Annual Survey of Jails, 2021 (ICPSR 38573)

Version Date: Jan 12, 2023 View help for published

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United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics


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  • V1 [2022-12-19] unpublished
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ASJ 2021

The Annual Survey of Jails (ASJ) is the only data collection effort that provides an annual source of data on local jails and jail inmates. Data on the size of the jail population and selected inmate characteristics are obtained every five to six years from the Census of Jails. In each of the years between the complete censuses, a sample survey of jails is conducted to estimate baseline characteristics of the nation's jails and inmates housed in these jails. The 2021 Annual Survey of Jails is the 33rd such survey in a series begun in 1982.

The ASJ supplies data on characteristics of jails such as admissions and releases, growth in the number of jail facilities, changes in their rated capacities and level of occupancy, growth in the population supervised in the community, changes in methods of community supervision, and crowding issues. The ASJ also provides information on changes in the demographics of the jail population, supervision status of persons held, and a count of non-U.S. citizens in custody.

The data presented in this study were collected in the Annual Survey of Jails, 2021. These data are used to track growth in the number of jails and the capacities nationally, changes in the demographics of the jail population and supervision status of persons held, the prevalence of crowding issues, and a count of non-U.S. citizens within the jail population. The data are intended for a variety of users, including Federal and State agencies, local officials in conjunction with jail administrators, researchers, planners, and the public. The reference date for the survey is June 30, 2021.

The 2021 ASJ included a special module to collect data on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on local jails from July 1, 2020, to December 31, 2020. Items included:

  • number of jail inmates at the end of each month from July 2020 to December 2020
  • number of expedited releases from jail due to the pandemic
  • number of COVID-19 tests conducted on confined inmates
  • number of positive tests
  • number of jail staff that tested positive
  • number of jail inmates and staff that died from COVID-19

The data on COVID-19 tests and deaths are in the restricted-use version of the 2021 ASJ data file only

United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Annual Survey of Jails, 2021. Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2023-01-12.

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United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics

city and county

Access to these BJS-sponsored data is restricted. Users interested in obtaining these data must complete a NACJD Restricted Data Use Agreement available from the ResearchDataGov website, specify the reasons for the request, and obtain IRB approval or notice of exemption for their research.

Restricted Data Use Agreements available on the NACJD website are provided for reference only. Please visit the ResearchDataGov website to download the appropriate Restricted Data Use Agreement and submit your request. Once approved, data may be accessed from a requester secure site via ICPSR's secure download procedures.

Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research

2020-07-01 -- 2021-06-30
2021-07 -- 2021-12
  1. From 1982 to 2014, the Census Bureau collected data for the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) Annual Survey of Jails. Beginning in 2015 data for the American Survey on Jails was collected by RTI, International.

  2. The 2021 ASJ has a mid-year reference date corresponding to the last weekday in June (June 30, 2021). ASJ studies prior to 2015 also use this mid-year reference date. In 2015 and 2016, the ASJ data and the Mortality in Correctional Institutions data were collected simultaneously, and used a year-end reference date of December 31st. The MCI and ASJ were again separated in 2017, and the study reverted to the mid-year reference date.


Data were obtained by mailed questionnaires and web form reporting. The ASJ collection began in July of 2021, and ended in December of the same year.

BJS has consistently maintained high survey and item response rates. In an effort to minimize respondent burden and maximize response, the data collection plan allows for the jail respondents to submit data by mailing their reply in a postage-paid envelope or by fax, in addition to the internet-based reporting system (which BJS implemented and redesigned in 2011).

To maximize the accuracy of survey, at the direction of BJS, data collection staff conduct out-of-range analysis of critical items and use the results from this analysis to prioritize follow-up contacts. Follow-up telephone calls and emails to non respondents are used to encourage high response rates. These methods have proved effective in reaching a 97% response rate while minimizing missing data.

The ASJ uses a stratified probability sampling design based on jail population data collected through the most recent Census of Jails (COJ). Jails in the ASJ sample are surveyed annually until the next sample is drawn. The ASJ sample is drawn at the jail jurisdiction level. When a jail jurisdiction with multiple jail operators or facilities is sampled, data are collected from all reporting units within that jail jurisdiction.

The most recent sample refresh occurred in 2020, where a sample of 899 jail jurisdictions was selected to represent the approximately 2,850 jail jurisdictions nationwide based on the 2019 COJ. In selecting jails, all jurisdictions were grouped into 10 strata based on their inmate population and the presence of juveniles at midyear 2019 (table 1). In 8 of the 10 strata, a random sample of jail jurisdictions was selected. The remaining two strata were designated as certainty strata in which all jail jurisdictions were selected. One certainty stratum consisted of all jails that were operated jointly by two or more jurisdictions (referred to as regional jails). The other certainty stratum consisted of all jail jurisdictions that:

  • held juvenile inmates and 500 or more inmates on June 28, 2019, or
  • held only adult inmates and 750 or more inmates on June 28, 2019.

Four of the 899 sampled jail jurisdictions were out of scope due to closure at the time of the 2021 ASJ data collection. As a result, the 2021 ASJ target sample consisted of 895 active jail jurisdictions, represented by 940 reporting units.

BJS recommends aggregating reporting units into jail jurisdictions and analyzing data at the jurisdiction level. Aggregation can be performed in statistical programs such as SPSS ("aggregate" function), SAS (PROC SUMMARY or PROC MEANS function), or STATA ("collapse" function) with the JURISID variable (jurisdiction ID) as the classification variable. Aggregation based on JURISID creates a file where each record corresponds to a single jail jurisdiction. In performing the aggregation, sum up analysis variables (e.g., confined population) and take the average of the weight variable (FINALWT) within each jurisdiction. FINALWT is constant across reporting units within a jurisdiction and reflects the weight given to the sampled jurisdiction, adjusted for non-response.

Cross-sectional, Longitudinal: Trend / Repeated Cross-section

All active jail jurisdictions (i.e., counties, municipalities, boroughs, etc.) in the United States as of June 30, 2021, excluding jails in Indian countries.

jail facilities

Item response rates ranged from 95% to 100%.



2023-01-12 The "Jail Inmates in 2021 - Statistical Tables" report was added to the codebook.

2022-12-19 ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Standardized missing values.
  • Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.

The weight variables FINALWT 'Final weight' and DESIGNWT 'Design Weight' are included in the data. Please see documentation for further information on the weight variables provided.



  • The public-use data files in this collection are available for access by the general public. Access does not require affiliation with an ICPSR member institution.

  • One or more files in this data collection have special restrictions. Restricted data files are not available for direct download from the website; click on the Restricted Data button to learn more.