NEW YORK — A study published today by the Urban Institute shows that although many prosecutors’ offices report an interest in collecting and using data, less than half of the prosecutors’ offices surveyed (41 percent) collect all the data needed to track and describe basic case flow. Urban’s report sheds light on an important area for reform as the national conversation about how to change the culture and practices of prosecutors’ offices gains momentum.
Researchers found that almost all prosecutors’ offices use at least one electronic case management system and have staff that work on data, but systematic approaches for tracking compliance or emerging trends within the data are less common.
For example, most offices collect data on the screening and charging phase, alternative approaches to traditional prosecution, or sentencing, but fewer than half (47 percent) collect data on pretrial release decision-making.
“Increasingly, prosecutors are aware of the importance of data collection and data driven decision-making, not only to determine and shape needed reforms, but to have a good understanding of the impact of their decisions,” said Rebecca Silber, criminal justice manager at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. “The findings in this study show us that, in general, prosecutors’ offices need to invest in and prioritize research and data collection. Comprehensive data collection is key to effectively instituting reforms to practice and policy.”
Barriers such as data accuracy and resource constraints stand in the way of widespread and systematic incorporation of data into prosecutorial decision-making.
“The results of this survey offer prosecutors a road map for how to prioritize their efforts to improve data collection and use,” said Robin Olsen, senior policy associate in the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute and study co-author. “Prosecutors are looking to overcome issues such as how to initiate or improve automated data collection and data management, how to work through difficult interagency data-sharing agreements, and how to find resources to allow for time for quality data entry and analysis.
The study, supported by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, was based on a survey of 158 prosecutors’ offices of varying sizes and locations, as well as in-depth interviews with five of the responding offices.
Based on survey results, interviews, and a literature review, Urban identified eight concrete ways prosecutors can increase their collection and use of data in decision-making, including strengthening technology infrastructure, ensuring offices are collecting data on all relevant case details, and tracking measures at each decision-making stage to get a comprehensive view of how decisions are made.
Greater data collection and use by prosecutors is critical. Data can help prosecutors make more effective decisions, measure success in meeting goals and priorities, and explain to constituents the meaning of their decisions and the constraints they navigate.