Herald Tribune by Josh Salman
January 31, 2018
Florida’s House of Representatives has proposed a sweeping overhaul of how information is stored and disseminated throughout the state’s criminal justice system.
Drafted this week by the House Judiciary Committee, the bipartisan measure would create one uniform databank with information on everything from arrest and bail proceedings to criminal sentencing. That information would be made searchable and published to the public through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website.
Justice system experts praised the legislation as a way to bolster transparency — and ultimately improve judicial fairness. They praised ongoing reporting by the Herald-Tribune for accelerating the data conversation and helping to spur reform.
“This bill is impressive, and the momentum over the last two years is no fluke,” said Deborrah Brodsky, director of Florida State University’s Project on Accountable Justice, referencing the newspaper’s reporting. “This, to me, is more important than any one sentencing fix or any single policy change. It fundamentally puts in a system that allows us to identify our failures and address them.”
The 30-page committee bill seeks to centralize Florida’s various criminal justice system databases by requiring court clerks, state attorneys, public defenders, jail operators and the Florida Department of Corrections to collect specific data elements and transmit that information back to FDLE weekly.
FDLE would then create a unique identifier for each criminal case — allowing the public to track that defendant’s experience at each step of the system.
The measure also calls for the state to digitize the criminal punishment code’s sentencing scoresheets. The form is used by the courts to ensure consistency in sentencing, with a point-scoring system that calculates recommended sentences based on the severity of the crime, the defendant’s prior record and a host of other factors. [READ MORE]