are not consistently operating in a data-informed manner. To examine this issue, the National Institute of Justice, supported by the RAND Corporation in partnership with the University of Denver, hosted a two-day workshop. The workshop brought together a group of jail administrators, researchers, and representatives from national organizations to discuss the challenges related to more-effective use of data in jails and to identify potential solutions to overcome these obstacles. This report provides the prioritized list of needs and accompanying context from the discussion that resulted from this effort.

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