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New York — The Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) announced a $1.4 million grant to support the creation of a state-of-the-art criminal justice data center at the University of Maryland, College Park. The Maryland Data Analysis Center (MDAC) will harness the power of data in an effort to improve public safety and to ensure that the criminal justice system operates in a fair and cost-effective manner.

MDAC will compile data from various criminal justice agencies across the state and will integrate those records into a centralized database. This repository of information will provide greater insight into criminal justice trends in Maryland and will make it easier to identify areas in need of research and potential reform. MDAC will also facilitate new partnerships between criminal justice agencies and researchers. By linking the data resources and the direct experience of those who work in the criminal justice field with the analytical expertise of scientific researchers, MDAC will help drive decisions that are based on objective evidence.

“This innovative center will provide stakeholders with the tools to understand not only how their systems are operating, but also what impact their decisions have on public safety,” LJAF Vice President of Criminal Justice Anne Milgram explained. “Our hope is that the Maryland project, if successful, can be replicated nationwide.”

While criminal justice agencies routinely collect data, they often do not have the staff or the technical capabilities to analyze the information and use it to guide their policies and practices. Researchers, meantime, often do not have access to the data they need to conduct studies that could lead to solutions for today’s criminal justice challenges. And any partnerships that do exist between practitioners and researchers are typically only in place for a brief period of time. MDAC will address this issue by providing the infrastructure required to support longstanding partnerships that can transform the system using data and evaluation.

As one of its first initiatives, MDAC will partner with the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy to examine the use of juvenile records in the sentencing of adults. There are concerns that the inconsistent application of the term “commitment to state custody” — which is used in juvenile records to indicate various types of punishments — could be having unintended consequences on adult sentences. For example, in one area of Maryland, “commitment to state custody” might be used to explain that a juvenile was ordered to a secure detention facility. In another area, the same term might be used to indicate that a juvenile was assigned to receive in-home treatment services. These two juvenile punishments are very different, and they carry different implications concerning the offense and the judgment of the juvenile court. However, since both punishments are classified as “commitment to state custody,” judges in separate jurisdictions might not account for the distinctions when considering a person’s juvenile record during an adult sentencing hearing. MDAC’s resources will allow decision-makers to determine the extent to which this issue impacts adult sentencing.

MDAC will be led by James Lynch, an internationally renowned criminal justice statistics expert. Lynch serves as Chair of the University of Maryland’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and is the former director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“All states collect vast amounts of criminal justice data, but, like most jurisdictions across the country, Maryland has not previously had the resources and mechanisms to integrate and analyze this information in ways that would inform public policy,” Lynch said. “The Maryland Data Analysis Center will create an innovative research and development capability for the state that will enable practice to be significantly more evidence-based than current resources permit.”

MDAC is set to begin work this summer. It will share research findings with decision-makers in Maryland, other governmental agencies, and criminal justice associations across the United States.

About the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland

Established in 1969, the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland is a leader in the development of criminological and criminal justice research and theory. The Department’s faculty is highly-regarded for their significant contributions to the criminological literature, and for advancing our understanding of criminal and juvenile justice processes and institutions. The Department’s undergraduate program is one of the most popular majors on campus, and, in recent years, its doctoral program has been consistently ranked first in the nation.