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Criminal Data Collection – A (Possible) Prelude to the Transparent and Fair Reform of Florida’s Criminal Justice System

Mutaqee Akbar, Managing Partner

29 May 2018

Criminal justice reform was front and center during the 2018 legislative session.

Led by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senator Jeff Brandes – the Florida Legislature passed bipartisan comprehensive data collection reform during the 2018 legislative session.

For starters, SB 1392 includes a first-of-its-kind provision, which requires law enforcement and courts to collect targeted data. The same must be made available in a uniform and comparable format on a publicly accessible database. This new measure is expected to address racial disparities in sentencing and inconsistent systems of record keeping across the state.

“The ability to look at qualitative information about our criminal justice system will not only bring transparency, it will guide our future decision making,” Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, a former prosecutor who championed the bill, said in a statement.

“By identifying the strengths and weaknesses of our criminal justice system, we can ensure greater transparency for the public and accurate data for policymakers,” said House Speaker Corcoran, who is widely expected to run for Governor and helped steer the bill through the House.

Beginning July 1, 2018 court clerks, prosecutors, public defenders and jail operators in Florida’s 67 counties, and the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC), will be required to enter everything from arrests and bail to sentencing information. These comprehensive weekly reports must then be submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), which would then publish the data on its website.

Further, the FDLE database will store nameless “granular” data about individual defendants, including their backgrounds and plea deals.

We can see why many have referred to this as a “game changer” in criminal justice reform. To date, data collection efforts have been largely independent of one another and varied from agency to agency leaving policymakers unable to uniformly answer basic questions like:

  • How many people are in jail and for how long?
  • Who is being assigned bail?
  • Are people of color being treated fairly in the system?

Florida policymakers will now have a complete picture of the state’s entire criminal justice system, facilitating the decisions required for comprehensive criminal justice reform.

Also, the public will have unprecedented access to the data enabling citizens to evaluate how their tax dollars are expended.

The measure will also:

  • Digitize the criminal punishment code scoresheet to calculate sentence recommendations based on the severity of the crime and the defendant’s prior record.
  • Create a pilot program in the 6th Judicial Circuit of Pinellas and Pasco counties to partner with a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization to help comply with new requirements.
  • Require that pre-trial programs annually report the number of defendants enrolled.
  • Collect information related to bonds and the types of criminal charges represented in all 67 counties.

The law goes into effect July 1, 2018.

Now it is our turn.

How will we leverage the objective data stemming from these changes? It seems to me, we can now steer the discussion related to criminal justice reform away from emotion towards an impartial, data-based conversation highlighting the inequalities we all know exist.

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