Prosecutor hopes to add public data-tracking system

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GREENFIELD — Hancock County prosecutor Brent Eaton is hoping to collect more data on the county’s criminal justice system using a new computer system that would be available to the public.

“I’ve been looking for something like this for a long time,” Eaton said.

The software is called Commons and is designed by a nonprofit organization called Measures for Justice dedicated to the collection of criminal justice data. The data, Eaton said, would help his office and county government in general make better decisions about criminal justice.

Eaton said one use for the software would be to help people in county government understand the success rate of the prosecutors’ office in trying cases, as well as other information like how often defendants are routed into diversion programs.

“I can run 99 trials in a row, and if the paper doesn’t cover it, you probably wouldn’t even know. And then I can go and I can lose one, and people are calling me a bozo because I lost,” Eaton said. “…I use that as an example, because the impression that you would have about what happened is based on incomplete information.”

Commons offers monthly data and annual performance measures on the prosecutor’s cases. It can measure how many cases each month are referred to the office, rejected, referred to a diversion program and more. It also tracks measures like time from offense to sentencing; what proportion of nonviolent offenders are sentenced to jail time; and the average length of sentence imposed.

The software also features a monthly goal tracker that lets each prosecutor’s office set goals for what they’d like to achieve; for example, referring a certain percentage of defendants to diversion programs. Then Commons can show whether they’re making progress or falling short.

Information on Commons would be available on a public dashboard, so anyone could look at and filter the information. If a prosecutor’s office uses the software, it’s required to create a community advisory board that will meet with the prosecutor and with the nonprofit Measures for Justice to provide input on what data the community wants to see tracked and what goals the prosecutor should try to reach.

The organization said it’s trying to help solve the problem of a shortage in transparency and accountability by helping communities and criminal justice systems find common ground.

“When the public, police, prosecutors and courts share and trust the same data, those data become the common ground for dialogue and reform,” Measures for Justice says on its website.

To use Commons, the prosecutor’s office would need to be able to provide the raw data from local cases that is needed for analysis. Eaton said much of that data is collected and controlled by the state, through a statewide prosecutor case management system.

Eaton said the data that’s collected by the state is not in a format that lends itself to analysis or finding patterns.

“This really would help me to have an idea of not only what’s happening with the prosecutor’s office but with the courts,” he said.

County council members who heard about the system at a recent meeting said they were interested in the idea of using the software.

“Everything we do is expensive, and if we can measure outcomes through this, that’s what it’s all about,” council member Jeannine Gray said.

Council member Keely Butrum said she liked the idea of being able to track how many defendants are in mental health and drug recovery programs and what the outcomes are for those people.

“It gives you the goal posts for are we giving people enough chances, are we giving people too many chances,” she said.

Others asked whether the software would be useful if the county weren’t able to compare its data to similar Indiana counties. Eaton said that as far as he is aware, no other counties in the state are planning to use Commons, but it can be used to collect some information about how the county compares to other jurisdictions around the country.

Eaton said he is working on getting an estimate of the cost of the program, but said it would likely be around $250,000 as a startup cost, along with ongoing maintenance costs. He said he’s not far enough into the process to know how much work maintaining the system would create or whether a new employee would need to be hired.

Council members asked Eaton to come back to a future meeting with more information about how much it would cost to participate. More information on the Commons software and examples of how it’s used by other communities can be found online at measuresforjustice.org.

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