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Florida May Be About to Launch the Most Ambitious Criminal Justice Transparency Project in the U.S.

“This may seem like a great, obvious idea, but no one else has done this."

Gary Coronado/ZUMA Press/NewscomGary Coronado/ZUMA Press/NewscomLast Friday, the Florida legislature passed a first-of-its kind bill to collect an unprecedented amount of data on its criminal justice system.

If Florida Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill into law, the state will begin collecting detailed criminal justice records from all 67 counties in the state starting in 2019, which will then be published online in one central location.

Amy Bach, the executive director of Measures for Justice, a group that collects and analyzes criminal justice data from counties around the country, says this sort of centralized data collection has never been tried at the state level.

"This may seem like a great, obvious idea, but no one else has done this," Bach says "It really puts Florida as the national leader."

One of the most vexing problems for researchers, policy-makers, and journalists is that the data surrounding the criminal justice system is a mess. There are 3,144 counties in the U.S., each with their own criminal justice system. There are no uniform standards for what records they collect or common definitions of terms across those counties.

In an interview with Reason before the bill passed, Florida Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes said the aim of the legislation was to create "the gold standard for data in the country."

"We don't even have a common definition for recidivism in the state," Brandes told Reason earlier this month, lamenting the current system. "We have a law that says you have to serve 85 percent of your sentence, but if you ask the prosecutors, the Department of Corrections and the governor's office what 85 percent means, you get three different answers."

California has a criminal justice data portal, and in Illinois, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx releases annual reports and raw data on prosecutions, a fairly groundbreaking move for a prosecutor's office. But those efforts are exceptions to the general rule of confusion and disorder when it comes to criminal justice records.

Previously, news outlets like The Herald-Tribune had to trawl through numerous databases and dusty boxes of court records to piece together an investigation into racial disparities in the state's criminal justice system. Florida's data collection efforts would be a godsend to journalists and groups like Measures for Justice.

"This means you're going to get pre-trial release decisions on who is being assigned bail," Bach says, "data on indigence, so you can see if poor people are having different procedural outcomes; data on ethnicity, so the first time you can see how Latinos, who are the largest ethnic group in Florida, are being treated; and data on what type of offenders are being convicted for new offenses or being released, which helps us look at recidivism."

The bill will also require counties to collect plea bargain agreements between prosecutors and defendants. Despite more than 95 percent of all criminal prosecutions ending in plea deals at both the state and federal level, those agreements are so secretive that they are almost impossible to study in any comprehensive way.

The data collection bill was part of a larger group of criminal justice bills that included things like reforming Florida's mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and raising the felony theft threshold. Those bills all died in the legislature, but data bill passed by a wide margin—part of a bipartisan acknowledgement that the state needs to get a better handle on its criminal justice system.

After decades of enforcing harsh sentencing policies, Florida has roughly 96,000 inmates, the third-highest prison population in the U.S. As a result of those long mandatory minimum sentences, about a third of Florida inmates are elderly and only getting older, creating ballooning healthcare costs. Overall, Florida is spending $2.5 billion a year on its prison system.

Photo Credit: Gary Coronado/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...the state will begin collecting detailed criminal justice records from all 67 counties in the state starting in 2019, which will then be published online in one central location.

    Or else what?

  • Jerryskids||

    One of the most vexing problems for researchers, policy-makers, and journalists is that the data surrounding the criminal justice system is a mess.

    Not nearly as big a problem as the fact that the cops don't think it's any of your damn business what they're doing or not doing or how they're doing it or how much it costs for them to be doing it. I can see an "unfunded mandate" lawsuit coming from here, with the "not in our union contract" complaint right along side. So, no, the cops ain't gonna do shit about this glorious gold standard database the pols are bragging on and there's nothing going to be done about the cop's refusal to participate.

  • sarcasmic||

    When the federal government asks local police departments for data, they can get away with a big fuck you because there really isn't anything the feds can do.

    If the state government threatens to withhold funds, maybe, possibly, they could get come compliance. That is if they have to balls to follow through with their threats.

    Then again if cops routinely get away with murder, theft, rape, illegal searches, destruction of property, planting evidence, perjury, filing false reports, and whatever else they want to do, they'll probably get away with withholding information from the state government as well.

  • Sevo||

    "Then again if cops routinely get away with murder, theft, rape, illegal searches, destruction of property, planting evidence, perjury, filing false reports, and whatever else they want to do, they'll probably get away with withholding information from the state government as well."

