Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Making the case for data collection and analysis in the criminal justice system

Given the vast amount of resources our criminal justice system - encompassing the courts, the corrections system, and the police work required after the point of an arrest - consumes, it's astonishing that we haven't invested the resources to figure out how to make the system more efficient. Yesterday, for example, NPR reported that Illinois can no longer afford to operate its maximum security prison.

Anne Milgram makes the case for data collection and analysis in today's Atlantic. She says:

The evidence is stark: Each year, there are approximately 13 million admissions to local jails, and, according to the FBI, fewer than 5 percent of arrests are for violent crimes. Yet many of those arrested are kept in jail for long periods even before they are convicted. According to Department of Justice (DOJ) data from 2004 (the latest available) on felony defendants in major counties, offenders who do not make bail spend an average of 121 days behind bars before even going to trial. And at any given time, nearly two-thirds of those in America's local jails are pretrial defendants. Housing this population, according to DOJ, costs state and local governments $9 billion a year.
The point is not that 13 million jail admissions are too many or too few. Nor is it that $9 billion is too much or too little to spend incarcerating defendants before trial. The point is simply that, without using technology to collect and analyze the relevant data, we simply don't know. And given the size of these figures -- not to mention their importance to public safety, government spending, and the fair administration of justice -- not knowing is no longer an option.
It's worth clicking through and reading the full article.

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