The US is in need of a better criminal justice system (71 percent of Americans agree), but in order to make this happen, we need better, more accurate and transparent data on prison populations. That’s the message from Vera, a nonprofit focused on tackling America’s most pressing injustices.
To create better prison data, Vera has teamed up with Google.org, a division of the search giant that supports nonprofits by providing them with funding, technical expertise, tools, and volunteers to collect better data. In helping Vera, Google says it contributed $4 million to the organization and loaned it 12 fellows who worked pro bono for the nonprofit for a period of six months.
As Google points out, there’s an obvious need for more timely and accurate data when it comes to prison populations. The last nationwide census of the country’s prison system was conducted in 2013, while the most recent federal government estimate of the US’s prisoner population dates back to 2017. With just how many individuals pass through the criminal justice system each year, out of date data doesn’t help anyone make informed policy decisions.
The teamwork between Vera and Google has led to a new, detailed report that found, amongst other things, that the overall midyear prison population was approximately 1.8 percent higher in 2019 than it was during the same time period in 2017.
There’s always the question of how, if at all, lawmakers will use this data to implement new policies. But as Jasmine Heiss, a campaign director with Vera, points out, it’s important to get it out there in order for informed decisions to be made.