Online Tool, First in the State, Aims for Transparency in Racial Disparities
A research team led by a University of Maryland professor helped the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office (MCSAO) launch the state’s first Prosecution Data Dashboard to provide a clearer window into how it handles cases, from charging to resolution.
The interactive representation of criminal-case processing statistics is accompanied by a new report on racial justice in prosecution that UMD Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice Professor Brian Johnson headed. It did not find “overarching or systemic patterns of racial disparity” in prosecutions but concluded that people of different races have differing experiences in the criminal justice system. For example, although charging patterns for Black and Latino defendants were similar to White defendants, defendants of color were overrepresented in arrests and prison sentences.
The three-year, $650,000 project funded by Arnold Ventures and other nonprofits, will ultimately include Frederick County and Baltimore, in an effort to uncover potential racial disparities, identify possible areas of improvement and increase transparency.
State’s Attorney John McCarthy said in an Oct. 19 press conference that the dashboard can also strengthen the community’s faith in the criminal justice system.
“I really believe that if you build up trust in the community with what you’re doing, the likelihood that people will be willing to come forward, report crimes and cooperate with you in the prosecution of crimes will go up,” he said.
His office gave full access to the county’s case management system for the years 2018-22 to the team, which included Miranda Galvin, an assistant professor at Towson University, and Allison Redlich, a Distinguished University Professor at George Mason University.
“Prosecutors control a wide berth of essential case-processing decisions, yet outside the community of prosecutors, relatively little is known about how they exercise discretion in the pursuit of justice,” Johnson said. “Historically, prosecutors’ offices have been reticent to share their data because it may expose them to public scrutiny, but that is exactly why the efforts that Mr. John McCarthy and the MCSAO are taking—to make their data public, while taking a careful look at issues related to racial justice, fairness and equity in criminal case processing in Montgomery County—is so important.”
Among the findings, 52% of defendants in Montgomery County Circuit Court are Black and 13% are Hispanic, mirroring the racial compositions of arrests in the county. Slightly more than one-quarter of defendants prosecuted in the area live outside of the county.
Those findings are reflected on the dashboard, along with dozens of charts and tables covering topics including victims’ and defendants’ characteristics, felony convictions, even the racial makeup of the MCSAO.
Frederick County and the city of Baltimore will be the next jurisdictions to receive reports from Johnson’s team, which intends to put together one comprehensive report of findings by 2025.
Other partners on the project include Prosecutorial Performance Indicators, Bowie State University, Florida International University, Loyola University Chicago, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Microsoft Justice Reform Initiative.
Melba Pearson, director of prosecution projects for the nonprofit Prosecutorial Performance Indicators, said the dashboards will be an important tool in achieving racial equity.
“It is critical that policy decisions are driven by data and that we are constantly examining trends to identify issues and ensure equitable solutions,” she said. “Data and transparency lead to greater access to justice, not less.”
This article by Rachael Grahame originally appeared in Maryland Today. The illustration is by iStock.