How Long Do People Stay in the Buncombe County Jail? Part 2: Race & Gender Patterns

We saw in the last post that the majority of people incarcerated in Buncombe County pretrial are only there for a few days. We also saw that there are significant racial and gender disparities in the jail, but that they varied according to whether we focused on the population in jail at a particular moment (including an average over time) or looked at the statistics of everyone cycling through. 

For example, about 30% of the population of the jail at any given time is Black, but when we look at the population of everyone booked into the jail in 2022, that drops to 20%. The disparity is still very significant, given that Black people only make up 6.3% of the population in Buncombe County, but noticeably lower. A similar phenomenon works with gender: over time the average female population in the jail is about 12%, but the percentage jumps to 24% when we look at all bookings in 2022.

I asserted that the difference arises from the fact that some demographic groups tend to be incarcerated for a longer time than others and that leads them to be overrepresented in the jail population at any given time, even if there is no other disparity (which, in fact, there is). 

The chart below demonstrates that for completed jail stays of Black versus white people. Rather than raw counts, it shows the percentage of people within each race that stay for each period of time. The actual data are shown in the table below.

Bar chart showing differences in stay lengths by race for different periods, clearly demonstrating that Black people tend to be incarcerated longer than white people. Numbers in the table at the end of the post.

This makes clear that, in addition to a base disparity arising from the number of Black versus white people arrested and booked into the jail, there is an additional disparity in the amount of time spent, with more white people staying shorter times and more Black people longer ones (the longest category is probably somewhat undercounted since the chart only includes completed stays, but including incomplete stays only makes the disparity greater).

As expected, a similar pattern shows up for female versus male occupants, with women more likely to be released earlier, indeed, within a week. This represents a significant contribution to the difference in male and female occupants at any given time, although by no means most of it.

Bar chart showing differences in stay lengths by gender for different periods, clearly demonstrating that men tend to be incarcerated longer than women. Numbers in the table at the end of the post.

We need to be very careful about interpreting this data. Indeed, at this point we cannot interpret it at all. Without further study of the underlying charges, all we can do is note the disparity. We will get to that fairly soon, but the next post will step back briefly from the data and look at how the system itself operates.

The table below shows the actual numbers behind the charts above.

Week or less64.67%59.14%61.24%71.03%
8-30 days20.29%19.35%20.18%20.63%
31-90 days12.32%17.74%14.81%8.33%
Over 90 days2.72%3.76%3.77%0.0%
Completed Stay Lengths By Race and Gender

*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.