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Informed Policymaking Begins with Data Collection

Access to full and accurate data allows policymakers to craft targeted legislation and generate the political will for reform. California’s juvenile and criminal justice systems, however, fail to collect and report the data needed to adequately evaluate justice policies. Recent and proposed legislation aim to address this data shortage by requiring California’s Department of Justice (DOJ) and local jurisdictions to collect and analyze information about a number of key justice issues, including racial disparities in police stops, youth outcomes in local juvenile justice systems, and the “felony murder rule.”

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In 2015, the California Legislature approved Assemblymember Shirley Weber’s Assembly Bill (AB) 953, the Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA), which requires law enforcement agencies to report the perceived race, ethnicity, and age of each person involved in a police stop or detention. These data, which will be collected and analyzed by the DOJ beginning in 2018, will improve efforts to monitor police interactions with the public. In particular, the law will allow policymakers, researchers, and advocates to study the impact of police stops on communities of color by pinpointing stop locations and detecting racial and ethnic disparities.

Several bills from the 2016 legislative session also aim to expand the DOJ’s data collection apparatus. Senator Loni Hancock’s Senate Bill (SB) 1031 would require the DOJ to develop the “California Juvenile Justice Data System” to track county-level juvenile justice data. Senator Hancock developed the bill in response to a study conducted by the Juvenile Justice Data Working Group within the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), which reviewed local juvenile justice data collection practices. The working group’s January 2016 report found that most local data systems are outdated and disjointed, precluding the state from undertaking any meaningful evaluation of local juvenile justice system impacts, such as an analysis of the demographic characteristics of youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. The report recommends that the state invest in data system upgrades and endow a statewide body with the authority to collect, analyze, and disseminate data. If approved, SB 1031 would assign those duties to the DOJ and require that the department develop a plan for unifying juvenile justice data collection across all 58 counties.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris | en.wikipedia.org

Like SB 1031, State Assemblymember Susan Bonilla’s Assembly Bill (AB) 2195 would expand the DOJ’s oversight of county data. If passed, AB 2195 would require district attorneys to report the race and ethnicity of people convicted and sentenced under the felony murder rule. California’s felony murder rule allows district attorneys to levy first- or second-degree murder charges against people accused of a felony, such as robbery or burglary, that resulted in a death. While a murder conviction typically requires proof of premeditation and intent, the felony murder rule carves out an exception to this standard and allows the state to impose its most severe penalties, including the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole, for the commission of a lesser offense. Despite the felony murder rule’s profound implications, the state fails to collect even basic data on its use. AB 2195 would ensure that the DOJ collects data on its county-level implementation, creating opportunities for future policy action.

California’s juvenile and criminal justice systems are rife with racial, ethnic, and geographic disparities. Laws such as the Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015 are expanding data collection in an effort to pinpoint and root out these disparities. Proposed legislation, including SB 1031 and AB 2195, would expand on these efforts by creating opportunities for informed policy change. Data collection is a necessary and prudent first step in understanding the effects of justice policy. By mandating the regular evaluation of California’s justice system, state lawmakers can support efforts to identify failing policies and create opportunities for effective reform.

Keywords: BSCC, data collection, Department of Justice, felony murder rule, Juvenile justice, Maureen Washburn, racial disparities

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