By Colleen Slevin, The Associated Press
A bipartisan group of eight Colorado district attorneys on Thursday unveiled online data dashboards providing information to the public on the cases they prosecute, including the racial and economic status of defendants and the kinds of sentences handed down for them.
The effort is part of a trend among more prosecutors nationally to provide more transparency to the public about how the criminal justice system works and also help them address any racial and economic disparities after first identifying them in the numbers. The data is taken from internal case management systems and then analyzed in a way that can be understood by prosecutors and the general public.
District attorneys in cities including Philadelphia and Chicago and parts of California are among those that have started to use data dashboards — interactive collections of graphs and tables showing the data — to promote transparency, said Seleeke Flingai a senior researcher at Vera Institute for Justice. The research and policy organization has provided technical assistance to help district attorney offices use data to change policies affecting racial disparities and mass incarceration but was not involved in Colorado’s project. Flingai was not aware of any other statewide effort to share such data other than Colorado’s.
Some jurisdictions have gone farther than just providing the summaries shown on data dashboards. Philadelphia’s district attorney’s office publishes reports interpreting the data on specific issues and offering solutions, Flingai said. Chicago’s top prosecutor, who was among the first prosecutors to use data, Kim Foxx, also makes raw data available so people can analyze it for what they are looking for, said Mona Sahaf, deputy director of Vera’s Reshaping Prosecution program.
John Kellner, the top prosecutor in the 18th Judicial District in Denver’s southern suburbs, said he became interested in exploring more prosecution data after discovering more white teens were being put into diversion programs than Black teens because the Black teens tended to live in Aurora, where the municipal court did not provide a diversion option as municipal courts in other parts of the district did.
“Disparity does not necessarily equal discrimination but you want to understand why we have disparate results,” he said.
Kellner, the Republican candidate for Colorado attorney general in November’s election, said he is also hoping following data can help prosecutors in his district focus on the biggest offenders in the growing problem of auto thefts there.
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said prosecutors are “swimming upstream” against a fundamental mistrust of government and need to work to earn the public’s trust, especially from communities of color after a tough on crime approach led to mass incarceration while not offering enough help to marginalized people.
“Our collective challenge is to use this data to understand our work and apply to improve public safety and the criminal justice system,” said McCann, a Democrat who describes herself as a progressive prosecutor.
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Colorado’s voluntary pilot program to analyze the data and post the dashboards was done with the help of the Prosecutorial Performance Indicators Project, a joint effort led by researchers at Loyola University Chicago and Florida International University, and the Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab at the University of Denver.
Next, Colorado’s other 14 district attorneys will be asked if they would also like to participate, said Lauren Gase, a senior researcher and project director at the Colorado lab. Researchers will also be taking a deeper look into racial data, she said.