California Assembly to Vote On Criminal Justice Data Improvement Act
“Every day you’re making decisions without data is a day you’re not making the best decisions,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “The absence of good data is a threat to public safety, but it’s also a threat to good governance. We cannot make the best use of taxpayer resources and effectively manage our most important institutions on a hunch."
“The criminal records system is broken and needs to be fixed,” said Assemblymember Rob Bonta. “AB 1331 will help clean up many of the problems that exist when collecting and processing Californians that have either been charged with, tried for or convicted of a crime. These proposed changes are critical to the criminal justice system because they help ensure just outcomes for Californians and they inform policy makers when crafting new legislation on issues related to public safety.”
Assembly Bill 1331 comes on the heels of a new report, “The California Criminal Justice Data Gap," issued by Stanford Law School and Measures for Justice that details the extent of the problem 1331 aims to fix.
"I am very pleased to see the California legislature take up a bill to close California's criminal justice data gap,” said Robert Weisberg, JD. Edwin E. Huddleson, Jr. Professor of Law and Faculty Co-Director, Stanford Criminal Justice Center. “The bill will go a long way towards addressing many of the dire problems unearthed by our report."
As the report states, for more than 60 years, the state has promoted the collection and dissemination of criminal justice data through a series of laws and regulations that have mandated detailed data collection for operational purposes, as well as broad access to policy makers and bona fide research organizations. However, major gaps exist in the State’s criminal history records that ultimately undermine accuracy and reliability.
In fact, the Department of Justice estimates that 60% of arrest records are missing disposition information. Missing arrest disposition information means that many arrests that have not been filed or resulted in conviction appear as pending cases and remain on criminal records that are disseminated to employers and licensing boards, effectively criminalizing a person who may in fact be innocent.
The absence of this information also limits the ability of public safety agencies and government to make informed decisions regarding a number of essential functions. For example, without timely and accurate reporting of convictions, the Bureau of Firearms cannot effectively support the Armed & Prohibited Persons System (APPS) and ensure that prohibited persons do not possess or acquire guns. Additionally, and of particular importance in the era of bail reform, without complete information about convictions, sentences, and bench warrants, pretrial risk assessments cannot reliably predict risk and safely release individuals from custody. Equally concerning is the prospect that individuals that should be released may be detained due to a pretrial risk assessment score that was formulated with incomplete data.
AB 1331 will also enhance policymaking, as California policymakers don’t have complete visibility into the fiscal impacts of criminal justice reform proposals. For example, from realignment to proposed sentencing enhancements, mental health diversion and bail reform, it is currently impossible to study what the many changes to our criminal justice system will mean in terms of the in-custody or out of custody populations. Such figures have major implications as governments across the state consider jail, prison, and behavioral health facility construction as planning and fiscal analyses are severely limited by the void of criminal justice system data.
“The pace at which California is generating new criminal justice policy is staggering, and yet the state lacks the ability to measure the implementation or impact of these changes," said Mikaela Rabinowitz, PhD. Director of National Engagement and Field Operations, Measures for Justice. "A state as big and forward-thinking as California needs to be able to track its progress. It's a crime not to.”
California first began regulating the collection of criminal justice data in 1955 when the Legislature passed laws mandating the Department of Justice to collect criminal justice data from a wide variety of criminal justice agencies, including police departments, courts, district attorneys, probation departments, amongst others. Since 1973, criminal justice agencies have been required to report on two-thirds of the data elements listed in AB 1331. However, the law has not been clear about how and when that data should be reported to the state. AB 1331 fills that void by ensuring that comprehensive criminal justice data from every stage of the criminal process are reported to the state. It also clarifies and modernizes reporting requirements for criminal justice agencies, reduces barriers to accessing that data, and improves our criminal justice governance in California. AB 1331 will also advance transparency and accountability by ensuring that the public and independent researchers can safely access criminal justice data.
AB 1331 promotes good governance and provides a foundation that ensures that California can achieve its full potential as a state committed to data-driven criminal justice operations, policy, and transparency. It will be heard today in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.