Keeping track of conditions of jails in Indian Country

The Challenge 

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) asked Westat to conduct a census of all jails and detention facilities operated by Tribes or the Bureau of Indian Affairs every year from 2007 to 2015. The data collection gathers information about the conditions in the jails and detention facilities in Indian Country.

Conditions of confinement in Indian Country attracted public attention with the publication in 2004 by the U.S. Department of Interior, Office of Inspector General, of “Neither Safe Nor Secure: An Assessment of Indian Detention Facilities” documenting long-standing problems in many Indian Country correctional facilities.

The DOJ maintains the only detailed, long-term records on these facilities. The data collection is a key component of the requirement of the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 to collect and improve data on crime and justice in Indian Country.

This task is made challenging by the lack of sufficient funding to these facilities to allow for automated recordkeeping, the high turnover of staff, and communication difficulties inherent to the frontier areas of the U.S. (e.g., poor mail delivery, little broadband access).

Our Solutions 

  • To ensure that we achieve accurate data from nearly 100% of the jails and detention faculties, we implemented special data collection techniques, including fax delivery of materials rather than using mail. 
  • We also developed strong personal relationships with staff to encourage loyalty to the data collection and to secure good cooperation in data validation.

The Results 

  • Westat has consistently maintained response rates of greater than 90% and verified the data sent to us by more than 70% of the jail and facility administrators to ensure that it is accurate.
  • DOJ/Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) prepares an annual report available to the public using these data and use the data themselves to respond to congressional inquiries.
  • In the “Jails in Indian Country, 2014” report, BJS used the data to report on the condition of confinement in Indian Country:
    • At midyear 2014, facilities confined an estimated 2,380 inmates in 79 Indian country jails—a 4% increase from the 2,287 inmates confined at midyear 2013.
    • The number of inmates admitted into Indian country jails during June 2014 (10,460) was nearly 5 times the size of the average daily population (2,170).
    • For the 79 facilities operating in June 2014, the expected average length of stay at admission for inmates was about 6 days.
    • Since 2010, about 3 in 10 inmates held in Indian country jails have been confined for a violent offense, a decline from about 4 in 10 since peaking in 2007.
    • Domestic violence (12%) and aggravated or simple assault (9%) accounted for the largest percentage of violent offenders at midyear 2014, followed by unspecified violence (5%) and rape or sexual assault (2%).

Our Client 

Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)