Criminal Justice

Does America Need a ‘Justice Index’ to Evaluate Criminal Courts?

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Statistics are used to evaluate schools, hospitals and other public services. So why not use numbers to evaluate the court system?

Writing in the New York Times, lawyer and author Amy Bach says America needs a “justice index” to evaluate how criminal courts are working.

“The index, compiled according to national standards, would function roughly like college rankings,” Bach writes, “evaluating county courts on factors like cost, recidivism, crime reduction and collateral consequences, including whether people lose their jobs or homes after contact with the criminal justice system.”

The index would be based on data from the country’s biggest counties, Bach explains. A panel made up of community representatives, lawyers, law professors and statistics experts would establish the standards for measurement. They might include the percentage of defendants who plead guilty, average bail amounts or the percentage of cases that are dismissed. A nonprofit group could analyze the data and post it to a website.

Right now, Bach says, the lack of data is harmful. “Without public awareness of a court system’s strengths and weaknesses, inefficiencies and civil liberties violations are never remedied,” she writes.

Bach is a legal journalist and the author of Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court.

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