Last year, legislators in Florida passed a historic though seemingly banal bill, mandating what many might assume is already the status quo: that counties in the state uniformly collect data related to criminal justice and share it with the public. Reformers across the United States, including the nonprofit Measures for Justice, which helped draft the legislation, rejoiced in its passage. Although collecting and sharing data related to the criminal justice system might seem commonsensical, it’s far from standard. The 3,142 counties which handle most criminal justice matters in the United States each do so in their own independent way. Not only does this mean that it’s nearly impossible to understand what’s happening on a macro level, but it’s exceedingly difficult to understand where and how the system is failing. For reformers, this means that the causes or consequences of systemic issues, like racism or classism, are unnecessarily obscured, preventing effective interventions. It also means that, whether intentionally or not, the reality of the criminal justice system is kept from the public. Measures for Justice hopes policies like the one passed in Florida will dispel the fog around the criminal justice system. Standardized data collection will make accurately analyzing and comparatively studying different municipalities possible, revealing both best practices and shortcomings. Publicizing the same information will not only better inform reformers but empower the public too. Justice will be blind no more. I recently spoke with Amy Bach, executive director of Measures for Justice, about the current state of the US criminal justice system, how her organization hopes to change it, and why that work is necessary. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
More… “Greater Justice through Statistics”