Floridians interested in crime and the criminal justice system in their own communities have a new tool at their disposal.
At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the nonprofit Measures for Justice (MFJ) launched a first-of-its-kind Data Portal seeking to bring transparency to the criminal justice process — from arrest to post-conviction at the county level — throughout Florida and other parts of the nation.
The portal contains criminal justice statistics from 300 county court systems in six different states. In addition to Florida, the site takes criminal justice information from Utah, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Washington. plans to expand up to 20 more states in the future.
MFJ plans to expand the portal for up to 20 more states.
Years in the making, the project was spurred on by MFJ’s executive director Amy Bach after the publication of “Ordinary Injustice,” her 2009 book which advocated for better measures across jurisdictions. Ordinary Injustice has won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.
“The idea was that you can’t change what you can’t see right now, so how are you know what’s going on?” Bach said Tuesday from her organization’s headquarters in Rochester, New York. “If I ask you where are the good public schools, you could absolutely tell me which neighborhood to live in, but what about the water supply? Or how’s the criminal justice system? We don’t know these things because we don’t have measures, we don’t put data against them.”
Statistics in the Florida portal covers 2009-2013. Bach said that the initial six states included those where court data was available in bulk.
The project is gathering support. Earlier this year, Google gave MFJ a $1.5 million grant, and Mark Zuckerberg‘s Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative announced Tuesday it will award the organization $6.5 million to expand into California.
MFJ compiles data on 32 distinct metrics that indicate how equitable a given county’s justice system might be (20 metrics used for Florida). While the website doesn’t tell you what to do, Bach said every metric goes toward one of three goals: public safety, fiscal responsibility, and fair process.
Among those filtered metrics include the number of nonviolent misdemeanor offenders the court’s sentence to jail time, and how many people are in jail because they failed to pay bail of less than $500.
It also filters statistics such as sex, age, race and court type, though in Florida it needs to be noted that Hispanics are not a separate category, and are listed along whites.
“The idea is that we believe in America based on the Constitution, that due process should be delivered equally across demographics, and that basic legal services should be delivered equally across demographics,” Bach said.
Bach and her team at MFJ gave a presentation of the portal to the Florida District Attorneys Association and to other practitioners across the state seeking their feedback. That included contacting state attorneys like Bill Cervone in Gainesville, Aramis Ayala in Orange/Osceola County, and Andrew Warren in Hillsborough County.
“This database will be an invaluable tool for advancing our criminal justice system here in Hillsborough County and across our great state,” Warren said on Tuesday. “Our mission at the State Attorney’s Office is to keep our communities safe, reduce recidivism, and fairly and impartially apply the law,” Warren continued. “We must use resources and taxpayer dollars wisely and understand what policies are most effective and where improvements are needed.”
“Having access to similar data for neighboring and other comparable districts through this database gives us insight into where we may be statistical outliers, helping us to identify problems so that we may focus on solutions and make the changes that best serve our community,” Warren said, adding that people can access the relevant information at the Hillsborough State Attorney’s website at sao13th.com under the “Community” tab or at measuresforjustice.org.
Bach said that there is a perception that prosecutors wouldn’t like the portal, but the initial reaction has been the complete opposite.
“Prosecutors love to be able to see how their counties are performing across jurisdictions because if there is something that they want to change, they can go to the prosecutors next door and say how are you doing it, or be relieved to see that they are succeeding.”