Understanding Trends in Jail Population in Durham, North Carolina, 2014 to 2019

This report and related research brief provide key metrics on the jail population in Durham County, North Carolina, including trends in jail admissions, length of stay, and jail bed days utilized from 2014 to 2019. These reports provide insights into the factors driving jail populations in this facility and highlights policy changes that may be influencing the number of people admitted to jail and how long they stay in jail. This study was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and is part of a series of studies on jail populations in jurisdictions that make up The Research Network on Misdemeanor Justice (RNMJ), a project of the Data Collaborative for Justice (DCJ).

Key Findings:

  • Admissions to the Durham County Detention Facility declined by 25% over the project period, from 11,987 in 2014 to 9,029 in 2019. Declines were driven by reductions in admissions for misdemeanors, nonviolent felonies, and traffic/other violations. From 2014 to 2019, admissions for misdemeanor offenses declined by 25%, for nonviolent felonies by 23%, and for other violations by 40%. Over the same period, the average daily jail population in Durham decreased by 19% from 521 in 2014 to 423 in 2019.
  • Length of stay is a key determinant of the jail population. Although admissions went down, average length of stay in jail, measured in days, increased by 24%, from 14.8 days in 2014 to 18.4 days in 2019. The 25% reduction in jail admission did not result in a dramatic decrease in cumulative bed days. There was a 6% decrease in the number of cumulative bed days used, from 180,437 in 2014 to 169,781 in 2019.
  • Bail is a key driver of the jail population. Higher bail amounts were associated with longer lengths of stay in jail, and on average bail increased 36% over the study period. People with bail set above $5,000 had average lengths of stay 2 to 4 times higher than those with bail set below $5,000. People with bail set above $5,000 also used the highest number of cumulative bed days, at 46,894 in 2014 (26% of bed days) and 50,018 in 2019 (29% of bed days).
  • There are racial disparities in admissions, length of stay, and bed days used. Black individuals accounted for 69% of jail admissions from 2014 to 2019, despite making up about 37% of the Durham County population. In contrast, White people comprise 43% of the county population and about 16% of jail admissions. Black people also consumed the largest percentage of bed days at over 70% throughout the study period.
  • Readmission to jail is a driver of the jail population. In the cohort of individuals released from jail in 2014, 67% were readmitted to jail by 2019. Of individuals returning to jail, those most likely to be readmitted were Black, male, and aged 35-64. Further, those with a property, weapon, or traffic charge were more likely to be admitted compared to a person, drug, or crime against society charge. Further, if an individual had a prior admission, they were eight times more likely to be readmitted.