NC county jail population crept up during August through October of 2020 after pandemic reduction

Seventy-six of 90 county jails in North Carolina that reported data had a three-month increase in jail population after a low point in July 2020, according to a report released Wednesday by the Criminal Justice Innovation Lab at the UNC School of Government.

Despite a small decline from October, the November statewide jail population of 16,952 is still about 15% higher than the July figure of 14,752. The seasonal fluctuation is consistent with the trend in 2019.

(Graphic from UNC SOG Criminal Justice Innovation Lab report, Feb 2021)

Jails usually accommodate pre-trial and short-term detainees, but some county jails have partnerships with state and federal agencies to house their residents. The number of jail residents can be impacted by a combination of factors, including jury trial delays, modified pretrial release policies, and more recently, by efforts to decarcerate inmates during the pandemic over concerns about the congregate nature of jails and the spread of COVID-19.

Overall, the state jail population is low compared to 20,964 in February of last year. Caswell County, for example, reduced its jail population by 65.1% from 66 to 22 in November, according to the report.

There are still counties that reported higher numbers of jail occupants than pre-pandemic levels. Albemarle District Jail in Pasquotank County almost filled 90% of the 248-bed facility with 225 residents in November, as compared to a monthly average of around 176 in 2019, according to the data. The facility has a total of 12 COVID-19 cases, according to the most recent data from the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Prior to April 2020, when a series of CDC guidelines and efforts to reduce the number of people incarcerated went into place, the North Carolina statewide jail population had a year-on-year increase for the first three months. May through November, in turn, recorded a lower number of jail residents statewide compared to 2019.

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