The decisions we make amid the coronavirus pandemic will have implications for years to come. We must track these decisions and evaluate their impacts. Measures for Justice is here to help.
In the past weeks, correctional facilities and criminal justice agencies across all 3,100 counties of the United States have been grappling with how the criminal justice system should function, and what responsibilities each stakeholder has to ensure that public safety is upheld while maintaining the due process and human rights of all persons coming into contact with the system.
Our peers and professional organizations have made available some of the best summaries of the immediate recommendations made to courts, prosecutors, law enforcement, jails, and prisons (see below for links to several). However, we know that when the dust settles, we will all want to track the outcomes of the decisions we’re making today. To do that, we must continue to record, and make transparent, data across the entire justice system—particularly new data tracking the unique processes agencies are engaged in now as a result of the crisis.
MFJ remains committed to making as much good criminal justice data actionable and available on our online Data Portal, and to producing valuable analyses and research to answer questions about how this pandemic has impacted the system. In particular, we are committed to supporting criminal justice practitioners and policymakers who will need data and research to understand the long and short-term implications of the decisions they are making right now
To that end, we are thinking through what data elements are critical to being able to understand the impact of today’s policy changes on communities across the country.
At minimum, we encourage all system actors collect data related to:
Crime rates, both violent and property - to see the impact of “stay-home” orders on public safety across communities;
Defendant demographics, including indigency status - to identify whether Covid-related pretrial release and alternatives to incarceration decisions are applied fairly across communities; and to prepare for future research;
Impediments to speedy case resolution, including continuances, speedy trial waivers, and access to counsel - because we’re all moving slower and resources are tight, but due process is a constitutional right;
Bail Decisions, especially jail releases by cash bail or ROR and modifications - to understand the impact of recommendations to release defendants awaiting trial, or the decision to modify original decisions in light of the need to reduce the number incarcerated;
Court costs and fines imposed on defendants - to understand whether the cost of the pandemic was shifted to the defendant, and the resulting economic and social consequences of that policy;
Initial sentences imposed for misdemeanor and felony cases, from fines to incarceration, and subsequent modifications and early release - to track the trends of sentences before and after releases and use of alternatives, to highlight what lasting change occurs, and to evaluate the effect on our institutions’ capacity.
Our ability to effectively learn from the current situation and see the impact of our decisions starts with data. If you are a policymaker, practitioner, advocate, or community member, and you agree that the data we need to track and assess tomorrow’s outcomes are a priority for the criminal justice community today, contact us. We can help.
Please stay safe out there.
Our best wishes,
the MFJ Team
In addition, please check out this tool from Recidiviz, which models the impact of COVID-19 on the incarcerated population in all 50 states.
A list of current recommendations: