Monday, August 8, 2016

Two maps compare Spokane's arrests and jail populations to other cities

Posted By on Mon, Aug 8, 2016 at 10:30 AM

click to enlarge Spokane County Jail
  • Spokane County Jail

Two interactive maps paint a nationwide picture of arrests and incarceration — both major decision points in the criminal justice system that are ripe for disparity and are frequently scrutinized.

The first from the Vera Institute of Justice shows incarceration rates at the county level, racial, ethnic and gender disparities in those rates, and how the rate has changed since 1970. (Vera is partnering with Spokane County in its goal of reducing the average daily jail population with the help of grant money from the MacArthur Foundation.)

For example, Spokane County's incarceration rate for 2014 was 265.5 per 100,000 residents, and Kootenai County's rate was 319.6 — which is good for about average nationwide, though researchers caution against cross-state comparisons. Chelan County's rate was 512 per 100,000, Yakima County came in at 463 and Benton County 469, among the highest in Washington state in 2014.

Vera's map also shows racial and ethnic disparities in local jails. In Spokane, African Americans and Native Americans are jailed at a disproportionately higher rate than their representation in the population. 

Another handy feature of Vera's map is its ability to show how the incarceration rate has grown for the past 40 years. According to the data, "there has been more than a four-fold increase in the average daily number of people held in the nearly 3,000 jails in the United States, from 157,000 in 1970 to 690,000 in 2014." 

However, the biggest driver of local incarceration growth is comes from medium and small counties, the data shows.

While Vera's project culminated data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Census of Jails, Fusion's Arresting America project used arrest rate data from the FBI and assembled it into an interactive and searchable map.

According to the data, Spokane's arrest rate is 380 per 10,000 people, compared to 610 per 10,000 in Kootenai County and 192 per 10,000 in King County.

However, Fusion's project comes with a caveat: the FBI's data is deeply flawed. Participation in the FBI's data program is voluntary, meaning police departments are not required to send in data. And the accuracy of the data relies almost entirely on the agencies that report it.

To that end, the Guardian and the Washington Post have attempted to supplement the FBI's crime data in one specific area that was woefully inadequate: the number of people killed by police.

"The U.S. government has no comprehensive record of the number of people killed by law enforcement," the Guardian's website reads. "The FBI runs a voluntary program through which law enforcement agencies may or may not choose to submit their annual count of 'justifiable homicides,' which it defines as 'the killing of a felon in the line of duty.' The system is arguably less valuable than having no system at all: fluctuations in the number of agencies choosing to report figures, plus faulty reporting by agencies that do report, have resulted in partially informed news coverage pointing misleadingly to trends that may or may not exist." 
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