Florida Governor Rick Scott signed legislation on March 30 making his state the first in the country to require all of its counties to collect data pertaining to courts, jails, policing, and prisons in a statewide system that is publicly accessible.
The new legislation increases the amount of data collected by nearly 25 percent and targets a number of important measures, including
- How bail is granted and on what terms;
- Comprehensive race and ethnicity data, including accurate identification of Latinos (who are often incorrectly categorized as “white”);
- Whether probation and parole revocations are due to technical violations or to arrests for a new offense; and
- Details of the complete terms of plea deals.
The legislation also
- Appropriated $1,750,000 for the development of a database that can connect disparate systems and present information in a user-friendly manner;
- Set statewide standards to improve consistency in data collection and reporting, especially among county jails;
- Established common definitions of terms in legislation to ensure that data across each county is comparable; and
- Issued financial incentives to ensure that every county participates.
Prior to the bill’s passage, Florida counties’ data collection efforts were largely independent of one another and varied from agency to agency. This meant that policymakers in the state were unable to answer basic questions such as, How many people are in jail and for how long? For what crimes? Who is being assigned bail? Are people of color being treated fairly in the system?
Now, a complete picture of the state’s entire criminal justice system will emerge for the first time, and the public will have unprecedented access to the data to see how their tax dollars are being spent on the state’s criminal justice system. It will also be possible to determine whether there are racial disparities in the system.