Opening the “Black Box” of Criminal Justice Data

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The federal government should develop a framework to collect digital data that is now being gathered by police monitoring equipment, crime databases and body cameras in local and state jurisdictions, according to a proposal forthcoming in the Ohio State Law Journal.

Unlocking this digital “black box” by reporting anonymized criminal justice data would allow researchers and policy makers to “more effectively study the system as a whole,” argues Samuel R. Wiseman, a professor at the Florida State University College of Law.

“We do not know exactly how many inmates are detained at any given time, what they were charged with, the length of time between the charge and a verdict or plea, and numerous other data points that one might assume are readily available,” Wiseman writes. “Improving access to bulk data could thus open new avenues of research, but bulk data could also be used to identify likely systemic constitutional violations at the local level.”

For example, a centralized data collection system would enable investigators to more quickly identify jurisdictions in which individuals are denied access to counsel, or the cases in which individuals who cannot afford bail sit in prison for extended periods of time.

Currently, researchers, scholars and government officials rely mainly on survey data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)—and while this information is extremely valuable, Wiseman writes, it is limited in “scope and frequency.” He suggests that, in a federal data gathering system, BJS could take the lead on collection efforts at the state and local level.

Wiseman concedes that his proposal might raise concerns about privacy and the cost of data collection and management.

Read the full report HERE.  (Cited with author’s permission)


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