Is Your Justice System Working? A New Tool Pries Open County-Level Data

A free data tool launched today by Measures for Justice (MFJ) is aimed at providing policymakers, practitioners and journalists with a county-level view at how criminal cases are handled from arrest to post-conviction.

A free data tool launched today by Measures for Justice (MFJ) is aimed at providing policymakers, practitioners and journalists with a county-level view at how criminal cases are handled from arrest to post-conviction.

The tool, which so far provides a portal to data from over 300 counties in six states,  represents a “treasure trove for communities that will now have access to reliable, informative and comprehensive data about their criminal justice systems,” said Amy Bach, President and Executive Director of the Rochester, NY-based Measures for Justice.

Amy Bach

“Our Portal is intended to be a starting point for conversations about how to address the multiple issues facing the criminal justice system.”

The six states covered so far are Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Utah, North Carolina, and Washington. The project began over six years ago with funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Google and the MacArthur Foundation, among others.

The tool is available here.

MFJ says it aims to measure 20 states by 2020, with support from existing funders as well as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The portal allows users to review and compare performance data within and across states, and to break them down by race/ethnicity; sex; indigent status; age; offense type; offense severity; and attorney type.

It comprises data that has been passed through 32 performance measures developed by some of the country’s most renowned criminologists and scholars. The measures address three primary objectives of criminal justice systems: Public Safety; Fair Process; and Fiscal Responsibility.

Editor’s Note: For TCR’s interview with MFJ President Amy Bach, please click here.

The Center on Media, Crime and Justice, publisher of The Crime Report, is working with MFJ to train journalists in using the portal. Deadline for applying to the training session, scheduled June 12-13 in New York City, is today. Applications are available here.  Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Measures for Justice: ‘America, How Are We Doing?’

A free data portal to be launched next week will provide the first–ever window into how justice is done (or not done) at the county level. Founder Amy Bach tells TCR how it can be used by anyone who intersects with the criminal justice system, from prosecutors and journalists to ordinary Americans.

For the past six years, Measures for Justice has been hard at work on a dream tool for policy analysts, journalists and criminal justice activists. The tool, a free criminal justice data portal that so far covers over 300 counties in six states—with more on the way—will be launched next week. Lead funders for the project include the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Google.org and the MacArthur Foundation.

The founder and director is Amy Bach, a member of the New York Bar and a journalist who has written for The Nation, The American Lawyer and New York Magazine, among other publications.  She  chats with TCR Deputy Editor Victoria Mckenzie about how her journalism background led to creating the nation’s first ambitious attempt to gather county-level data on the criminal justice system, how journalists and policymakers can use it, and why she believes it will make a difference in the lives of ordinary Americans.

The Crime Report: How did your career in journalism lead to an enormous data collection project?

Amy Bach: In 2009, I wrote a book called Ordinary Injustice; How America Holds Court. I sat in many courtrooms across America, and I learned how it was possible for people in the justice system who have the very best intentions to turn a blind eye to enormous problems, because they couldn’t see what was going on. It’s not their fault— they don’t have data. People can’t compare themselves to a county next door, they have no idea how they’re doing. The conclusion of the book says we have to find a way to measure justice, and put it in a form so that everyone can see it.

Every civic institution uses data to monitor performance, right? There are basic measures for hospitals, like mortality rates; in schools, you’ve got test scores. And all of this data can be accessed by anyone. But people in the system in criminal justice don’t have those tools. If you wanted to assess your physical health– what’s your BMI? What’s your heart rate, what’s your blood pressure? Together, these give us a sense of where we need to focus our attention.

Amy Bach

The same applies to all of the work in the criminal justice system. We need the criminal justice system measures to get a picture of how various [local] criminal justice systems are working. There are more than 3,000 counties in America, and each one has its own criminal justice system. Right now, we focus on whatever’s on the front page: if there are shootings in Chicago, if there are bail problems in Houston. But is that really what’s going on in America? We don’t know, because we haven’t had measures to go across counties and we haven’t had the data.

We’re non-partisan, non-profit, and we’re dedicated to bringing transparency to criminal justice, to enable more informed discussions and decision-making. And these are the things that are really different about us: we do the whole system, from arrests to post-conviction, and we do it on the county level.

All the performance measures go toward one of three neutral goals: public safety, fiscal responsibility and fair process. So the idea is if you’re a money person, there’s something for you in fiscal responsibility. if you’re a public safety person, if you don’t want someone hurting your neighborhood, you get that. If you believe that people should be treated based on due process no matter what the color of your skin, there are fair process measures.

