Colorado district attorneys are working across the aisle and leveraging community input to expand access to data driven insights

a stylized view of courthouse pillars

In the United States, some communities have very different experiences in their interactions with the justice system. There are policies, programs and practices within the criminal legal system that exacerbate racial inequities and disproportionately impact Black and African American communities.

At Microsoft, through our Justice Reform Initiative, we provide support to organizations using data and technology to develop alternatives to incarceration, accelerate the adoption of new models of public safety and expand access to data driven insights.

Today, Microsoft is partnering with the Prosecutorial Performance Indicators (PPI), a national effort led by researchers at Loyola University of Chicago and Florida International University, to expand access to data-driven insights via new, publicly available data dashboards created in partnership with Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab at the University of Denver and Colorado district attorneys’ offices. In the spirit of promoting transparency, prosecutors worked together with researchers, and with input from their communities, to create the data dashboards that will enable community members to gain a better understanding of the work going on in their local office, including trends in cases filed and resolved over time, identify patterns in how individuals are treated and evaluate how they are addressing serious crime and protecting and serving victims.

Prosecutors hold significant decision-making power, and the public wants to know what their local prosecutors are doing, especially given the increasing scrutiny on prosecutors and ongoing concerns that disparities in charges and sentencing recommendations are often correlated to race, ethnicity or wealth. However, most district attorneys’ offices are not able to aggregate, review, interpret or share data publicly.

“The move to create prosecutorial data dashboards was sparked by public demand for greater accountability and impartiality, along with a focus on community well-being and fairness,” said Don Stemen, PhD, Loyola University Chicago professor and co-manager of the Prosecutorial Performance Indicators (PPI) project. “Increasingly, prosecutors are expected to take proactive, engaged responses to community problems, reduce disparities in justice outcomes, build greater trust through community engagement and increase transparency and accountability. This requires robust data-driven prosecutorial work.”

“Transparency and easy public access to data are two items that can go a long way in nurturing trust and faith between prosecutors and the communities they serve,” said Jeremy Shaver, a spokesperson for Hate Free Colorado, a diverse group of community partners dedicated to countering hate crimes in Colorado. “We appreciate that the participating district attorneys’ offices held meetings with community leaders to learn what they want and expect out of this project. We look forward to how the dashboards may increase awareness on how prosecutorial decisions are made in Colorado.”

The collaboration between prosecutors, researchers and community members was a critical factor in ensuring these dashboards provide relevant and useful information for all stakeholders. Denver District Attorney Beth McCann says, “We are committed to transparency and embrace prevention-oriented approaches to public safety; approaches that are rooted in data and facts. By using our existing data, we can be smart on crime, think about new ways to maximize public safety, ensure fairness and create new systems of accountability to the public.”

Each dashboard also utilizes indicators to assess prosecutorial progress toward three goals: capacity and efficiency; community safety and well-being; and fairness and justice. Robust data is needed to identify and prioritize the possible actions at points of prosecutorial discretion to improve community safety, reduce disparities and ensure prosecutors are treating defendants and victims fairly. These dashboards are now available in eight judicial districts.

“There is a commitment in Colorado generally, and certainly among the judicial districts, to data-driven decision-making,” said Lauren Gase, PhD, senior researcher and project director for the Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab. “The dashboards are a way to take the data from the case management system and make meaning of it, and display it in ways that support transparency and use within each office.”

With support from the Microsoft Justice Reform Initiative, these data dashboards were created as part of the pilot phase of the Colorado Prosecutorial Dashboards project. This is the first statewide initiative for the PPI and is a collaborative effort between PPI, the Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab at the University of Denver and district attorneys’ offices across the state. The project was also supported by data stored and shared by the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council (CDAC). This project, which started with eight judicial districts, will next aim to expand to all judicial districts across Colorado.

I’m proud that Microsoft can contribute to this historic initiative and look forward to seeing how this work continues in the months and years ahead. This work is not easy, but it is necessary to ensure fundamental rights like access to justice are protected and equitable outcomes are guaranteed for all.

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