Colorado prosecutors boost transparency with data dashboards in national first

New information tracking could help DAs ensure equitable application of criminal justice

By: - September 9, 2022 5:00 am

8th Judicial District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin talks about new prosecutorial data dashboards publicly available in Colorado, during a press conference at History Colorado on Sept. 8, 2022. (Lindsey Toomer/Colorado Newsline)

A bipartisan team of Colorado district attorneys and researchers launched a set of public statewide prosecutorial data dashboards Thursday, making Colorado the first state to do so. The feature is an attempt to increase transparency and public trust of the judicial system. 

Eight district attorneys’ offices piloted the Colorado Prosecutorial Dashboards project and since September have been collecting data, which is now publicly available on each district attorney’s website. Participating prosecutors include: 

Now entering the second phase of the project, leaders will work to develop strategy and infrastructure to implement the system statewide as other district attorneys volunteer to participate.

Each office’s dashboards show data around felony referrals, charging and filing, case resolution, diversion and deferrals, sentencing, defendant characteristics, serving victims and staffing and caseload. 

DAs partnered with the Prosecutorial Performance Indicators project, the Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab and the Microsoft Justice Report Initiative — which provided grant funding — to make the project possible. 

“Our support of this work also represents our firm belief that prosecutors wield incredible authority and decision making power and have profound impacts on the lives of individuals and local communities,” Kevin Miller, MJRI program manager, said Thursday during a press conference about the dashboards. “With that authority comes a responsibility to prioritize public safety and uphold equitable justice for all.

The goal of this project has been to shine light on the criminal justice system because we believe, everybody here in this bipartisan group, that transparency is the key to public trust, and public trust has never been more important I think than it is now today.

– DA John Kellner, of the 18th Judicial District

Don Stemen, a criminal justice professor and co-manager of the Prosecutorial Performance Indicators Project, said the program intends to help prosecutors think differently about how they measure success, which is historically measured in convictions and sentence lengths.  They now also need to address the needs of victims in communities and ensure similar outcomes for everyone regardless of race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status, he said. 

“Increasingly, the public expects prosecutors to take a more proactive and engaged response to community problems,” Stemen said Thursday. “With that comes an expectation that prosecutors will consider not only outcomes in individual cases, but will assess the overall effectiveness and impact of their decisions on victims and defendants in communities.” 

No more ‘black box’

King said at the press conference that this will allow district attorneys to better engage with communities without relying on anecdotes. She said the group of DAs leading the pilot program want to help make good policy and use resources wisely.

“This truly is how government should work,” King said. “It took collaboration as elected district attorneys. It will take continued collaboration in our communities, across systems, across government. This is truly how we get big things done.” 

Kellner said that for too long the justice system has felt like “a black box of information,” where people don’t know what’s happening in courtrooms or why. He said the public data will allow them to engage in meaningful community discussions on what’s working in the justice system and what’s not, leading to more informed decisions.

“The goal of this project has been to shine light on the criminal justice system because we believe, everybody here in this bipartisan group, that transparency is the key to public trust, and public trust has never been more important I think than it is now today,” Kellner said. 

Kellner noted that his district has an “epidemic of motor vehicle theft,” so his office will use the data to look at who is responsible and how it can effectively use the information to make meaningful changes that are fair and just. 

McCann said the release of public data is a giant step forward and will help hold her and fellow DAs accountable.

“I believe that it is our responsibility as elected officials to hold offenders accountable for criminal behavior, while advancing a society that is just, equitable and compassionate, so all members of our communities can trust the criminal justice system,” McCann said. “I pledge to be mindful of cultural and racial impacts in the work that we do and to treat people fairly, but this data will hold me to account and hold people in my office to account to make sure that we are doing that.”

McLaughlin spoke about how his office has been navigating the data internally to take the right next steps to improve public service. One key finding is that cases have been sitting around waiting to be resolved for longer than they should be, impacting efficiency, justice for victims and accountability. He said these trends went back as far as 2017, showing it isn’t just a COVID-19-induced problem. 

“It’s a good reminder that this is not data that we all had that we just weren’t sharing. This is a brand new data and a brand new way of looking at the data-driven prosecutor’s office,” McLaughlin said. “There is an incredible amount of data here, and it asks more questions than it answers, but those are important questions that we all plan to continue to pursue throughout our communities to improve our service.”

McLaughlin added that as the project expands statewide, he hopes the data will inform policy-driven discussions at the local and state levels. 

Dougherty added that many working in the justice system know there are people who have never trusted the system, and these dashboards are a step toward fixing that. He said this will allow prosecutors to connect with communities in a way they never have before. 

“There’s a gap that still exists between the justice system and those who are underserved,” Dougherty said. “Our top priority, each one of our offices along with our allies in law enforcement, is community safety. If we don’t have the trust of the community, we cannot protect and serve the community. If someone’s scared to call 911 because they’re afraid of the police, that’s one fewer victim we can help and one fewer offender brought to justice.”

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Lindsey Toomer
Lindsey Toomer

Lindsey Toomer covers politics, social justice and other stories for Newsline. She formerly reported on city government at the Denver Gazette and on Colorado mountain town government, education and environment at the Summit Daily News. Toomer graduated from the Pennsylvania State University, where she also served as managing editor of The Daily Collegian, with degrees in journalism and global studies.

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