What’s revolutionary about our work is that we’re bringing this to the county level for the first time.

TCR: How did you identify the measures that you’ve chosen?

AB: Measures for Justice was founded in 2011, and the first thing that we did was bring together a “Data Council.” These were people who are experts in local measurement in the United States. They came to our offices in Rochester, NY, and we ended up hiring most of [them]  after we got some funding, and then we created two more councils.

The councils have some of the best people in the US— for example, we’ve got the two former heads of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Jim Lynch and Bill Sabol. We’ve got the former head of the National Institute of Justice, and Michael Jacobson, who’s head of the Institute for State and Local Governance, which manages the Macarthur Safety and Justice Challenge. They’ve gone through many, many versions of the measures to figure out what is a valid measure…

TCR: Did you have a wish list, or did you begin with data that was possible to find?

AB: The very first outside council came up with a group of dream measures. Then, we tried to find a county that we could get data for against the measures…so we started in Milwaukee County, because one of the members of our data council was John Chisholm, the district attorney.  We started collecting all of the available data— prosecutor data, public defender data—and then we saw that there was a state database with something called the administrative office of the court, and we got that too. In that database, we found data for about 70% of our measures—so instead of measuring Milwaukee, we measured 72 counties.

Then we created more measures, and eliminating others, as we tried to figure out what was valid and possible. We went to every county in Wisconsin, and tried to get prosecutor and public defender and sheriffs’ data. Then we keep on showing it to people in the state, in the counties, saying “here’s some analysis, does this make sense to you?”

We showed it prosecutors, public defenders, representatives of the courts, judges. We also were funded by the Department of Justice to do a stakeholder initiative, where we went to five counties and showed them their data, and got feedback and input to make the measures better. Then, we had many other people who reviewed the portal over and over again to make sure everything was right. And if something wasn’t right, we eliminated it or qualified it, or refined it.

TCR: is this meant to be a policy tool? Who is it meant for, and how do you expect people to use the portal?

AB: It’s meant for everyone, and that’s really important. It’s meant for insiders, people who work in the system for example; [But it’s also] meant for people who want to write about the justice system, or for anybody who is a citizen [and] has felt that they want to understand their justice system more, or has felt that there is something that needs to be improved. They can look now and see patterns.

We went to one prosecutor in Winnebago County, Wisconsin, and he noticed when we showed him his data that poor people were failing to pay low bail at a much higher rate than rich people. And this might seem intuitive, but he figured out that poor people were being detained simply because they were poor, and not because they were a flight risk, or [endangering] public safety.

So he decided that poor defendants who were jailed for failing to pay low bail over the weekend or holidays didn’t need a prosecutor to present his or her probable cause hearing, which means judges can free these defendants if they want much earlier. The result is that the county treats defendants more equitably while saving itself $64,000.

There will be many, many stories of people using our data to notice things. And sometimes they’re doing things well: one prosecutor in Utah noticed that his prosecutors were reducing charges less often than the state average, and that they had fewer dismissed cases than the state average. The portal allowed him to verify that his team was making good decisions up front. That’s a huge goal.

There’s a story in [my] book about a public defender who pleads 48 people guilty in a day, and thinks he’s doing a great job because speed equals success. Is that really the right measure, or is there another measure? That’s what Measures for Justice is about.

TCR: What’s been surprising about this process?

AB: I think that prosecutors are going to be our early adapters. They enjoy playing with the data, they’re creative, gregarious, and want to do better. We didn’t realize that when we started out. If you are a prosecutor, and you see an issue through our data, you can always go to your community and say, look—there was no way for me to know this before, [and] here’s what I’m going to do about it. And that’s the idea of Measures for Justice.

TCR: What’s an example of some measures that is still not possible to get?

AB: What’s the … [the number of] people held for failing to pay low bail, or [those who have had charges reduced], or cases dismissed? Another important thing to know is that we have filters. You scroll across the page, and you pick some counties— you can pick counties in a state, or among states– so you could compare Raleigh to Milwaukee to Seattle. Then, you pick a measure: for instance, people held on bail for under $500. And then you can filter the measure by race:  white vs. non-white, sex, indigent vs. non-indigent, age, and type of attorney, type of crime, or level of crime.

TCR: Everything that you’re saying about how the justice system is blind due to lack of data seems to apply equally to the media.

AB: Now, journalists will have a way to look across the entire state, tell stories, and find stories that they never could have before. In order to do this project, you have to have enormous experience in criminal justice data, and substantial resources, [and now] we’re bringing those resources to everybody— whether you’re a journalist, or somebody who works in the community, or someone who is a concerned citizen or an advocate.

