A Look Inside the Black Box of New York State’s Criminal Justice Data

Overview

Our new report reveals that, with few exceptions, the mechanisms for criminal justice data collection and release in New York State are broken. This report covers the ways New York State’s criminal justice data infrastructure fails to meet basic levels of transparency that are requisite for evidence-based decision making and general accountability.

With thanks to the Tow Foundation for their generous support of this work.

Key Findings

Key findings from the report show efforts to put data to use across the state are frequently hampered by:

  • Antiquated systems
  • Inconsistent practices
  • Complicated and expensive request processes
  • A degree of partiality that allows data access to some and not others

Why It Matters

Without access to information about the ways cases are processed through the system, practitioners, advocates, and researchers in New York State are left unequipped to make decisions necessary for their work. Moreover, the public is in the dark about basic information pertaining to their local justice system. With heated criminal justice reform debates underway, there is a clear need for data that can speak to system performance.

Report Preview

Audio Media Kit

This kit provides audio files of the following quotes describing personal experiences with criminal justice data in New York State. The quotes are voiced by actors, not the individuals quoted.

Full Audio Kit

" It’s a fight we’ve been having for decades. "

Susan Bryant

New York State Defenders Association Executive Director, discussing the struggle for access to data

" It was a really difficult process with such a long waiting time that made it almost impossible to investigate certain patterns. If you wanted to figure something out and had a deadline of say, six months, that wouldn’t happen. "

Julie Ciccolini

Director of Law Enforcement Accountability at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, recalling requesting case-level data from DCJS while at her previous role at the Legal Aid Society

" I’m absolutely certain that there are things they’re collecting that they may not share, or we don’t know to ask for. "

Researcher

" If I go to DCJS looking for data from today to six months ago, it’s not available...not until months later which is useless when I’m trying to make an argument about bail reform impact right now. "

Tim Donaher

Monroe County Public Defender

" If people don’t want to track it they can throw out this exorbitant cost or estimate of the time it will take to pull the data. They can take as long as they want and charge you as much as they want. "

Researcher

" It means we often know anecdotally there are problems, but when we go to find the data necessary to assess it at the systems level, the data are obfuscated. "

Katie Schaffer

Director of Organizing and Advocacy at the Center for Community Alternatives

" The other public defenders and myself have repeatedly requested that same data feed but have been unsuccessful so far. "

Chris Boyle

New York County Defender Services

" It’s a pretty resource-intensive process to ensure that information is appropriately reviewed and provided. "

Leigh Bates

SDCJS, outlining the process for receiving case-level data from DCJS

" Therefore, there is a disconnect between what data the clerks need to do their job versus what researchers and policy advocates want or need for data analysis. The case management system was not designed or intended to be a research database. "

Karen Kane

Director of Court Research with OCA, explaining how the case management system’s purpose is to keep an accurate court record and allow for the efficient processing of cases

" A prosecutor’s office has to define its data, designate someone to enter the data, and then have someone audit the data. But oftentimes offices don’t do any of those things. Different attorneys have different definitions, different people enter it, and no one checks it. "

Former New York City Prosecutor

" We’ve tried for several years to get access to the data but we can’t. We can’t even say, ‘Can you show us the available queries?’, ‘Can you just tell us what you’re collecting so we can tell you what we want?’ Honestly, we’re not even sure what OCA [Office of Court Administration] collects. "

Local Prosecutor

Related Publications