« "Can Restorative Justice Conferencing Reduce Recidivism? Evidence From the Make-it-Right Program" | Main | Noticing the notable number of public defenders among Prez Biden's judicial nominations »

August 17, 2021

Highlighting the need and value of investing in criminal justice infrastructure in the form of good data

Amy Bach and Jeremy Travis have this notable new Hill commentary headlined "Don't ignore the infrastructure of criminal justice." I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

Advocates for criminal justice reform from different fields and backgrounds are all reaching the same conclusion: Any attempt at real, lasting change will require a significant investment in our ability to collect, store, and share data. We cannot confirm that new policies work without tracking their outcomes.  We cannot address racial injustice without data about policing practices, court processes, jail populations, and prison systems....

The country’s criminal justice data infrastructure is antiquated and crumbling.  State by state, we cannot track information about the people who are processed through our courts and jails.  Measures for Justice recently released a report documenting the extent of the country’s criminal justice data gap based on an analysis of 20 states.  In seventeen, court data on indigent defendants was entirely unavailable. In eighteen, data about the pretrial process, such as bail, detention and release practices, were practically nonexistent.  These findings scratch the surface of a nationwide problem: We can’t access information necessary to measure the success (or failure) of politically controversial reforms, such as the elimination of cash bail, or hold informed, productive debates about the next steps.

Similarly, as the nation grapples with the spike in gun violence, it remains striking how little we actually know about the use — and misuse — of firearms.  Last year the Expert Panel on Firearms Data Infrastructure, convened by the nonpartisan and objective research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, released a report documenting how the federal government can repair and expand our disordered and segmented gun data systems.  Any reasoned debate on firearms policy requires a shared set of facts — and the nation simply doesn’t have those facts....

[Current political debates] all underscore the need to improve data infrastructure for our sprawling, uncoordinated, and incredibly expensive criminal justice system.  State and federal spending on criminal justice has grown almost 400 percent over the past 20 years — one of the fastest-growing line items in state budgets — yet we remain unable to answer simple questions about how it functions....

Closing the country’s data gap will require setting national standards for data collection and release.  Congress also needs to provide support and incentives for the local agencies that all too often rely on outdated data collection systems — if they have a system at all.  The task may seem daunting, but it is well within the abilities — and budget — of Congress and the White House to tackle....

But without a solid foundation for evidence-based policy making, it becomes impossible to track outcomes.  Reform is stifled.  Racial discrepancies continue.  Failed promises and opaque systems undermine public trust.  In the same way that roads or education are foundational to a larger economic project, good data serve as a foundation for the larger project of public safety and racial justice.  It is a project that Congress cannot ignore.

August 17, 2021 at 08:00 AM | Permalink

Comments

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB