How Long Do People Stay in the Buncombe County Jail? Part 1: Overall Patterns

This is another question that has different answers depending on the specific frame. Let’s start as we did last time and look at how long the 464 folks in the Buncombe County jail this morning, June 30, 2022, have been here. The result is displayed in the chart at right.

So if you ask a random person in the jail today how long they’ve been there, chances are they’ll answer that it’s been more than a month, and likely quite a bit more.

Those statistics include everybody in the jail, which includes people held on behalf of the Federal government, people serving sentences (up to 90 days), people temporarily there on the way from or to state prisons or other counties, and people being held for non-payment of child support (a completely separate system from the normal criminal one – we’ll definitely be taking a look at that one in the future).

What happens if we only consider only the people being held pre-trial (in other words, they have not yet been convicted of anything). That reduces the total by about 100 people, but the chart looks similar. The average stay is slightly shorter, but it is still true that most people in the jail have been there for longer or much longer than a month.

So most people who go to jail spend over a month there, right? Not so fast! We have the same issue that we saw in the last post. A point-in-time snapshot skews the statistics toward those who stay longer.

So let’s look at stays for everyone who has been in the jail this year, where a stay is defined as the number of days from entry into the jail to either the day of exit or today. And let’s stay focused on the ones who are there pre-trial. In 2022 so far we have had 2,410 such stays.

Now we see a very different result at right. Most people are in jail for a week or less, and only 22.6% are in for more than a month. Recall from the earlier post that about 15 people enter the jail every day, almost all of them part of the pre-trial population. As I pointed out there, if we kept them all for as long as the two charts above imply, we would immediately overwhelm the capacity of the jail.

It is worth emphasizing too that this is the way it’s supposed to be. Every one of those 2,410 people had been arrested for a crime but had not been convicted. Formally at least, and in some cases actually, they are innocent. It is a principle of our criminal legal system that they should only be held if they are considered dangerous or a significant flight risk. The ones that stay either fall into those categories or can’t afford to pay even a low secured bond (I will write more on bonds in the near future and link to that from here).

In the next post we will dig into some interesting demographic patterns in how long people stay in the Buncombe County jail.

July 31, 2022 Update: A recent conversation made me realize that I am actually undercounting the number of people who stay less than a week. It turns out that my count of total people booked into the jail and released is noticeably lower than the data shown on the Sheriff’s dashboard. The reason is that I miss anyone who comes in after my morning download but then bonds out before I download again the next day. If it looks like this might have a significant impact on any of the questions I’m looking at, I’ll call it out and, where possible, augment the data I have with other sources.

*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. If you want to perform your own analysis or check my work, you may download the data from daily_bcdf_occupants.csv and daily_bcdf_occupant_charges.csv. These files are updated with the latest data each day. Names and docket numbers are not included, but the occupants and their charges are related by the id and defendant_id fields, respectively.

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