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Op-Ed

Congress Needs to Have a Criminal Justice Data Infrastructure Week

As Congress works on a bipartisan bill for roads and broadband, lawmakers need to give proper attention to collecting objective information about issues like courts, gun violence, and police accountability, write Amy Bach and Jeremy Travis in an op-ed for The Hill.

A police car
Photo by Keith Srakocic/The Associated Press

Even as the nation grapples with calls for reforming law enforcement and confronting a spike in homicides, politicians just can’t seem to come to an agreement about the right path forward. A key problem standing in the way is that policymakers lack a shared set of facts. They simply don’t have fundamental, objective information about the way our criminal justice system works.

That is why Measures for Justice CEO Amy Bach and Arnold Ventures Executive Vice President Jeremy Travis are calling on Congress to build and improve the data infrastructure for our nation’s criminal justice system.

“Any attempt at real, lasting change will require a significant investment in our ability to collect, store, and share data,” Bach and Travis wrote in the Hill on Monday. “We cannot confirm that new policies work without tracking their outcomes. We cannot address racial injustice without data about policing practices, court processes, jail populations, and prison systems.”

Their op-ed draws from a recently published report by Measures for Justice that documents the extensive data gap in our nation’s courts and jails. For example, of the 20 states studied in the report, only two had information available about the pretrial process, including bail, detention, and release practice.

Bach and Travis also point to findings from the Expert Panel on Firearms Data Infrastructure, supported by AV, that document how the government can and should do a better job collecting data on the use — and misuse — of firearms in the United States.

And the debate over collecting and publishing information on police misconduct after the murder of George Floyd continues to underscore the need for better criminal justice data infrastructure.

“We need an objective sense of police practices if we hope to have a serious conversation about the proper role of policing,” Bach and Travis write.

Overall, addressing these needs means setting national standards for data collection and release, providing support and incentives for the local agencies, and pushing for greater transparency across the board. An expert roundtable organized by AV specifically recommended the creation of a National Commission on Criminal Justice Data Modernization to help spearhead this work.

As Congress continues to work on a bipartisan infrastructure bill to improve the nation’s transportation systems and broadband networks, the criminal justice data infrastructure deserves a similar focus.

“In the same way that roads or education are foundational to a larger economic project, good data serve as a foundation for the larger project of public safety and racial justice,” Bech and Travis write. “It is a project that Congress cannot ignore.”

Read the op-ed here: Don't ignore the infrastructure of criminal justice



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