Who is in the Buncombe County Jail?

Before we get into statistics, I want to start by acknowledging that the people who get booked into the Buncombe County Jail are just that: people. They have families and friends, jobs and kids and partners, and they have stories about how they came to be where they are.

It is easy to think of people in jail as “inmates” or “criminals” and thus to separate ourselves from them. It is a false separation. They are part of our community, caught up in a system for which our community is answerable. It is important to always remember that as we talk about the trends and patterns in the system.

Holding that thought, let’s look at who is in the jail as I write this on Monday, June 27, 2022. At about 7:30 AM today there were 466 people held in the jail. Of those, 69 (14.8%) were women and 397 were men (those are the only two designations used in the public data available). In terms of race, 327 (70%) were white and 135 (29%) were Black. The remainder included 3 Native Americans and 1 Asian.

According to the 2020 Census, Black people make up just 6.3% of the County population (11.1% of Asheville only), so they are significantly over-represented in today’s jail population. Men are over-represented as well since they make up just 48% of the population.

Of course, that’s just one day. What happens if we look at the population over time? 

There are two ways we could do that. One is to simply average the daily population over time, as the Sheriff’s dashboard does for the past year. The numbers there are similar – about 30% Black and a little over 12% women (looking at my data from the past six months rather than a single day, I get essentially the same numbers).

An alternative approach is to look at it by individual, specifically, everyone who was booked into the jail so far this year.*  During that period we have 2025 unique individuals who came through the jail.

Starting with gender, there were 1,532 men and 493 women. Interestingly, the percentage of women increases significantly, from 14.8% to 24.3%. 

A parallel increase occurs with white people: in 2022 so far we have had 1,581 white people (78.1%) and 407 Black people (20.1%), nearly a 10% increase in the white percentage of the population.

The difference is because of differing lengths of stay. Once booked, women tend to spend fewer days in jail than men, and white people spend fewer days than Black people. In the next post we will begin digging into those statistics a bit more, but for now it’s important to note that the daily population can give a skewed picture of what’s happening to individual people who show up in the jail.

Which brings me back to my point at the beginning: these are people and it’s important to center that fact even in choosing how to look at the data.

*Much of the analysis here and in future posts is based on daily early morning downloads of jail data from the Buncombe County Police to Citizen dashboard, starting on January 3, 2022.