Data Analytics Helps Bexar County, Texas, Reduce Inmate Population, Save Millions

The Bexar County Jail reduced its prison population by more than 25 percent using data analytics.

by / August 3, 2016

In 2009, Texas' Bexar County — the sixth-fastest growing county in the United States — had a problem: The Bexar County Jail was beyond capacity. At that time, about 4,700 inmates were held in a jail with the capacity for 4,563.

“It was getting to the point to build a new jail or to try to look at the inmates and determine how to put more of them through the court process,” said county CIO Cathy Maras, adding that a new facility would have cost the county about $350 million.

“We didn’t want to spend the precious dollars of the county building a new jail,” Maras said. “We wanted to spend them on new roads or a new library.”

Fast-forward seven years, and the county jail contains about 3,450 inmates — a more than 25 percent reduction accomplished through data analytics.

Bexar County Data Dashboards At-a-Glance

The Court Case Loads dashboard lists active cases per county court, and provides the defendant’s name, system identification number, offense date and description, next court date, case number and description, location, and attorney.
 
The Jail Court Candidates dashboard list defendants located in jail by court to assist in identifying defendants who are candidates for the jail court dockets and displays jail cost (number of days at $50 per day). Information in this dashboard can be filtered by offense type and aging.

The District Court Pen Pack dashboard shows when the district clerk receives an order from the court; it displays when a defendant’s document checklist is certified and emailed to coordinators and when it is accepted by the Sheriff’s Office; and it alerts the District Clerk when credit for time served exceeds the sentence term and when seven days have passed since the defendant was sentenced.

Using the Sheriff’s Office Pen Pack dashboard, Texas Department of Corrections officers can view defendant packets accepted by the District Clerk, including the number of days since acceptance. Officers can also enter an event code when an inmate is ready to transfer. The dashboard also displays inmates who are awaiting transfer and the number of days since the event code was entered.
 
The Out-of-County/Out-of-State Warrants dashboard counts the days the inmate has been held since the last charge was cleared for both out-of-county and out-of-state charges, and highlights inmates held more than 10 days and between five and 10 days.
 
Source: a June 20, 2016 presentation at the Texas Digital Summit titled Solving Real-World Problems Through Data Analytics.

Court clerks can now view dashboards via Microsoft’s SQL Server Reporting Services that provide data that helps them make well informed decisions on timely court dockets. With minimal training necessary, as users already are operating on a Microsoft platform, the dashboards allow county officials to manage cases by type, identify inmates eligible for jail courts, replace paper reports and manual processes, view a list for processes with tight deadlines, identify inmates who are “paper ready” for state transfers, view inmates with out-of-county and out-of-state warrants, and use quick links to access additional information.

“It really focuses on the information you need to do your job more efficiently and effectively,” Maras said. “It takes the transactional information that you don’t need to look at and serves you the information you need in an easy and intuitive way.”

Using the previous legacy system, if a clerk were to search for candidates to place on a drug court docket, it may take hours to scour through 4,500 names.

The IT department partnered with Mike Lozito, the executive director of Pretrial Services, to build flowcharts of the justice process, which translated into these analytical dashboards. Lozito coordinated efforts among the county’s various functional areas, such as the courts, the jail, the district attorney’s office and other departments, to input algorithms that allows the county to work more intelligently.

“Previously, to get you on a docket, the staff really had to research why you were in jail,” said Maras. “Was it a felony? Misdemeanor? Did you fail the drug test? They used to take a report that is 50-plus pages and highlight folks. Now, they just have to go to the dashboard and we already put the rules behind them. It will tell them that we think all these folks in jail should be in the docket.”

Additionally there are other inmates who are ready to transfer to the Texas Department of Corrections. Through the dashboard, users can see that a specific inmate is “paper ready” for transfer, making the coordination faster and more efficient.

One of the unforeseen benefits is that reducing the number of inmates in the county jail means lower operating costs and more capital saved.

“Some people are going home, some are going to the state prison, some are going to other programs like veterans dockets or mental health dockets,” Maras said. “Our goal isn’t to warehouse people but to get them help as quickly as we can — and follow the law.”

Jessica Renee Napier Contributing Writer

Jessica Renee Napier is a California-based writer who began her journalism career in public broadcasting. She teaches yoga, enjoys traveling and likes to stay up on all things tech.