Bill Creating Centralized Location For Criminal Justice Data Passes First House Panel

Feb 1, 2018

Rep. Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) speaking during a Wednesday press conference about his criminal justice data bill.
Credit Sascha Cordner / WFSU-FM

Florida lawmakers are working to create a centralized location for criminal justice data statewide.

As the head of the Judiciary Committee,  Rep. Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) is sponsoring the effort in the House. His goal is to pool data from all of 67 counties and gather into one uniform database.

“There’s a good amount of criminal justice data out there in our state, but it’s not very usable to us and it’s not very usable to the marketplace or to the public,” said Sprowls. “So, what this bill seeks to do is to centralize that criminal justice data from all of those entities in the marketplace whether it’s the State Attorneys, the Public Defenders, the Clerks, the Department of Corrections, local law enforcement, our jails into one central location—that central location being the Department of Law Enforcement.”

The measure also comes with some other requirements, like creating a pilot project in Sprowls’ district and guidelines for what information should be published and accessible to the public.

“It requires pre-trial programs to annually report the numbers of defendants to whom pre-trial risk assessment tools were used,” he added. “We also collect information on bonds and types of criminal charges. It talks about the Department of Corrections and how they published information and data to the public, how they specify particular crimes—particularly property crimes and residential burglaries.”

The measure has the backing of many, including the Public Defenders and State Attorneys.

Still, Miami Dade Public Defender Carlos Martinez with the Public Defenders Association says there are a couple areas they’d like addressed, which he adds are currently being worked out.

“Florida has a really robust juvenile justice data system,” he said. “We would hope that that is somehow linked through an interface, so that we have just as much information on juvenile justice, so we can tell what the trajectory is and how we can better intervene at earlier points to prevent criminality, and reduce recidivism. So, we hope that that happens.”

Meanwhile, the measure also has the support of Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“What we have said [from Day 1] is we want to be disruptive, and we want to go in and throw back the curtains, lift the veil in every single area and transform that area,” he said. “This criminal justice reform is doing exactly like that. We’re throwing back the curtains. We’re pushing against all those institutional biases that you see all the time in all these different areas in all of the competing factions. What this will do moving forward is it will allow us to have clear answers, clear understanding, and clear data on how to move forward in creating the best criminal justice system in America.”

Overall, Amy Bach says with all the data housed in one place, basic questions will finally be answered.

She’s the Executive Director and President for Measures for Justice, a non-profit group that helped work on crafting the bill.

“Who’s in jail,” she asked. “For what crimes? For how long? Are people in jail mostly pre-trial defendants? And, who’s getting released on recognizance? Which defendants are sentenced to probation, and which are convicted again within three years? At bottom, this bill makes it possible to collect the data we need to answer the most fundamental question of all: ‘How are we doing?’”

The bill also authorizes the state legislature give $1.75 million to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to cover the cost of implementing this bill. So far, the House Judiciary Committee has approved the proposal. A Senate companion measure has not yet been filed.

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