I served as a judge in Contra Costa County for 21 years, assigned primarily to criminal matters. I considered myself well-versed in criminal justice. Then, in 2012, one week before I retired, I attended a panel at Berkeley Law on race and mass incarceration.
I heard this: While only 6 percent of California’s population is black, almost 30 percent of those incarcerated in California’s prisons and jails are black. I was stunned. I knew I was trying to do the right thing – and I had faith that my fellow judges did as well, and yet there were the numbers, which were indisputable.
The leader of a local nonprofit says her group is fixing a barrier that stands in the way of meaningful criminal reforms: a data gap.
Measures for Justice President Amy Bach says America’s justice system needs better data to determine if the money spent on the system is effective in reducing crime and improving fairness. Bach joins us to discuss her research.
In March the state of Florida took a step hailed by advocates of a fair and equitable criminal justice system: Lawmakers approved a bill that requires the gathering, harnessing and publication of an unprecedented amount of criminal justice data.
NEW YORK, Sept 5 - Amy Bach, Founder, Executive Director, and President of Measures for Justice (MFJ) was today awarded the Charles Bronfman Prize for 2018. MFJ is the first organization to use data to publicly measure how the criminal justice system is performing from arrest to post conviction in all counties across the United States.
New open source tool extracts complex data from PDF docs, no programming skills required.
The ceiling was caving in. Pigeons had taken residence. The cavernous, historic building at 421 University Ave. that had once been a hot spot for women's suffrage movement was vacant and in need of help.
Williamsburg, VA., (June 26, 2018) - Today the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) and Measures for Justice announced a new partnership to create comprehensive data standards for state and local courts. In an important first step towards full data transparency, the new “National Court Open Data Standards Project” will facilitate and accelerate safe access to county-level court data.
The first time after Miriam Krinsky prosecuted a criminal in federal court, she was brought to tears. She remembers returning home and sobbing when her husband asked how the case went.
"He said, ‘I’m so sorry. You can’t win every case. You gave it your all,'" Krinsky said on Skype. "And I said, ‘You don’t understand … We convicted.’"
Measures for Justice (MFJ) released an open source software tool for extracting data from PDFs at Today's Code for America Summit
A trailblazing new criminal justice law could be a game-changer in Florida and in other states that choose to follow its lead.
Passed with bipartisan support and approved by Gov. Rick Scott (R) March 30, the first-of-its-kind measure requires various actors across the system to compile information that the state will then make available for the public in a central database.
The new legislation doesn’t sound like so much, really.
It’s “an act related to criminal justice data transparency,” stating that “it is the intent of the Legislature to create a model of uniform criminal justice data collection by requiring local and state criminal justice agencies to report complete, accurate, and timely data, and making that data available to the public.”
While Florida has been in the media spotlight for retrograde gun policies, lawmakers just moved toward enlightenment in the shadowy annals of the criminal-justice system, by passing landmark legislation that could dramatically expand public access to court and incarceration data in the state with the third largest prison population in the country.
Criminal justice data in this country is hard to come by. It can be messy and difficult to understand. And in many cases, the data doesn’t exist at all.
How many people are in jail? For what crimes? For how long? Are people in jail mostly awaiting trial? Are they there for being unable to pay bail of $500 or less? You might think we know the answers to these basic questions, but we don’t.
Last Friday, the Florida legislature passed a first-of-its kind bill to collect an unprecedented amount of data on its criminal justice system.
If Florida Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill into law, the state will begin collecting detailed criminal justice records from all 67 counties in the state starting in 2019, which will then be published online in one central location.
THERE’S NO SUCH thing as the US criminal justice system. There are, instead, thousands of counties across the country, each with their own systems, made up of a diffuse network of sheriffs, court clerks, prosecutors, public defenders, and jail officials who all enforce the rules around who does and doesn’t end up behind bars. It’s hard enough to ensure that key details about a case pass from one node of this convoluted web to the other within a single county; forget about at the state or national level.
TALLAHASSEE, FL - Yesterday, the state of Florida passed ground-breaking legislation to ensure the collection and public release of criminal justice data that will facilitate opportunities to make smart decisions on policy in the state's 67 counties. With this legislation, Florida announces itself as the new standard for open data and transparency, and a model for other states to follow.
On Friday, in what her office called, “the first [release] of its kind in the country,” Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx made public six years of felony criminal case data….This wealth of information comes on the heels of Foxx’s 2017 Data Report, released in mid-February, which briefly summarized some of last year’s felony prosecution statistics. “Our work must be grounded in data and evidence,” said Foxx, “and the public should have access to that information.”
Today, Representative Chris Sprowls of Florida put forth groundbreaking legislation that requires new data collection practices and standards in Florida so that everyone in the state can have access to performance data that span the system from arrest to post-conviction.
Despite holding about 17,000 of the roughly 54,000 people behind bars on any given day in North Carolina, the state’s jails collectively report a small fraction of information compared to what is shared by the state’s prison system. Almost every county keeps digital records, coordinates with other government agencies, and reports certain records to the state, yet a centralized database for jails across the state’s 100 counties does not exist.
