An oversight board committed to improving criminal justice data and transparency

The MassCJRC Journal

Data and transparency are critical to securing the improvements in public safety that comprehensive criminal justice reform promises. If we want reform to take hold, we must be vigilant about making progress in these two areas.

Over the past few months, there have been some unsettling signs. In July, strong provisions empowering an independent commission to review correctional expenditures were kept out of the final FY 2019 budget; without such a commission, some fear that it will be difficult to sustainably secure money for reinvestment. Massachusetts also seems to be taking the unusual step of opting out of the implementation phase of Justice Reinvestment, forgoing both federal money and independent assistance from the Council of State Governments (CSG).

But perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into these developments. New line items in the FY 2019 budget and the supplemental budget passed last month show the Legislature is committed to resourcing community-based reentry and crime prevention efforts. And many agency leaders seem committed to improving data and transparency.

This was evident last week at the first meeting of the Justice Reinvestment Policy Oversight Board. Established by the reform legislation, this new body is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the law’s many provisions pursuant to data and transparency. (Specifically, the reform legislation requires criminal justice agencies to standardize data collection, integrate data systems, and make information publicly accessible in a format that protects personal privacy).

The oversight board is led by Kurt Wood, the Commonwealth’s Secretary of Information Technology. Secretary Wood is a highly-regarded career civil servant with vast knowledge of IT in government agencies, especially within public safety. Previously, he served as Undersecretary for Forensic Science and Technology at EOPSS, which gives him unusual perspective on information gaps in our systems, varying data collection procedures across agencies, and what it will take to overcome these and a myriad of other challenges.

Secretary Wood began last week’s session by describing the legislation and the oversight board as an opportunity to build on the many upgrades to agency databases in recent years. And he talked in detail about the need to build an analytic platform that will give decision-makers and the general public access to quality information.

Responses from agency appointees were also positive. With one or two exceptions, officials from DOC and parole indicated that their agencies’ information systems could supply data elements required by the legislation. Representing the Massachusetts Sheriff’s Association, Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian detailed efforts underway at his agency to improve data collection, and pledged to support other sheriff’s departments as they work together to consistently report data as spelled out under the new law.

The only red flag at this first meeting was the absence of the Trial Court. The court is the single most important contributor of criminal justice data in our system. The data provisions in the Massachusetts criminal justice reform law are arguably the best in the nation. If we are going to be a true leader among the states, full engagement from the trial court is essential.

Here in Massachusetts

The supplemental budget passed in mid-October included $12.4 million to enact this year’s landmark criminal justice reform law.

Gov. Charlie Baker and his Democratic opponent Jay Gonzalez agree on bail reform, but remain split on the death penalty.

An ACLU attorney examines Massachusetts’ DA races and comments on the significance of public information campaigns. 

Other states

Voters in more than a dozen states will consider ballot proposals to reform the criminal justice system. 

Connecticut conducts an innovative experiment to reduce recidivism among young women in its newest prison unit.

Despite last year’s significant bail reform, judges in Illinois continue to set cash bail above permitted limits.

A Kentucky prison pilots a “re-entry to society role-playing game” in which inmates and staff temporarily switch places.

A survey of Oklahoma voters suggest a majority would like to see additional criminal justice reform to reduce the state’s incarcerated population. 

Oregon begins a comprehensive data-driven review of behavioral health systems in its prisons.

Elected on the promise of radical criminal justice reform, Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner acts on the vows he made during his campaign.

The MacArthur Foundation commits $148 million to criminal justice reform, which will be spread across a variety of cities and states.

In Washington

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell communicates his desire to enact criminal justice reform shortly after the midterm elections.

Vox takes a comprehensive dive into all of the criminal justice issues that voters will decide on the general election ballot next Tuesday, and forecasts the election’s overall impact on the movement.

An op-ed in the Hill advocates for the importance of reforms targeting incarcerated LGBT youth.

From the media

The New York Times uncovers the changes that spurred “mass incarceration” to become a key phrase in district attorney races across the country.

An upcoming criminal justice reform summit hosted by Variety and Rolling Stone will feature Kim Kardashian West, Meek Mill, and Van Jones.

The New York Post publishes a staff editorial on how “not to do criminal justice reform.”

 From the researchers

The Urban Institute looks at the use of data-dashboards to drive criminal justice decision-making.

The Brennan Center for Justice predicts that crime and murder rates will continue to decline in 2018.

The Justice Roundtable finds that felony disenfranchisement reforms have restored voting rights to 1.4 million Americans.

The Vera Institute imagines a new kind of incarceration, one which emphasizes rehabilitation over retribution.




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