    Yep.
    Unless there is skin in the game compliance is voluntary and will be dishonest at best or missing entirely.
    Tell us what the penalties are for NOT COMPLYING or STFU.

  • DiegoF||

    The Sunshine State has always been big on sunshine. Been so for practically all of its time as a state. They're immensely proud of this aspect of their state political culture, which makes sense since they have so little others to not be utterly ashamed of as humiliatingly backwards.

  • SQRLSY One||

  • DiegoF||

    Yes. I mused in another comment section about whether the school was within their legal rights to do this. My suspicion is yes. Yet another thing that no one--not progs, and most shamefully including libertarians--managed to consider while heaping praise upon the districts for condoning these walkouts. More free-speechy, we were told; we must acknowledge that regardless of our disagreement with the content.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Can you guide me to where you posted this? I am WAY hot under the collar on this! This is UTTER bullshit! Our taxpayer money is being spent by our so-called "pubic servants" to tell us what is acceptable, and what is not acceptable, things to say in political protests! "I'd like to sit this one out, and say, here I am, in public school, awaiting my tax-payer funded pubic education, and my fellow students are ALL WALKING OUT and having hissy fits?! I don't want to partake in their hissy fits, I just want to have my fair share of pubic education, and I am sitting here and awaiting my pubic education." And for that, I am to be punished??!?! For "disobeying my bettors"? WTF??!?!

  • Libertarian||

    I read about this elsewhere (not in the Guardian). While I don't support the idea of public schools letting kids out to protest (for anything), I'm not sure this is as heinous as the right wing pundits are insinuating. In the article that I read, the student was told that if he did not want to participate in the walkout, he had to go to a particular room with other students who also declined to protest. Frankly, I don't see a big problem with this (other than the aforementioned waste of time when they should be learning). He is in trouble for wanting to stay in a class room by himself, not for "refusing to protest."

  • Francisco d'Anconia||

    Public school is government. Government doesn't have rights, it has powers.

    /pedant

    And to answer your question, yes they probably legally do but morally shouldn't.

    One more problem solved if we were to abolish public education.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Also,I would like to know, how many of these prisoners are languishing under the neglect of the Government Almighty of the State of Florida, for having blown on a cheap plastic flute known as a "lung flute", w/o a physician's permission? Or for having scratched their butt-holes, w/o authorization from the FDA?

  • Eidde||

    A Canadian professor in the Washington Post asks who are you going to believe: Him or your lying eyes?

    "The 'campus free speech crisis' is a myth. Here are the facts....

    "Myth #1: Young people in general (and college students in particular) don't support free speech..

    "In fact, the opposite is true. For nearly 50 years, the General Social Survey (GSS) has asked Americans about their tolerance for offensive speech. Some questions include: Should an anti-American Muslim cleric be permitted to teach in a public school? Should the local library stock books hostile to religion?

    "On almost every question, young people aged 18 to 34 are the most likely to support free speech....

    "...some critics have argued that the GSS is not a reliable measure of young people's tolerance for offensive speech because some of the kinds of speech it queries (by communists, the anti-religious, etc.) is less likely to be offensive to the young....

    "Myth #2: Universities make students less tolerant of offensive or opposing speech

    "Consider the findings of one recent survey of over 7,000 students from more than 120 schools. After one year of college, a plurality reported improved attitudes toward students holding opposing political views....

  • Eidde||

    "Myth #3: Universities may claim to support free speech, but their actions show otherwise...

    "...The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reported 35 no-platforming attempts in 2017; out of those, 19 succeeded. In a country with over 4,700 schools, that hardly constitutes a crisis....

    "...The number of universities with restrictive speech codes has been dropping each year for the past decade and is currently at an all-time low....

    "In fact, our speech is often much more restricted off campus than on. Consider the workplace...

    "...in the case of the standard narrative of the "campus free speech crisis," there's a good deal less than meets the eye."

  • Sevo||

    Mr. Sachs might be a fool, but I suspect he is a knave.
    A fucking, lying, lefty knave.
    IOWs, I do not believe *he* believes the lies he posts. LIke Tony, turd (and others) he posts lies in the hopes of convincing readers of his lies.
    (godwin alert) I'm not certain that Goebbels was that dishonest; he may well have believed it.

  • TGoodchild||

    In before prisoner class action seeking injunctive relief under false light invasion of privacy tort(s).

  • Libertarian||

    OT. Special needs kids rolled out on display to hold anti gun signs.

    http://victorygirlsblog.com/ex.....rol-video/

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Jesus fucking Christ. These people have no shame.

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