Raises, Cuts — we need data!

Do prosecutors really deserve the pay raise Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine claims they do? Or should they be burdened with the budget cuts Cook County Board President Todd Stroger demands of the office? Decisions are made on a daily basis that burden the system with no tangible results for public safety, unless repressing an entire generation of racial minorities in the US was the goal all along. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office does not publish statistics about the office. It is hard for the public to tell exactly how busy the office is given that all we have to rely on is the word of Dick Devine.

The question is not why the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office does not currently publish statistics about their work, but why it never has felt the need to do it in the past. How have the media, the public, and policy makers determined if the office was acting appropriately if they have no data for which to base their decisions on? How has the voting public determined if the elected Cook County State’s Attorney deserves to be re-elected? How as the media calculated whom they should endorse in the election if they have no data? What is the simple answer to all the questions? Propaganda! The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office would publish statistics if they believed they would assist them in doing their job. Not a single criminal justice agency wants the demographic details of offenders released. It is better to manage the media through press releases then have to answer for the astounding discrepancies along racial lines among offenders. These discrepancies are created at various points within the system where very important decisions are made that have dramatic affects:

  1. Where are police resources detailed and for what crimes are they seeking to arrest individuals?

Police seek street level purchases of drugs (entirely in minority areas of the city) but do almost no enforcement of transactions that are conducted indoors (almost entirely conducted in white areas of the city).

2. Who among those that are arrested are charged with crimes?

Despite popular perceptions, not every single guilty individual that is arrested by police is charged with a crime. This is where data from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office would be of great use in helping the public determine if there is a racial bias that determines who is and who is not charged with a crime.

3. Who among those that are charged receive a deal, receive poor counsel due to the overburdened Cook County Public Defender’s Office, or are brought to trial and convicted?

Data from Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and the Cook County Circuit Court would prove extremely helpful in allowing the public to determine how affected this process is by the race of the offender.

The decisions detailed here are just a few of the many critical points in the system where decisions are made in secret with little to no input from the community. In the early 1990s when community policing was forced on the Mayor it seemed that a major break through had been made in exactly how these decision were to be made. Community members thought for the first time they would have a voice in how their neighborhoods were policed and prosecuted. Well, after approximately 15 years we know this was not to be the case.

If the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office wants to stop the cuts from occurring, they need to pony up the data so we can take a look at their operations. In fact, the Cook County Board should freeze their ability to pay their employees until the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office provides the needed data. The Illinois Department of Corrections says that in 2005 71% of the inmates were either Black or Hispanic. These numbers do demonstrate that the system is inherently biased. We need to now why. The only way to determine why is to have access to the data secreted away by the criminal justice agencies.

The Chicago Justice Project is starting a Freedom of Information Center whose sole goal will be to use the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to liberate data from the criminal justice agencies within Chicago and Cook County. Our first request under the FOIA was submitted on November 6, 2006. Read about it here, updates will be coming soon!

Tracy has nearly two decades of experience researching and working within criminal justice systems. When Tracy began pursuing a career dedicate to system reform, he found that no single organization existed to promote evidence-based discussions among law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. Recognizing that citizens in Chicago deserved the right to demand transparency in their criminal justice system, Siska established the Chicago Justice Project. He received his Master of Arts degree in Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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