Measures for Justice (MFJ) was founded in 2011 to develop a data-driven set of performance measures to assess and compare the criminal justice process from arrest to post-conviction on a county-by-county basis. The data set comprises measures that address three broad categories: Fiscal Responsibility, Fair Process, and Public Safety.
MFJ developed and tested its first draft set of measures with a grant from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. MFJ gathered some of the finest measurement experts in the country with diverse expertise in the judicial system to isolate useful indicators of system performance and from them develop MFJ’s initial set of measures. These were first piloted in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, and then extended to cover the entire state. Based on the success of that pilot, MFJ received funding to measure more states.
Data collection across a country whose records are maintained differently county by county has required some innovative and old-fashioned methods. MFJ acquires its data by approaching state and local leaders, often traveling county by county. In the process, we solicit feedback on our metrics and counsel on the limitations of the data we’re acquiring. We also share with state and local leaders the purpose of our work. Back in Rochester, NY, our thirteen researchers and technologists with PhDs and Masters in Criminology and Computer Science from major universities across the U.S. work on cleaning and coding the data. They also work on software automation to streamline the process of cleaning and standardizing data from disparate sources. With this combination of strategies, MFJ is able to aggregate case-level data into one central repository.
This data repository is paramount to MFJ’s mission for two reasons. The first is that publishing data that are limited or incomplete will spur better data collection, which is essential for improving what we can learn from and do with criminal justice data in terms of performance review. The second is that transparency in the criminal justice system is crucial to its reform. MFJ does not advocate any specific reforms, but we do acknowledge that transparency provides a basis for positive, change-focused dialogue as needed. With this in mind, MFJ has developed a web-based platform that convenes all its data and analyses and offers them free to the public. The platform is searchable and can be configured to break down performance data across multiple factors including race/ethnicity; sex; indigent status; age; and offense type. The platform also allows for county-to-county comparison within and across states.
MFJ’s data platform is unprecedented in scale and scope. It is designed for any user—from criminal justice stakeholders to average citizens interested in how their county is performing—and, in this way, offers up a neutral language that reform initiatives can deploy. MFJ’s goal is to ensure the platform becomes the go-to resource for legislators and advocates—for anyone in a position to initiate and catalyze criminal justice reform.
Measures for Justice is supported by the Arnold, Pershing Square, Ford, MacArthur, Draper Richards Kaplan, and Donner Foundations, in addition to the Bureau for Justice Assistance in the Department of Justice.