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By Ben Estep, research associate, Center on Youth Justice
Justice systems are complex in any jurisdiction. Whether in the adult or juvenile context, they are operationally divided among several agencies (law enforcement, courts, probation, social services, etc.) with each agency playing its respective—and largely independent—role. Indeed, these agencies frequently have differing objectives, priorities, oversight structures, data collection processes and protocols, and perspectives on justice systems based on their positions within them. This system fragmentation can result in poor communication, data sharing, and coordination among agencies and stakeholders. This complexity is especially evident and challenging in the District of Columbia, where a unique structure, with an unusually large number of agencies, is further split along federal and District jurisdictional and budgetary lines.
With funding from the Justice Grants Administration, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice has been working with DC’s juvenile and criminal justice system agencies to develop and disseminate quarterly data indicator reports. They are designed to provide accessible, user-friendly information that would show government and community-based stakeholders how the justice systems are functioning from beginning to end. Indicators are simple descriptive statistics that provide insight into how systems operate and change over time: for example, the number of arrests in a given quarter, or the average length of stay in jail or detention. By designing, populating, and sharing reports that span the various points of each system—from arrest through court disposition or sentencing—local officials will be in a better position to examine justice practices holistically, collaboratively pinpoint system needs, implement data-driven reforms, and monitor developing trends.
Vera’s work to date has involved collaborating with district and federal agencies to determine which indicators would be both useful to inform local planning efforts and feasible to compile; assessing existing sources for this data; working out data-sharing agreements; and planning to institutionalize the project and make it sustainable beyond Vera’s direct involvement.
We expect to release pilot reports for both the juvenile and criminal systems later in the year. Subsequent quarterly reports will help practitioners and policymakers to set benchmarks for improvement and to strategize ways to make DC’s juvenile and criminal justice systems operate more effectively—all with the aim of better serving people in the community while enhancing public safety.
For more information, contact Ben Estep at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story appeared in issue 2 of Vera's Research Newsletter.