The current state of collection and availability of criminal justice data across the country is in a “dire state” and lacks overall transparency, according to a revealing new report from Measures for Justice.
In most cases across the country, some data regarding the justice system – such as demographics on arrests and incarceration, pre-trial and bail information, as well as release data – does not. are simply not collected or are not available to researchers due to legal or administrative protection.
Because of this lack of transparency, advocates argue that it limits their ability to inform policy decisions and to trust the system and its current state.
“The country’s criminal justice data infrastructure is archaic and collapsing â, The Hill reports in a recent article co-authored with Arnold Ventures concerning the last Measures for justice report. âState by state, we cannot track information about people who are being processed by our courts and prisons. “
This alarming revelation was made possible by the extensive research and methodology of Measures for justice, which collected data from 20 states, spanning over 1,200 counties with centralized data systems, “enabling the most comprehensive measurement of state criminal justice systems to date.”
Beyond examining the data of everything from arrest to post-conviction, the researchers emphasized that for lasting and meaningful change to occur for systemic issues in the justice system, we need to community engagement, data backed by quality research that is then used to assess where we can improve the system, according to the report.
Some of the report’s main findings include that each state analyzed lacked important data for key metrics.
In addition, of the 20 states analyzed, only Alabama, Pennsylvania and Indiana had reliable data on âindigentâ defendants, in other words people needing help because they could not afford it. to hire a private lawyer. This is a critical gap, the researchers write, noting that as nearly 70 percent of cases across the country are closed with a public defender, the need could be much greater than currently understood.
Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were the alone two states in the group analyzed where researchers found data on pre-trial practice, and this was limited at best.
Fortunately, local politicians across the aisle are rallying to improve data collection systems at the state level. Since 2011, Utah has passed no less than 12 data laws, the most recent a bill which impacts the law enforcement data that is collected and dictates for what purpose its use for evidence-based decision making, The hill details.
Likewise, Florida has adopted an incredibly “forward thinking” data transparency law which requires contributors to provide data and justice statistics defined to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), paving the way for the discovery of new data, according to the Criminal Justice Data Transparency website.
While these changes are significant, local agencies and advocates say they need the leadership and support of the federal government.
The researchers argue that the nation must make progress on three fronts to help resolve the country’s criminal justice data crisis at the local and federal levels.
For starters, they write that there must be an increase in data legislation, as well as an increase in data collection standards. Measures for justice found that it starts with finding out what data a state or county has, and identifying what it doesn’t, in order to fill in the gaps.
Next, the researchers write that communities and practitioners must be equipped with their own data collection tools, and that individuals must be empowered to collect data in their daily work, whether they are police, prosecutors or judicial officers. .
Finally, the researchers note that courts can also standardize their data analysis by joining the National Open Court Data Standards (NODS) initiative and making this information available to researchers and reformers on an ongoing basis.
“Without a solid foundation for evidence-based policy making, it becomes impossible to track results, âthe authors argue in their report. âThe reform is stifled. Racial differences persist. Broken promises and opaque systems undermine public trust.
The report concludes by detailing: âWe challenge state legislators and the federal government to fund and modernize data infrastructure, demand data transparency, and adopt national data standards. “
The full report can be accessible here.
Further Reading: How Data-Driven Policies Can Help Former Inmates Gain a ‘Second Chance’