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Group Says 'Black Box' Of NY Justice Data Blocks Good Policymaking

After experiencing many hurdles obtaining and analyzing criminal justice data in New York State, the national organization Measures for Justice (MFJ) set out to better understand the state’s data infrastructure. Drawing on interviews with stakeholders--including practitioners, policy advocates, and researchers--the group explored the quality and availability of criminal justice data in the state.

With heated criminal justice reform debates under way, MFJ contends that there is a clear need for data that can speak to system performance. The investigation found that, with few exceptions, the state's mechanisms for criminal justice data collection and release are broken, the organization says in a new report.

Efforts to put data to use across the state frequently are "hampered by obscure systems, antiquated technologies, arduous request processes, and a degree of partiality that allows data access to some and not others," MFJ says.

Its report explores each of these themes and ultimately suggests four pathways forward for agencies looking to pursue equitable and responsible data practices.

Measures for Justice set out to study our home state’s criminal justice system in 2014 and has submitted a series of data requests. After multiple attempts to acquire trial court data, the group could populate only a limited number of measures spanning New York City's five boroughs.

MFJ was unable to bring the same degree of transparency to New York as it did in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and many other states.

The public has a right to understand what happens in its criminal justice system. The new report says it "addresses the ways New York State’s criminal justice data infrastructure fails to meet basic levels of transparency that are requisite for evidence-based decision making and general accountability."

MFJ says the state of play "prevents us from engaging in evidence-based discussions related to criminal justice policies and practices.

Katie Schaffer of the Center for Community Alternatives says, “It means we often know anecdotally there are problems, but when we go to find the data necessary to assess it at the systems level, the data are obfuscated.”


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