Dashboard To Haven

We’re at the end of May which is something that I find hard to believe. This year is flying by, and to be honest, Imma need it to slow down. I have a milestone birthday coming and I am not ready to cross that bridge into the Geritol years and colonoscopies. What I am glad about, this May, is that this issue brings something fresh, and acts as a perfect bridge to the next issue. This time we offer a nod to another local publication, The Portland Anchor, a deep dive with singer/actor Billy Porter before his upcoming Louisville show, and a news story about the challenges of Louisville’s new Jail Population Dashboard. 

As you read more about the Dashboard, I implore you to go to the Louisville Metro website and try to use it for yourself. First, finding the way into the dashboard itself is a difficult task, and then making sense of how the data is presented, even after watching the video, takes some challenge. 

In the story, I spoke with several of the community members and activists who’ve worked on this dashboard, and are now actively using it for data tracking. The problems that I had seem to be a common complaint, and my hope is that the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections takes seriously the concerns and questions the community is raising about this dashboard. It serves no one to withhold information or to present the information in a biased way. At the end, the goal should be the same — basic observation of human rights while people are housed at LMDC. 

I’ve written before about having an issue with how we use our system of corrections for solely punitive means. American justice is not truly concerned with justice, but penalization and dollars. Sometimes, we penalize the wrong things for the sake of money. For instance, according to the court status in the dashboard, many of the individuals incarcerated at LMDC are there because of small bonds, less than $500 or $1000. Generally, low bonds mean low-risk crimes. Many have also been there for more than a week, and likely, because of the low bonds, they presents no danger. So while our jail claims to struggle with overcrowding, there are people who could be out of the jail population but simply don’t have the funds to post their bond, even if that bond is low. So they are held in jail, filling space, and giving LMDC license to charge taxpayers for their care. 

If it seems like a racket, I feel that it kind of is. Tax money is reliable. Holding a low-bond inmate and drawing tax dollars seems to have been working out as a nice budget boost for many municipal jail systems. What happens if the public understands this? If the public could easily access and understand the Jail Population Dashboard, this money haven might come to an end. Maybe then low-risk populations could go home, serve house arrest or community service, and save the available jail space for prisoners who seem to need more restriction. 

The dashboard brings some hope that Mayor Greenberg is offering more transparency but until we see the dashboard functioning at the capacity it could, I think the skepticism is justified. Improving the dashboard, and giving citizens a way to understand how and why people are incarcerated is important for the taxpayer and the safety of those incarcerated.