Flying Blind in our Criminal Justice System – Its 2009 and We Still Can’t Answer These Questions

The range of issues within the criminal justice system that the public & policy makers know little about is astounding. Innovation in our criminal justice policies and practices will only be driven by greatly increased access to information about how the system operates, who operates it, and with whom the system interacts. Each of the levels within the system, police – prosecutors – judicial – incarceration, generates large amounts of data that they hide from public knowledge, restrict access, or do not collect. A reversal of these current practices will dramatically & permanently alter the way communities and policy makers think about and participate with the criminal justice system in Chicago and Cook County.

Traditional concepts of public accessibility have always been extremely limited in Chicago and Cook County. Requirements for how agencies collect and release data to the public must be completely re-conceptualized from the ground up. Policy makers need to require that public agencies work together to strategize about what information they will collect and in what format it will be released. Standardization protocols need to be created so that multiple agencies within a system, like the criminal justice system, release data in a manner that will allow easy matching of data points across agencies. This will, for example, allow policy makers to track a single case across the entire criminal justice system rather than just within a single agency.

The advances in information technologies allow data to be collected and released to the public in a very efficient manner. Part of the re-conceptualizing process must include forward thinking about how to collect and release data in an actionable format. Actionable format is one that allows community members, policy makers, and journalists to act upon the information without the need for extended time spent requesting access to data through a formal process that screens out potentially politically damaging requests.

Numbers from agencies that support rape survivors detail the belief that 1 to 1.5 in 10 rapes in Chicago are reported to authorities. Another number that I heard academics talk about states that 1 in 10 rape cases brought to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for prosecution by the Chicago Police result in prosecutions. The current state of data gathering in the Chicago/Cook County criminal justice system does not allow us to verify these numbers. This made me think, what other questions / facts associated with rape cases (aggravated criminal sexual assault as defined by Illinois law) are we unable of knowing? Here is a list that came to mind:

1. How many community members have filed complaints for rape in our community?
2. What are the demographics of the complainant and the accused?
3. What is the history of complaints filed by the complainant?
4. What is the history of rape or other sexually violent crimes by the accused?
5. How many of these complaints by community members are being judged by the Chicago Police Department as either legitimate or not legitimate?
6. What protocol is the Chicago Police Department using to judge the legitimacy of the complaints?
7. What are the real world differences in the amount of evidence associated with these cases and what role does that play in how the Chicago Police Department judges the legitimacy of each case?
8. How many of these complaints have resulted in arrests by the Chicago Police Department?
9. How long were the individuals arrested in these cases held by the Chicago Police Department?
10. What are the demographics of those held versus those not held?
11. What are the demographics of the victims in the cases where the accused is held versus when the accused is not held?
12. What unit within the department made those arrests?
13. Where were those arrests made?
14. How many of these arrests have resulted in the Chicago Police Department pursuing charges with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office?
15. What are the demographics of those involved in the cases that the Chicago Police Department chose to pursue charges versus those where charges were not pursued?
16. How many of these complaints have resulted in charges being filed by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office?
17. What protocol is the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office using to judge the legitimacy of the complaints?
18. Why has the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office disagreed with the judgment of the Chicago Police Department and not filed charges in a particular case?
19. What are the demographics of the individuals involved in the cases deemed to be legitimate by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office versus cases deemed to be not legitimate?
20. What are the realities associated with the amount of evidence involved in the cases the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office decides to press charges versus those cases not perused by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office?
21. How many of these complaints have resulted in convictions, what charges are those convictions for, and how long are the sentences?
22. How many of these cases resulted in a plea bargain?
23. What are the demographics of those involved in cases that resulted in a plea bargain versus those that did not result in a plea bargain?
24. How many of these cases went to trial?
25. How many of the cases that went to trial resulted in a conviction?
26. How many of these cases had charges filed but then charges were dropped?
27. How long were the sentences for each case that went to a trial and resulted in a verdict?
28. What are the demographics of the complainant and the accused in the case that went to trial and resulted in a verdict?
29. What are demographics of the judge, prosecutor, and jury for the cases that went to trial and resulted in a verdict?
30. What were the demographics of the members of the jury pool as a whole?
31. What were the demographics of the jury pool members that were excluded from serving on the jury?
32. Why were the jury pool members that were excluded by both the defense and prosecution excluded?
33. How long were the sentences associated with the plea bargains?
34. How did the sentences vary depending on the demographics of the victim & the accused for those that took the plea bargains?
35. How long were the sentences for those that went to trial?
36. How did the sentences vary depending on the demographics of the victim and the accused for those that went to trial?
37. How long did those that took the plea bargains serve in prison?
38. How did this vary depending on the demographics of those involved?
39. How long did those that went to trial serve in prison?
40. How did this vary depending on the demographics of those involved?
41. Probation?
42. Parole?
43. Etc…….