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How the Criminal Justice Report Card Came to Be

For greater insight into the performance of elected officials, the LA Progressive often relies on legislative scorecards. We’ve all seen these legislative report cards—they’re designed to give readers a snapshot of the performance of their officeholders. A quick Google search will turn up quite a few of these scorecards on a host of issues.

Planned Parenthood does quite a nice one around women’s health. The Courage Campaign’s “People’s Report Card of California” focuses on state legislators that are most out of step with their constituents, thus joining a “Hall of Shame.” The Heritage Foundation has an elaborate Congressional scorecard on a broad range of conservative issues, and the National Rifle Association offers a complex one on gun rights.

Yet, we didn’t find a legislative scorecard that honed in on criminal justice issues—especially not here in California where so much good criminal justice reform work has been done and terrific battles fought in the past few years. So we decided to create one.

Who’s The Team?

Starting in late June here at LA Progressive, we—Dick Price and Sharon Kyle—recruited two dozen seasoned criminal justice activists, who work for several leading activist organizations.

These mostly LA-based individuals said they were intrigued by the report card concept and would like to be kept appraised of our progress. A core team of eight or so said they’d be the “worker bees” to get the job done.

Our goal was to create a first version of a criminal justice report card rating the performance of incumbent California state legislators over the past several years in time for this year’s November election.

What Bills?

Initially, we gathered a list of nearly 100 criminal justice-related bills passed in California’s state legislature from 2013 to present. These candidates came from lists of bills our colleagues at the ACLU of Southern California, Drug Policy Alliance, Friends Committee on Legislation of California, and the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice had been keeping their eyes on, as well as individual bills our report card volunteers added.

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Next, through a close reading of the bills and a two-stage voting process involving many of our two dozen participating activists, we narrowed the list to 17 bills for the State Senate and 14 for the Assembly. We also categorized the bills to make sure we hadn’t overlooked important areas within criminal justice reform.

For simplicity’s sake in this first version, we only used bills our participating activists and their organizations favored that got signed into law, not ones they wanted to see defeated.

How Are Grades Assigned?

A legislator earned a +1 score for voting for a bill criminal justice reform activists favored, a -1 score for voting against it, and a 0 score for not voting or being absent. In future report card versions, we might well add bonus points for authoring or cosponsoring a bill and demerits for abstaining while present for a vote.

These numerical scores are tabulated and averaged. They are then applied to an A to F grading scale, which becomes the scale used in the Legislative Criminal Justice Scorecard.

What’s Next?

With our first criminal justice report card launched, we’ll look to further refine it to better serve the voting public and hold officeholders accountable. We’ll also consider expanding the criminal justice report card concept to other legislative bodies serving Californians.

We welcome your thoughts on our efforts.

Dick Price