Imagine that your whole life depends on this. Imagine that you’ve got a family, you’ve got kids at home, and you’ve been arrested for a misdemeanor. And it’s your first crime, you haven’t had any previous arrests in the past 3 years, and you think that all the white people, or people with means get diverted, but you’re not being diverted. And you think there’s something wrong, but you can’t prove it. How could you possibly prove the disparity?

Victoria Mckenzie

Now there’s a single measure where you can. and not only can you do it in your county, you can do it in the county next door, the county above you, the county to the south, the county to the east, and you can look across the whole state. and if you think it’s messed up in your state, you can compare it to another state.  It’s the first time that you can be able to reach into the heart of America and ask, “How are we doing?”

 Editors’ Note:  The Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College, TCR’s publisher, is holding a special symposium next month (June 12-13) to train journalists in using the portal . Interested reporters can apply to attend through this link. Space is limited.

 Victoria Mckenzie is deputy editor of The Crime Report. TCR will make the portal available online via Measures for Justice after the launch. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Police Vehicle Chases Killed One a Day Over 20 Years

Federal highway data shows more than 7,000 deaths resulting from police vehicle pursuits between 1996 and 2015. A Bureau of Justice Statistics analysis shows that fatalities peaked in 2006 and 2007, but USA Today has reported that the data likely understate the death toll because some police reports don’t disclose chases.

Between 1996 and 2015, police vehicle pursuits resulted in more than 6,000 fatal crashes, says the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the U.S. Bureau of Statistics (BJS) reported today. These crashes resulted in more than 7,000 deaths, an average of 355 per year (about one per day). Fatalities peaked in 2006 and 2007, with more than 400 deaths each year. (USA Today, also drawing from federal highway data over a much longer period, has reported that at least 11,506 people, including 6,300 fleeing suspects, were killed in police chases from 1979 through 2013. The newspaper said those figures likely understate the actual death toll because federal officials use police reports to determine if a crash was chase-related, and some reports do not disclose that a chase occurred.)

BJS said that state and local law enforcement agencies conducted an estimated 68,000 vehicle pursuits in 2012. All local police departments serving 250,000 or more residents and nearly all (95 percent) of those serving 50,000 to 249,999 residents conducted vehicle pursuits that year.  As of January 2013, all state police and highway patrol agencies and all local police departments serving 25,000 or more residents had a written vehicle pursuit policy, BJS said. An estimated 2 percent of local police departments and 1 percent of sheriffs’ offices prohibited vehicle pursuits. No state police or highway patrol agencies prohibited pursuits. Most local police departments (71 percent), sheriffs’ offices (63 percent) and state law enforcement agencies (53 percent) restricted pursuits based on specific criteria, such as speed, type of offense and surrounding conditions. The data were based on a 2013 survey by BJS.

 

from https://thecrimereport.org

Report: Death Row Population Declined Slightly to 2,881 in ’15

It was the 15th consecutive year in which the number of condemned inmates in state and federal prisons had declined, according to a new statistical brief by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

A new statistical brief reports that 33 states and the federal Bureau of Prisons held a total of 2,881 inmates under sentence of death at the end of 2015, 61 fewer than at year’s end in 2014. It was the 15th consecutive year in which the number of condemned inmates decreased, according to “Capital Punishment, 2014-2015,” by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. Fourteen states and the federal system received a total of 49 inmates under sentence of death in 2015.

Other key findings from 2015 year-end data: Six states executed 28 inmates. Twenty-one states removed 82 inmates from under sentence of death by means other than execution. Overall, 20 states held fewer inmates under sentence of death than a year earlier, five states and the federal system held more inmates, and nine held the same number. The largest decline in inmates under a death sentence occurred in Texas (down 17), followed by Georgia (down eight), and Missouri (down seven). The governor of Maryland commuted the sentences of the four remaining inmates under sentence of death in the state.

from https://thecrimereport.org

What Causes Violent Crime? New Video

What causes violent crime in the United States? What are the factors contributing to violent crime?  What are the root causes? This is a new video from Crime in America.Net addressing one of the most requested articles on the website. For a complete understanding of the top factors driving violent crime, see Factors Contributing to Violence. […]