Two years ago, when our daughter Max was born, Priscilla and I wrote a letter about the world we hoped she and all children would grow up in. In that letter, we shared our plans to give 99% of our Facebook shares to help make that world a reality.
If there’s anything Google does well, it’s data. And data-centered projects are an expanding area of focus for justice system reformers across the country. So we weren’t too surprised late last month to see Google.org deal out more support to a number of organizations trying to make headway. It has been interesting to watch the tech giant’s turn to racial justice and a broad program of inclusion, especially given the criticism it’s getting on multiple fronts lately.
What if the criminal justice system had a bird’s eye view of itself? What if courts in every county in every state could track over the years what they’re doing right or wrong and correct errors and biases?
The numbers are incontrovertible: Less than 5 percent of the world’s population—but nearly a quarter of the world’s prison population—lives in the United States. In other words, the United States is the industrial world’s most prolific jailer. Since the 1970s, incarceration rates and their associated costs have grown 400 percent, even though crime has been on the decline for two decades. These costs have strained county budgets and burdened taxpayers. Meanwhile, mass incarceration bankrupts families and often traps defendants in an endless cycle of crime and arrest, limiting their contributions to society.
Felony or misdemeanor?
Simple assault or aggravated assault?
The difference in charges may not seem that great, but can have large and lasting ramifications. In Pennsylvania, what charges get filed and who gets to make that initial decision varies from county to county.
All criminal charges in Cumberland County must be approved by the district attorney’s office before being filed.
Since graduating from Brigham Young University Law School in 1998, I have spent the majority of my career in public safety. In 2006, I was extremely honored to be appointed the U.S. attorney for Utah. At the time, our state prosecuted countless dangerous criminals, including Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee, the kidnappers of Elizabeth Smart. Based on my experiences, I learned what works in our justice system and, just as importantly, what doesn’t.
It’s easy, in the United States, to get performance data about public schools. New mothers can generally find information about C-section rates at specific hospitals with just a few clicks. And, in about two minutes, I just found out that my favorite local Italian restaurant was fined $160 in March because the hot water in its kitchen faucet wasn’t quite hot enough.
After some confusion about legislative interim rules, it turns out a Utah lawmaker’s motion to encourage the courts to halt bail changes actually passed — but court officials say they’re planning to move forward with the new system anyway.
According to Measures for Justice (MFJ), better data is key to reforming America’s hyper-localized criminal justice system. Plenty of well-heeled funders are inclined to agree. In fact, some of the hottest names in philanthropy are flocking to support the organization, which was founded by lawyer and author Amy Bach in 2011.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson wants to investigate overdoses as murders. Experts say that approach won’t stop the deaths.
AS A CANDIDATE and now as President, Donald Trump has promised to lock more people up. Undocumented immigrants. Drug dealers. Gang members in Chicago. But the tough on crime approach favored by President Trump won't just hurt people in cities he's painted as urban hellscapes. New research finds that the areas helping drive America's rapidly rising incarceration rates are in rural America—areas, in other words, that voted for Trump.
Analytics dominate nearly every field of endeavor in this country except for one: the criminal justice system. Ours is one of the biggest systems in the world and yet it still lacks the means for adequate analysis.
Here's an idea: What if we were to collect data from our criminal justice system, like we do for hospitals and schools, and use that data to tell us more about how our system is working for us? Could we save taxpayers money and yet make our communities as safe — or safer?
A small nonprofit gathers criminal justice statistics, one county at a time.
Amy Bach was researching her book about the US court system when she met a woman named Sharon in Quitman County, Mississippi.
Measures for Justice Launches Groundbreaking Data Portal that Brings New Transparency to the Criminal Justice System.
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.
Google.org has awarded Measures for Justice $1.5 million to help measure criminal justice system performance in California.
"We believe better data can be part of the solution, which is why we're investing in organizations using data and evidence to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system," said Justin Steele, a Google.org principal.
MFJ is thrilled to be a part of Google.org's efforts to support racial justice and transparency in the working of local criminal justice systems.
Measures for Justice is thrilled to announce the addition of two new members to our board: Judge Rosemary Barkett and Carter Stewart.
The Laura and John Arnold Foundation awards MFJ a grant to pursue strategies to automate and streamline data collection. This will require machine learning tools and a better sense of the data that are out there for acquisition. The Arnold grant allows MFJ to implement a National Data Acquisition Strategy to map the country’s data availability and suitability and to initiate large-scale data processing marked by automated techniques that efficiently and effectively scale our research efforts.
Deborrah Brodsky, the director of the Project on Accountable Justice, recently published an op-ed about the Council of Economic Advisors’ report on the cost of incarceration. The piece is, specifically, about the benefit of deferral programs in Florida (and elsewhere) and how big data can help us measure what works. Brodsky mentions MFJ prominently, which recognizes the value of our work to measure performance and to share the results.
