This summer, the nonprofit Measures for Justice will launch a new public database intended to track the performance of Monroe County’s criminal justice system.
Measures for Justice developed the data tool, Commons, to track a variety of metrics such as the race, gender, and age of defendants, cases sent to prosecutors, cases diverted, and types of offenses. The organization previously launched the tool in Yolo County, California. Monroe County is among the next round of communities serving proving grounds for the tool. When the database launches, the public will have access to it.
“We need to know and be able to answer questions of how our justice system is working,” said Amy Bach, CEO of Measures for Justice. “Not only that, but how does it compare across the nation? Justice, in America, happens on the county level.”
To deploy a local version of Commons, Measures for Justice is partnering with the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, Rochester Institute of Technology, and the Rochester Police Department. Criminal justice reformers, lawmakers, and law enforcement officials across New York have long been frustrated by the lack of comprehensive data on court cases.
Lawmakers moved to address a related issue when they passed a package of bail reforms in 2019. That legislation included a provision requiring the state Office of Court Administration to keep detailed data on arraignments and defendants, including the number of defendants who were arrested and charged with a new offense while on pretrial release. That’ll allow anyone interested to see how the reforms and other policy changes play out in the real world.
Measures for Justice is based in Rochester, but it piloted Commons last year in Yolo County, California. Yolo County is a northern California county near Sacramento with a population less than a third that of Monroe County. Similar pilots are also underway in Louisiana, Missouri, and New Mexico.
The data tool displays quick glance facts about criminal justice proceedings, whether policy goals are being met, and whether any policy changes or underlying events had any effect on the metrics.
For example, Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig set a goal of increasing the number of defendants charged with felonies who were diverted away from incarceration to 10 percent by September 2022. A timeline shows how the number of defendants directed to diversion programs increased starting in 2020, and it adds in contextual markers such as policy decisions that may have influenced trends and things such as the COVID-19 shutdown, which changed the way courts across the United States did business..
In a February interview, District Attorney Sandra Doorley said Commons would provide a fuller picture of what’s happening in Monroe County courts, beyond anecdotes and cherry picked statistics.
“We’ve got to see the problems are, that’s why we have got to see this data, this data is so important,” Doorley said. “We have got to stop talking anecdotally, we have to look at the data.”
Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or [email protected].