The Basics

1

Mission

To use data to measure and understand county-level criminal justice system performance.

2

Goal

To measure every stage of the criminal justice process across the 3,000+ counties in the United States.

3

Output

A Data Portal that shows how counties are faring in three areas: Fair Process, Public Safety, and Fiscal Responsibility.

4

Plans

To recollect data every two years to show trends and establish baselines. This is a living website meant to be updated and developed over time to ensure it remains helpful to stakeholders.

5

Promise

To provide as much context as possible so that data can be interpreted responsibly.

Background

Measures for Justice (MFJ) was founded in 2011 to develop a data-driven set of performance measures to assess and compare the criminal justice process from arrest to post-conviction on a county-by-county basis. The data set comprises measures that address three broad categories: Fiscal Responsibility, Fair Process, and Public Safety.

MFJ developed and tested its first draft set of measures with a grant from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. MFJ gathered some of the finest measurement experts in the country with diverse expertise in the judicial system to isolate useful indicators of system performance and from them develop MFJ’s initial set of measures. These were first piloted in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, and then extended to cover the entire state. Based on the success of that pilot, MFJ received funding to measure more states.

Data collection across a country whose records are maintained differently county by county has required some innovative and old-fashioned methods. MFJ acquires its data by approaching state and local leaders, often traveling county by county. In the process, we solicit feedback on our metrics and counsel on the limitations of the data we’re acquiring. We also share with state and local leaders the purpose of our work. Back in Rochester, NY, our eighteen researchers and technologists with PhD and Master degrees in Criminal Justice, Public Administration, Cognitive Science, and Computer Science from major universities across the U.S. work on cleaning and coding the data. They also work on software automation to streamline the process of cleaning and standardizing data from disparate sources. With this combination of strategies, MFJ is able to aggregate case-level data into one central repository.

This data repository is paramount to MFJ’s mission because transparency in the criminal justice system is paramount to more informed discussions about how it's working. MFJ does not advocate any specific reforms, but we do acknowledge that transparency provides a basis for positive, change-focused dialogue as needed. With this in mind, MFJ has developed a web-based platform that convenes all its data and analyses and offers them free to the public. The platform is searchable and can be configured to break down performance data across multiple factors including race/ethnicity; sex; indigent status; age; and offense type. The platform also allows for county-to-county comparison within and across states.

MFJ’s data platform is unprecedented in scale and scope. It is designed for any user—from criminal justice stakeholders to average citizens interested in how their county is performing—and, in this way, offers up a neutral language that reform initiatives can deploy. MFJ’s goal is to ensure the platform becomes the go-to resource for legislators and advocates--for anyone in a position to initiate and catalyze criminal justice reform.

Measures for Justice is supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Google.org, MacArthur's Safety and Justice Challenge, the Laura and John Arnold, Pershing Square, Draper Richards Kaplan, and Open Society Foundations, in addition to the Bureau for Justice Assistance in the Department of Justice.

Our Principles

1

Framework

We believe that the proper functioning of our criminal justice system depends on the achievement of three goals.

  • Fair Process: defendants should be treated fairly through the protection of due process rights.

  • Public Safety: a well-functioning society needs to protect all of its members from the harm of crime.

  • Fiscal Responsibility: the criminal justice system needs to be accountable to the taxpayers in terms of investing resources on effective and proven practices where they are needed.

2

Excellence

Sound evidence must come from rigorous measurement and adhere to the principles of social science inquiry. To that end, above all else, we pursue excellence in data collection aimed at improving the justice system.

3

Nonpartisanship

MFJ was created to provide data and measurement for county-level criminal justice systems. Our goal is to present facts and figures, not to agitate for reform that extends beyond improving data collection and recording at the county level. We do not implement or advocate for policies and programs. We leave this process to others.

4

Collaboration

Every data point is tagged to someone’s experience with the criminal justice system, be it defendants, prosecutors, judges, or defense attorneys. Thus we are invested in making sure your voices, feedback, and input are a part of our process. We work with a broad network of researchers, statisticians, and policymakers, following a science-based, collaborative approach.

5

Rigor

Developing performance measures that make sense is no easy task. Likewise, collecting county-level data from multiple sources. This is why we have made it a priority to ensure our data are as valid, meaningful, and accurate as possible via a robust audit system.

6

Debate

Measuring justice has to be a communal effort. We want to ignite a dialogue among stakeholders and practitioners about how best to measure performance. Debate breeds improvements and better data.

7

Innovation

Innovations in measurement can help find ways to develop new tools and services that speak to the needs of people who interact with the justice system. Measurement can have an impact only if it reaches the people who will benefit from it. Thus we are always striving to refine and advance our process.

Timeline

2010 Amy Bach publishes Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court, which attests to the need for county-level comparative measurement.
Robert F. Kennedy Book Award Ordinary Injustice wins the 2010 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award
The New York Times The New York Times publishes Amy Bach’s Op-Ed "Justice by the Numbers."
2011 Measures for Justice founded as a nonprofit.
Echoing Green Echoing Green provides MFJ with seed money.
Measures for Justice MFJ puts together a Data Council of criminal justice measurement experts to draft a first set of the Measures.
2012 MFJ completes a proof-of-concept study using federal data.
2013 The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance awards MFJ a federal grant to pilot its first set of Measures in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.
Wisconsin State Map MFJ exceeds expectation and measures all 72 counties in Wisconsin.
Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation MFJ receives critical early support from the Draper Richards Kaplan and Ford Foundations (among others).
2014 Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study funds MFJ to conduct the exploratory seminar, "Does Measurement Matter to Criminal Justice Reform in America? A Multidisciplinary Forum on Measurement in the Health Care, Environment, and Education Sectors."
Bureau of Justice Assistance The Bureau of Justice Assistance awards MFJ a second federal grant to test the Measures with Wisconsin stakeholders.
The Pershing Square Foundation The Pershing Square Foundation becomes an angel investor to pilot the Measures in five more states, and to develop a prototype for a web-based data visualization and interaction platform.
2015 The MacArthur Foundation awards MFJ a grant to work with the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts to measures five counties.
the Methods and Measurement Council MFJ gathers and launches the Methods and Measurement Council to review and revise the Measures to ensure they are valid, accurate, and meaningful.
The MacArthur Foundation The MacArthur Foundation's Safety and Justice Challenge awards MFJ a grant to measure Arizona and Missouri and to develop benchmarks for the Measures for Justice.
Measures for Justice MFJ begins a door-to-door supplemental data collection process.
2016 MFJ develops a beta version of its web-based data visualization tool.
The Laura and John Arnold Foundation The Laura and John Arnold Foundation awards MFJ a grant to pursue strategies to automate and streamline data collection.
2017 Google.org awards Measures for Justice $1.5 million to help measure criminal justice system performance in California.
Measures for Justice The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative awards Measures for Justice a grant to support their work to measure 20 states by 2020.
Measures for Justice Measures for Justice launches its Data Portal with six states' worth of comparative criminal justice data.