MFJ believes that data are bipartisan and not the province of the Left. So we were pleased to see the op-ed recapped in the Charles Koch Institute's newsletter, The Daily Wrap.
The Council of Economic Advisors (CEA), which advises the White House on economic policy, recently released a report on the economics of incarceration that includes new data from MFJ. The data address the success of diversion programs like drug courts in counties that routinely divert defendants from traditional sentencing.
We hope the CEA’s report is a harbinger of how our data will be used once they are released. As a country, we spend a lot of time decrying what’s not working—and there’s plenty—but sound, reliable, and comprehensive data can shine the same bright light on successful practices.
At a UN event on access to legal aid as a measure of access to justice, Ambassador Samantha Power mentions Measures for Justice.
Programs are already trying to do this here in the United States. One – which I flagged for you, which I think could have global reach – is called Measures for Justice, which will release data in June examining how our criminal justice system is performing – from arrest to post conviction – on fairness and accuracy, public safety, and financial responsibility.
Amy Bach will present the work of Measures for Justice at a special seminar hosted by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation on Monday October 19th.
Measures for Justice hosted its first gathering of the Methods & Measurement Council on August 19 in NYC to revise and ratify our measures. The Council's aim is to build on the great work of MFJ's Data Council, which drafted a first set of measures we later tested in a 72-County Wisconsin pilot. The Methods & Measurement Council comprises some of the brightest and most talented people in the field of criminal justice research and measurement. Its goal is to ensure our measures are valid, replicable and meaningful. The meeting was a big success. Enjoyable, too.
Tate Williams – Inside Philanthropy -- The statistics on the American criminal justice system are not pretty, whether looking at mass incarceration, police shootings, or recidivism rates. Can activists and law enforcement alike use this sea of grim numbers to fix the system? At least two funders think so.
NEW YORK, May 11, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As a nationwide, bi-partisan push is underway to reform the broken criminal justice system, The Pershing Square Foundation announced today a $3.1 million grant in support of Measures for Justice (MFJ), the first non-profit organization to use 'big data' to track and compare the performance of county criminal justice systems across the country.
During a workshop moderated by Kristen Mahoney, Deputy Director for Policy, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Amy Bach presented preliminary results of MFJ's first pilot study testing the Measures for Justice, enabling counties for the first time to compare the performance of their local criminal justice system. As quoted in the Crime Report,
You can look up data and see where the schools with good test scores are located are, or you can look up the water quality of a city…But not for the courts… We want to collect data that means something to the people using the courts and to be able to see where things can improve.
In his newly-launched blog, Derek Coursen, an expert in information management and systems within the public and nonprofit service sectors, explores issues relating to the systemic ways public service organizations can manage, organize and use information to ultimately make better decisions and more effective programs. Recognizing that human services have chronic problems with managing information, his blog is focused on solving them.
We applaud Derek for his dedication to addressing these complex issues and are thrilled he's part of our Data Council.
Amy Bach recently gave the Keynote address at the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy's celebration of Gideon versus Wainwright. The Kentucky Bar Association put together an exceptional event.
Amy also sat on a panel that followed a repartee by David Boise and former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson's. These guys are the super-litigators on opposite sides of Bush v. Gore, who also teamed up to win the fight for same-sex marriage in the U.S Supreme Court.
In his blog Made2Measure, Ingo Keilitz, a Senior Justice Reform Specialist at The World Bank, contemplates the potential of creating a Justice Index – even if imperfect – that measures the performance of criminal court systems.
We couldn't have said it better ourselves.
Amy Bach, MFJ Executive Director, recently spoke at the Spring Public Defenders Conference in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi. Public defenders face immense challenges in Mississippi. Many of them carry soul-crushing caseloads with little to no resources provided to defend their clients and with every other actor in the criminal justice system pressuring them to quickly resolve their cases.
Amy spoke about the challenges in being part of such a system and how local criminal systems need to be able to present data on their performance to make the case for better resources or simply to defend themselves against budget cuts and the austerity measures being implemented nationwide.
As part of Attorney General Eric Holder's speech commemorating the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, Holder describes the MFJ Milwaukee County pilot as one of the Bureau of Justice's promising new initiatives to improve criminal courts:
BJA will provide $50,000 to implement the "Measures for Justice" initiative in Milwaukee – a rigorous evaluation tool that will help illuminate strategies for success and empower criminal justice stakeholders to make the changes they need.
Amy Bach, founder of Measures for Justice, receives the Gideon Award from Florida's Palm Beach County Public Defender office. The award recognizes exemplary work supporting equal justice for indigent communities. Past recipients include Barry Scheck and Bryan Stevenson.
Amy Bach will join Kenneth Starr on a panel to discuss indigent defense law and how well it provides the poor or disenfranchised access to justice.
Echoing Green recently selected Measures for Justice's founder, Amy Bach, as a Fellow out of 3,000 candidates worldwide. Echoing Green is a premier seed investor for social entrepreneurs.