TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY – A new data disclosure plan aims to pull back the curtain on the local criminal justice system in Tompkins County.
As part of the county-specific goals of the Public Safety Reinvention Plan, data from the beginning to the end of a criminal case will be collected from the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office and the Assigned Attorney’s Office, then presented to the public.
But what will be shown remains to be decided. The plan is in its early stages, and as part of their first steps, county officials are asking the public to share what they would like to see disclosed.
Community Justice Center director Monalita Smiley said she would like to see community members as a whole participate in the process of determining what they consider to be material information.
“To me, it really doesn’t make sense to post a bunch of information that isn’t useful, or that people don’t find useful,” she said. “So the community can tell us, which would be helpful for them to have a better understanding of how this process works”
Both the community justice center and the district attorney’s office are ready to hire data analysts to help bring the plan to fruition.
Data collection is meant to include the demographics of people going through the system, such as age, race, and the gender they identify with. Which cases are dismissed, pursued or deferred. Data could be made public regarding release standards or specific sentences handed down by judges based on demographic criteria.
Lance Salisbury, supervising attorney for the county’s assigned attorneys’ office, said, “We have an idea of how the system works for better or for worse. The data disclosure plan could be what validates alleged flaws in the local system, demonstrates a lack of bias, or highlights potential problems.
District Attorney Van Houten recorded the first entry point on the disclosure plan, for which the county has set up a webpage. The soft deadline the county has for the community contribution is November 30.
Van Houten wrote that he wanted to see how many people end up in alternative-to-incarceration programs after being charged with criminal crimes, such as mental health and drug treatment courts, and what are the success rates of these treatment courts. Outside of certain circumstances, such as an individual committing a serious or violent crime, diverting individuals from traditional incarceration remained a stated commitment of Van Houten during his tenure as Tompkins County District Attorney.
Alternatives to incarceration programs, Van Houten said, “help people every day, help them grow into healthy members of the community, help them move away from patterns of addiction, instability or shelter, or things that caused them to commit crimes”.
However, from the perspective of the local criminal justice system, the success rates of these programs are not measured.
The data disclosure project’s potential to reveal new information about the local criminal justice system is entirely possible with an open mind, Van Houten said.
Salisbury said: “Transparency is difficult. The system is not used to this. So maybe people are uncomfortable with that, what I get […] but it’s good overall.