According to the report derived from an expert roundtable, “comprehensive criminal justice reform should be an important next step on the administration’s agenda, to help fulfill the hopes of all the civil rights protests in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death. Implementation of hallmark justice reforms could have a significant impact for generations to come.”
The report further explains that “an ambitious criminal justice reform agenda will require a strong commitment to building a modern, nimble, comprehensive data infrastructure. Accomplishing this goal will serve multiple purposes. An effective data infrastructure will promote transparency and allow the public to hold its officials accountable. A modern data architecture will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of justice agencies. A strong data system will provide a baseline for measuring progress toward better outcomes, in particular progress toward racial equity.
Unfortunately, criminal justice reform is made more difficult by data that is incomplete and fraught with error. Indeed, due to the lack of reliable data, it is often difficult even to document systemic racism in the justice system (such as racial disparities in misdemeanor arrests), let alone to promote solutions to the fair and impartial administration of justice.
In this moment of heightened awareness of the fragile compact between the public and those whose job it is to make our communities safe, it is time to reimagine both the system and its underlying data infrastructure. Recommendations toward that end developed by a group of experts include:
- Recommendation #1: Establish an accurate baseline of facts about the criminal justice system, and envision a 21st century system
- Recommendation #2: Radically increase accountability of the justice system through data transparency
- Recommendation #3: Modernize the production and dissemination of criminal justice statistics
- Recommendation #4: Improve the integrity of data used for decision-making , research, and policy
- Recommendation #5: Make criminal justice data more actionable, by linking data for greater insight, and by building capacity to turn insight into action
- Recommendation #6: Harness modern technology to equip decision-makers with more timely and accurate information
The so-called criminal justice system is not a single system at all. Instead, it is a menagerie of many thousands of municipal, county, state, and federal agencies, each with their own data systems. This extraordinary fragmentation makes it difficult to track what is going on. Reliable and systematic national data is lacking to describe the following key issues, and to disaggregate results by race and ethnicity, gender identity, or disability status, and other characteristics such as neighborhood, age, or income:
- Public trust in the fairness of the justice system
- The degree to which discretion is fair and impartial at each step of engagement–such as whether to stop, whether to detain or search, whether to arrest, whether to charge and with what severity, whether to offer a plea and at what level
- The extent of violence, injury, harassment, discrimination, or disrespect that occurs in interactions between members of the public, or those in custody with officers and other employees of justice agencies
- How individuals are treated during their custodial sentences and how well they are prepared for success upon release
- How individuals are supported during non-custodial sentences (e.g. probation and parole) and how well services are tailored to individual needs
- How victims of crime are treated and how that experience shapes their lives
It is time to reimagine the system. Reform is critically important, but a precondition of effective reform is the foundational data that can guide, fine tune, and measure the success of reforms. The data systems that support the operations of the nation’s criminal justice agencies must be improved and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the federal agency responsible for regular reporting of survey and administrative data, must be strengthened. Beyond administrative data, the federal government should invest in a regular series of community-level surveys that can measure victimization, fear of crime, and public trust in the operations of the justice system.
The whole approach to the federal role in crime and justice data needs a complete re-examination. Now is the time to strengthen the data and statistical infrastructure—at the local, state and federal level—to support deep criminal justice reform, promote racial justice, and restore public trust.”
The report provides recommendations and implementation action steps to improve the quality and availability of data for criminal justice researchers, policymakers, and the public to inform and improve the fair administration of justice. The recommendations reflect input from over 50 criminologists, statisticians, technologists, and justice practitioners. A total of 140 ideas were generated and 34 specific recommended actions were considered in a virtual roundtable discussion.
To view the report, please visit: https://craftmediabucket.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/AV-CJ-Data-Report-v7-1.pdf.