In what is being described as the nation’s largest prosecutor transparency program, eight Colorado district attorneys have agreed to release significant amounts of data that could help their respective communities better understand how their judicial system reflects their communities.
Thanks to a grant from Microsoft the “Prosecutor Performer Indicator,” or PPI, launched for eight of Colorado’s 22 district attorneys’ offices on Thursday. The PPI not only collected and categorized data from the eight participating offices, but also helped expose where the judicial system is succeeding and failing when it comes to disproportionalities and more.
“District Attorney’s offices have not historically not shared data with the community and have not collected data themselves,” said 8th Judicial District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin. “We wanted to see what our data looked like.”
McLaughlin, the district attorney for Larimer and Jackson counties, invited CBS News Colorado’s Dillon Thomas for an advanced look at the database system for his jurisdiction before it was launched online.
McLaughlin said he was among the first of the district attorneys to volunteer for the database system because he campaigned for his position under the understanding that there were inequities in the judicial system, but he needed help better understanding where those inequities were and where they were rooted.
“(The PPI) is a nation-leading effort in being transparent with our community with what goes on behind the often-opaque doors of the criminal justice system,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin, and the seven other district attorneys, spent nearly a year working on the first phase of this project. They not only had to discuss what data they felt was important to compile and release, but also had to determine what their definitions of certain pools of data included to make sure each office was contributing similar statistics.
When it comes to Larimer and Jackson counties nearly 50 different metrics are now being shared with the public, with hope that more will be released in the coming years.
“Different ones will be relevant to different people,” McLaughlin said.
For example, you can compare felony incarceration rates between races, or compare the county’s ethnicity demographics to the extent of sentencing for each respective ethnicity.
“In certain areas there are disproportionalities, unfortunately. Now we know what the scope of those problems are, and now we are set to mitigate those,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said the data also helped his team find places where they were lagging, yet never realized until the database was compiled and released. One of those areas of concern came with how long defendants were in the judicial system before either being cleared or sentenced.
“The data showed that cases have taken longer to resolve, dating all the way back TO 2017. So, it wasn’t just a COVID problem, it started 6 years ago,” McLaughlin said. “We are trying to figure out how to address that to better use taxpayer dollars. We can get justice for victims quicker, we can hold defendants accountable quicker.”
However, the data has also highlighted where McLaughlin’s office is succeeding.
“For instance we are offering differed judgements to Black, white and Hispanic defendants at identical rates,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said he hoped the other 16 district attorneys not-yet participating in the PPI program would see the benefits of doing so, and would soon join the movement in an effort to make Colorado a leading force when it comes to this level of transparency.
“Really using data to drive decision making in the criminal justice system is going to benefit every agency, and therefore benefit the community and community safety,” McLaughlin said.