Most Texas jails offer little more information than the names and charges against those kept inside. But now, the state’s largest county jail is putting a lot more information on the internet about those who are locked up there. Harris County’s new online dashboard gives the public real-time data about the nearly 9,000 people detained each day there, including the crimes they’re accused of and the length of their sentence.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez says the dashboard is a way to inform the public about trends in the county jail population.
“We want to give a snapshot of what we see every day in county jails,” Gonzalez says. “Many times, people don’t understand what our population looks like, and they don’t understand that the vast majority are pretrial, meaning that they’ve yet to be convicted.”
For Gonzalez, this dashboard is a way to make policing more transparent.
“For too long, data’s been available in policing, but we haven’t always been very transparent in letting the general public just know what we have to deal with every day,” he says.
He says sharing this information is a way to help the public, and even policymakers, know about the challenges county jails face, including the burden of caring for inmates’ mental health.
“We operate, in essence, the largest mental health facility in the state, and, in my opinion, jails are not the best place to be dealing with that type of medical issue,” Gonzalez says. “That should be treated as a public health issue, not as a criminal justice issue.”
Written by Morgan Kuehler.