With a dramatic rise in the numbers in prison, there is bipartisan support – and a major White House push — for improving public safety while reducing incarceration and making our criminal justice system fairer. A key tool in the movement for criminal justice reform is the ability to use data to understand where problems lie and to develop and test new solutions. But a recent survey by the GovLab showed that many of those working in criminal justice, health, mental health and related agencies – though expert in their own fields – often lack the computational skills needed to pursue data-driven reform efforts.
That’s why this week forty-five people from twelve states (Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, and Washington, DC) and sixteen cities will meet online for the first session of a first-of-its-kind coaching program designed to help those working on data-related criminal justice innovation projects take their work closer to implementation and scale.
Aimed at those practitioners who share a common desire to make greater use of data to understand past performance, improve day-to-day operations, and develop innovative enhancements to the operations of the criminal justice system, the goal of the Data Driven Criminal Justice Projects Coaching Program,, supported by a grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and organized by The GovLab, is to support the work of these public entrepreneurs trying to people’s lives. The twenty teams and individuals participating are among those who are fighting to improve the system and who need help integrating new technology into hidebound bureaucracies or developing approaches for sharing data responsibly. Beth Simone Noveck, NYU Professor and Director of the Governance Lab, will coordinate the program.
Over the next ten weeks, the GovLab, an action research institute based at New York University, will provide skill-based coaching and expert mentoring to support those trying to build a better recidivism risk profile or to develop a process for matching the supply of crisis psychiatric beds to the demand for them to reduce the number of mentally ill people going to jail or trying simply to count how many juveniles in their jurisdiction are sent to juvenile hall versus those who are diverted to other programs.
Projects fall into one of five categories. People are working on strategies for sharing administrative data between agencies and using that data to: 1) mitigate the impact of bail, 2) reduce recidivism, 3) develop better programs for those with mental health and substance use disorders, 4) identify super-utilizers, and 5) engage in more effective planning and coordination among criminal justice and other social service agencies.
Building on the GovLab’s experience with online learning, every project team receives rigorous coaching and personalized feedback designed to help them define the problem they are trying to solve. Up-front diagnosis of impediments to implementation allows the coaches to make introductions to appropriate experts. Finally, frequent opportunities to present their work all are intended to help these public entrepreneurs— passionate and innovative people who wish to take advantage of new technology like big data to do good in the world—to advance their projects.
The participants, who will meet in large and small groups over the course of the summer to workshop their projects, are primarily mid-career professionals who hold management and leadership roles in federal, state and local government agencies as well as nonprofits and who are in a position to make change happen in their communities. Success will be measured, not by the number of people in the program, but by the eventual impact on the lives these admirable public servants are trying to improve.