What causes violent crime in the United States? What are the factors contributing to violent crime?  What are the root causes? This is a new video from Crime in America.Net addressing one of the most requested articles on the website. For a complete understanding of the top factors driving violent crime, see Factors Contributing to Violence. […]

from http://www.crimeinamerica.net

Juveniles And Violent Crime

Subtitles Per the FBI: Out of 4,608,000 offenders arrested or connected to a crime, 465,000 were juveniles with 697,000 unknown. Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics: During 2004–13, adolescents made up 10 percent of the U.S. population age 12 or older but were offenders in 22 percent of all nonfatal violent victimizations. Author By Leonard […]

Subtitles Per the FBI: Out of 4,608,000 offenders arrested or connected to a crime, 465,000 were juveniles with 697,000 unknown. Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics: During 2004–13, adolescents made up 10 percent of the U.S. population age 12 or older but were offenders in 22 percent of all nonfatal violent victimizations. Author By Leonard […]

from http://www.crimeinamerica.net

Another Fact-Check of Crime Rates Finds Trump Is Wrong

Why do the president and his new attorney general keep repeating statements about crime that are plainly false? They want to make the country feel less safe so Trump can sell some of his policies, such as the border wall and Muslim ban, according to one crime expert.

With a series of charts and data, the Minneapolis Star Tribune attempts to fact-check the relentless assertions by President Trump that violent crime in America has increased. Like many others, the paper finds the opposite is true–that crime has been on a steep decline since the 1990s and is at its lowest points in decades, with some localized exceptions. That fact is important because Trump has the power to drive the national conversation and influence criminal justice policy. Those policies can come at a steep cost to the taxpayers; the War on Drugs is estimated to have cost more than $1 trillion. “If you start with bad facts, you’re going to get bad policies that might make the country less safe, that might strain relationships further between police and communities of color, that send more people to prison for little reason,” said Ames Grawert of the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.

Grawert says Trump’s crime assertions are plainly false. He said he believes the Trump administration is purposely overstating the problem of violent crime to generate support for policies like the border wall and the travel ban. “They only make sense as an overreaction to a clear-and-present danger,” he said. “So I think he needs to make the country feel less safe than it is to sell some of these policies.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ media office declined to comment or to provide an alternative data source to support Trump’s statements.

from http://thecrimereport.org

Needed: Better National, Local Data on Shootings

President Trump yesterday ordered an evaluation of the “availability and adequacy of crime-related data,” and ways to improve data collection that “will aid in the understanding of crime trends and in the reduction of crime.” Better data would be a welcome development, says crime statistics analyst Jeff Asher.

President Trump yesterday ordered a task force yet to be created to evaluate the “availability and adequacy of crime-related data,” and identify ways to improve data collection that “will aid in the understanding of crime trends and in the reduction of crime.” Better data would be a welcome development, crime statistics analyst Jeff Asher writes in The Trace.. The public’s perceptions of crime often differ from the realities of the problem at a local, state and national level.

Firearms were used in 71.5 percent of homicides nationwide in 2015. In urban areas, it’s closer to 90 percent. There remains a serious information deficit about where shootings occur and who is affected. Asher says. Federal statistics on gun violence are imprecise. At the local level, data collection isn’t much better. Many major  cities don’t even track shootings as a distinct crime category. While the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report does provide national statistics on the types of weapons used in murders and assaults, it does not break down to the city level. Additionally, assaults include instances where an individual is shot at but not injured, which have a tendency to be badly under-reported. Some cities, like Chicago and Louisville, take it upon themselves to count shootings, though their reports won’t make it to the  FBI. Others, like Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Kansas City, and St. Louis, produce publicly available daily murder counts. New Orleans makes a log of all 911 calls available online for public review, and Milwaukee produces data-rich assessments of gun violence patterns.

from http://thecrimereport.org

Is Violent Crime Increasing in the United States? New Video

Is violent crime increasing in the United States? This is a new video from Crime in America.Net addressing the most popular article on the website. For a complete understanding of crime in America, see Violent and Property Crime in the US–Crime in America. For a shorter article addressing most recent increases in crime, see Violent Crime Increased […]

Is violent crime increasing in the United States? This is a new video from Crime in America.Net addressing the most popular article on the website. For a complete understanding of crime in America, see Violent and Property Crime in the US–Crime in America. For a shorter article addressing most recent increases in crime, see Violent Crime Increased […]

from http://www.crimeinamerica.net

High Percentages of Older People Sentenced to Prison

Observations Older individuals are being sentenced to prison at fairly high percentages. Can we assume that older people sentenced have been before the courts too many times for serious crimes? Author Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department […]

Observations Older individuals are being sentenced to prison at fairly high percentages. Can we assume that older people sentenced have been before the courts too many times for serious crimes? Author Leonard A. Sipes, Jr. Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department […]

from http://www.crimeinamerica.net