How Data Can Improve Prosecution, Reduce Jail Populations and Advance Justice

Key Points

Because prosecutors are so powerful, it can be easy to assume that inequitable outcomes result from deliberate prosecutorial action, but that’s often not the case. The overwhelming majority of prosecutors – not just the so-called progressive or reform-minded ones – are trying to achieve just outcomes, they just don’t always have the information or tools to do it. Data is the key to closing this gap between good intentions and positive results.

Prosecutorial data investments prove that criminal justice reform is not zero sum: helping prosecutors can also mean helping defendants. For example, data on case dispositions can help prosecutors identify which kinds of cases they can dismiss earlier in the process or never even file to begin with. This means fewer defendants and a lower prosecutorial caseload – a win-win.

Increasing prosecutorial capabilities may seem like a counter-intuitive way to support criminal justice reform, but when it comes to data investments it’s a successful strategy for advancing numerous reform goals. This includes addressing inequitable racial and ethnic disparities, reducing the number of case filings, and increasing the use of alternatives to detention.

 Given the incredible power of prosecutors and the plethora of problems afflicting our justice system, this reticence is a shortcoming we cannot afford to ignore. Accordingly, the present study will address how data can be harnessed as a tool to reveal the extent of, and then help mitigate, many of the challenges facing prosecutors in their pursuit of justice. It will highlight promising existing programs and strategies, as well as suggest how these efforts could be expanded in the future for even greater gains. It will conclude with a short argument in favor of additional data investment. 

Press release: R Street Policy Study No. 169: How Data Can Improve Prosecution, Reduce Jail Populations and Advance Justice

Image credit: Velimir Isaevich

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