Inadequate Data Collection is Slowing Down Criminal Justice Reform

Gavel with open book and scales on table

By Genesis Guzman


ROCHESTER, NY – The fight for a reform in the criminal justice system is being advocated from a variety of different angles, all having a common underlying problem, the lack of collecting and storing of criminal justice data.


Amy Bach, Chief Executive Officer of Measures for Justice, wrote in “Don’t ignore the infrastructure of criminal justice” that there’s a need to explore the problem the justice system has in collecting, storing, and sharing data useful to analyze changes being done by reforms, policies, and laws.


The current nationwide data collecting systems are antiquated and in need of a serious investment and improvement, Bach said, adding that the push for change is not as intimidating as it may seem.


For example Bach compares that “the estimated cost of improving the entire federal firearm data infrastructure — less than $160 million — is cheaper than resurfacing an airport runway.”


Little action has been seen so far, Bach added – federal spending in the criminal justice system has increased almost 400 percent in the last 20 years but even still it is yet to be understood and used in a way that can make a difference.  There are no appropriate statistics and data to understand what impact this spending has had.


Measures for Change released a report documenting the lack of adequate data collection happening in court, in 17 out of the 20 states analyzed court data on impoverished defendants was entirely unavailable. Data including bail, detention, and release practices where practically nonexistent.


The report proved there is a lack of appropriate data collecting tactics being used today.  With this lack of material reforms like the elimination of cash bail can’t be addressed because there is no information to discuss.


The studies note tht an improvement in data collection has an impact on a much larger scale.  Being able to analyze how policies have affected people and policing practices is necessary to determine whether or not they are effective.  Leading to a much larger reform in areas of criminal justice that need to be addressed like racial inequalities and public safety.


The issue of racial injustice, critics say, is dissected through various aspects of the justice system like policing practices, court procedures, jail populations, and prison systems. Information regarding these areas and others in the criminal system is unable to be tracked state by state.


Similarly, note studies, the concern of growing gun violence in the country is a prominent issue being discussed, and even with the growing concern there is very little that is actually known about the facts regarding firearm misuse.


Action regarding this lack of information is slowly being taken.


A research organization at the University of Chicago, NORC, released a report outlining recommendations on how the federal government can create a firearm data infrastructure.


For example, Bach and others suggest, the George Floyd Policing Act is a reform bill that addresses policies and issues “regarding policing practices and law enforcement accountability,” including data transparency in its policies.


This bill is important in order to jump barriers that make it difficult to hold officers accountable for abuse of power, yet it is still being debated by Congress.


Local politicians have started taking initiative to improve state-level data systems. Since 2011 Utah has passed about 12 data laws and in 2012 Florida “passed the most forward thinking criminal justice data transparency law in the country.”


These states along many more are doing their part in reforming the data infrastructure in criminal justice. But, said Bach, without federal support and leadership there is only so much that can be done to improve this matter nationwide.

About The Author

Genesis Guzman is a sophmore at UC Davis, majoring in English and Political Science. She is from Los Angeles, CA and hopes to attend law school in the future.

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