Friday, June 5, 2015

The Missing Statistics of Criminal Justice
"...The federal government compiles a wealth of data on homicides, burglaries, and arson, but no official, reliable tabulation of civilian deaths by law enforcement exists....

...There may be many missing statistics from the realm of policing, but even greater gaps lie elsewhere. Prisons also provide a wealth of statistics, which researchers have used to help frame mass incarceration in its historical and demographic content....

But while current prison statistics give a good sense of the size and scale of mass incarceration, they provide little information on conditions inside the vast constellation of American prisons. Perhaps the most glaring gap is solitary confinement. No one knows exactly how many people are currently kept in isolation in American prisons....

Prisons and police departments may be the most visible parts of the criminal-justice system, but they are not necessarily the most powerful. As judges lost flexibility with the growth of mandatory-minimum sentences during the tough-on-crime era, prosecutors became the most pivotal actors within the criminal-justice process. This rise in influence was matched with a decline in transparency....

One prosecutorial tool with little transparency is plea dealing.... plea deals are also one of the least-scrutinized parts of the criminal-justice system. 'In most cases, that’s a complete black box,' Gottschalk said. 'It allows prosecutors to have this enormous power without much transparency to the public.'

...Legislators and policymakers heavily rely on statistics when crafting public policy.  Criminal-justice statistics can also influence judicial rulings, including those by the Supreme Court, with implications for the entire legal system...."

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