California Takes Three Critical Steps to Close its Criminal Justice Data Gap


1. Measures for Justice and Stanford Law School just released a major new report that for the first time characterizes the California data gap and the steps needed to close it.

The report addresses key problems in the state's handling of criminal justice data: "In stark contrast to California’s culture and history, its criminal justice data are not readily available to the public. What infrastructure exists is not fully set up to promote transparency, nor to understand and evaluate the effects of various reforms and policies, making it difficult for researchers, policymakers, and the public to assess whether laws are having their intended effects and to identify what is working or not.

2. The Los Angeles Times picked up the story, noting, "The flaws in data collection make it tough to assess whether efforts to reduce incarceration and recent laws rolling back sentencing for offenders are working—and saving the state money..."

3. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and Assemblymember Rob Bonta recently introduced Assembly Bill 1331, the Criminal Justice Data Improvement Act. The bill is designed to improve the quality of criminal history data available to law enforcement agencies, and to advance transparency and data-driven policies by making comprehensive criminal justice data accessible to researchers and policymakers.

“Every day you’re making decisions without data is a day you’re not making the best decisions,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. “The absence of good data is a threat to public safety, but it’s also a threat to good governance. We cannot make the best use of taxpayer resources and effectively manage our most important institutions on a hunch."

The Criminal Justice Data Improvement Act addresses many of the issues raised in the data gap report issued by MFJ and Stanford Law.

Yesterday, in a public safety committee hearing, the members came to the same conclusion as the report—that California stands to achieve important new benefits by taking steps to close its criminal justice data gap. The bill passed out of committee and will move forward.

Last year when Florida legislators came to understand the huge upside of closing their criminal justice data gap, they acted swiftly (within in a matter of months) to enact a groundbreaking law to close their data gap—addressing many of the same issues as Assembly Bill 1311.

From the sunshine state to the golden state, we are seeing legislators pursue data transparency to help solve some of the criminal justice system's biggest data challenges. These states understand that when data are available, they are like sunshine to seedlings: the start of something great.

Happy spring, everyone. We'll keep you posted as the news comes in.

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April 24, 2019

MFJ in the News:

Amy Bach writes an op-ed in USA Today about why legislators need to data to gauge the success of criminal justice reforms.

David Plouffe writes a piece for Fast Company about how technology can help build a more equitable justice system.

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