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The White House is harnessing data to help reduce local jail populations

The Data-Driven Justice Initiative seeks to move the mentally ill and low-level offenders awaiting trial out of local jails.

California State Prisons Face Overcrowding Issues Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The White House announced a new program that employs data analytics to help communities like San Francisco and Oakland reduce the local jail population.

The Data-Driven Justice Initiative will help identify people suffering from mental health problems who need treatment, not a jail cell. It also would look to reduce the number of those incarcerated while awaiting trial by identifying low-level offenders who pose little danger to the community — but are only in jail because they can’t afford to post bail.

“What we’ve seen, as we’ve engaged state and local leaders across the country, is there are people who simply do not deserve to be in our jails,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Obama.

Sixty-seven state and local governments have committed to participate in the program and use data-driven strategies to cut their jail populations. The numbers are simply staggering: Every year, some 11 million people move through local jails at a cost of $22 billion annually. Some 64 percent of those incarcerated suffer from mental illness and even more — 68 percent — suffer from substance abuse.

Tech companies including Amazon, Palantir, RapidSOS and RTI also will take part. Amazon Web Services, for example, will provide a secure platform for exchanging information. RapidSOS will help law enforcement locate people when they call 911 from their cellphones.

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