AUSTIN — African Americans in Travis County are disproportionally booked into jail, more subject to discipline in schools, and more prone to experience homelessness, according to the CAN Dashboard, an annual report that tracks local trends in social, health, educational, and economic well being.
According to the CAN Dashboard, African Americans in Travis County are 3.4 times more likely than whites, and 2.2 times more likely than Hispanics to be booked into jail. While African Americans represent eight percent of the total county population, they account for about 21 percent of overall jail bookings.
CAN tracks four broad community goals over time to help identify where attention and action are needed. The first, safe, just and engaged,” measures levels of crime, proportionality of jail bookings, and voting. Findings of high disproportionality in Travis County are outlined in this section of the online Dashboard, which is now live for public review. The CAN Dashboard reports that African Americans are also over-represented in a number of local systems which may influence contact with the criminal justice system, including school discipline, child welfare, and homelessness.
Roger Jefferies, the County Executive for Travis County Justice Planning, served on the committee that chose the proportionality of jail bookings indicator when the CAN Dashboard was created seven years ago. “We were seeking an indicator to measure whether we are a ‘just’ community,” Jefferies said. “This indicator, like all the other indicators on the CAN Dashboard, cannot be addressed by any one agency or organization alone. It will require work across all areas of our community.” Travis County Justice Planning recently applied for a MacArthur Foundation Safety + Justice Challenge Grant. “If approved, this grant will provide resources and expertise to take a closer look at how jails are used in our community and how we can address disproportionate jail use among low-income people and communities of color,” Jefferies said.
“This indicator gets to the heart of what CAN is about — equity and opportunity,” said Erica Saenz, chair of the CAN Board of Directors and Associate Vice President of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at the University of Texas. Saenz chaired a CAN Work Group that developed an on-line toolkit to connect local organizations with resources to improve cultural competence, diversity, and inclusion. This spring, CAN is hosting a series of training workshops for system leaders on how to create culturally competent, diverse and inclusive organizations. “There is something each of us can do to promote equity. Whether we are in law enforcement, education, social services or business, we all have a part to play.”
Other indicators tracked in the “We are safe, just & engaged” section of the CAN Dashboard include local crime rates and voting participation. One target the community has consistently met since 2009, is an annual one percent reduction in the overall crime rate. Travis County also has the lowest violent crime rate among the six largest urban counties in Texas.
The report’s conclusions about voting are mixed. In Travis County, 2014 voter turnout was about 37 percent, virtually unchanged from the 2010 gubernatorial election. However, Austin saw a 250 percent increase in votes cast in the Austin Mayoral and City Council races from the May 2012 elections. This is likely the result of two factors: for the first time, Austin voters elected their council members from single-member districts, and local elections were moved from May to November.
On May 20, the full 2015 Community Dashboard Report will be released by the Community Advancement Network, or CAN, a nonprofit coalition of partners from the government, health, education, business, faith and economic sectors. The Dashboard gauges 17 indicators, including crime, voting, income, food security, housing cost burdened, health, homelessness, obesity, air quality, high school graduation, college success and unemployment.