What’s the Deal with Data?

prison-data-350In a post-Realignment California, criminal and juvenile justice professionals and advocates require accessible data resources in order to develop state and local policies. After Realignment’s (AB 109) implementation in 2011, there has been significant discussion on the need for data, as well as the limitations and challenges to data collection. Everyone agrees reliable data is necessary to examine the impact of Realignment on California.

As a team member of a data-driven organization, I consistently face obstacles to obtaining accessible, recent, and relevant data. These challenges center around the capacity of local law enforcement departments to collect data, as well as insufficient state funding that results in significant cuts to state collection sources, such as the Department of Justice. Due to budget cuts, many state data sources have stopped responding to special requests and slowed the release of recent data. How do these recent trends impact the work of organizations like CJCJ?

The limit of available data inhibits our ability to examine various justice trends and influence state and local policies. Further, it affects how research organizations provide local law enforcement leaders and advocates with the information they require to make system level decisions. For example, CJCJ’s California Sentencing Institute (CASI) is a resource for diverse criminal and juvenile justice stakeholders, which provides statewide data metrics since 2009. On Monday, CJCJ will release the 2012 juvenile map for CASI, 11 months after the conclusion of the year. The delayed release is due to the lack of quick, accessible data. This highlights how the process to release state level data has slowed.

This short blog does not fully highlight the complexities of data collection for local practitioners, state departments, and researchers. It should be recognized that some local jurisdictions are in dire need of fiscal support and capacity building services to enhance their data collection mechanisms. Realignment funding did not specifically support data collection despite the necessity of examining how this major legislation has impacted California. Given these recognized challenges, state leadership needs to invest in data collection and analysis. My colleague, Brian Goldstein, discusses this in a recent blog stating “data without policy lacks purpose, but policy not supported by data is reckless and inflexible to changing realities.”

That said, there have been efforts to collect and analyze data, by the Chief Probation Officers of California, as well as by independent researchers at Stanford University. Most recently, Attorney General Kamala Harris announced a new division of the Department of Justice that will act as a clearing house for aggregating data and reports on innovative, successful programs around the state.”

kate mccrackenThe Attorney General’s recent announcement provides hope to those of us that recognize the importance of accessibility and transparency of statewide data. As we continue to move into the second year of Realignment, law enforcement and researchers must continue to articulate for this need and highlight its importance on state and local policy.

Kate McCracken
Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Published by the LA Progressive on November 25, 2013
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About Kate McCracken

Kate McCracken is The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice’s Development Director and Director of the Sentencing Service Program (SSP). She presented expert testimony to the Little Hoover Commission regarding sentencing reform in 2012 and currently serves on the San Francisco Sentencing Commission.

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