Among the things we don’t know about our criminal justice system:Bottom line: We have more data on a few of these topics for Texas than apparently is available nationwide. But there remain huge swaths of landscape through which we're flying blind.
Unknown for Texas. Would depend in part on how one defines a "criminal record." Class C offenses like traffic fines and municipal regulatory violations might be civil penalties in other states. Here, we regulate everything through criminal law, including businesses. (That's why, for example, Texas has 11 felonies on the books you can commit with an oyster; we regulate the oyster industry through criminal law, not civil regulations.)
- how many people have a criminal record?
Unknown for Texas. Maybe we should count? If you've served time in prison or jail, raise your hand ...
- how many people have served time in prison or jail?
The Texas Juvenile Justice Department undoubtedly knows this number, though it's not published in precisely that way. According to their annual report, "There were 62,535 formal referrals to juvenile probation departments throughout the state in fiscal year 2015. This represents a 2% decrease from the previous year’s 63,914 formal referrals." Also the court system tracks juvenile case filings in some detail, though you have to do a bit of work combining data from different court types to get to aggregate statewide numbers.
- how many children are on some type of supervision or probation?
- how many juvenile offenders graduate to become adult offenders?
We have this information for Texas; the most recent report was published in February 2015.
- how often people reoffend after being released from prison?
America's on it's own for this one. But on Texas' behalf, let me suggest a tweak to the data request: Be sure to flag in how many of those shootings was the alleged victim a "sonofabitch" who needed shooting. (Ask Billy Joe Shaver what I'm talking about, if you don't know.) As Shannon Edmonds once reminded us, there's an unwritten rule in every Texas county courthouse that "It ain't against the law to kill a sonofabitch." Then you can subtract that number out and reach the estimate on non-sonofabitch shootings that people actually care about. (/snark)
- how many shootings there are in America?
This will be secret in civil-service cities, unresearched in the others. Information is siloed, buried in individual department record keeping systems which are not shared. OTOH, there's no good reason such information could not be published.
- how many police are investigated or prosecuted for misconduct?
Texas has more than one million concealed carry permit holders, so that's a start. Short answer: Enough Texans own guns that gun-control based solutions are a practical non-starter here and anti-violence advocates must look to other strategies if they hope to succeed under the current Republican regime. Or was that not the answer you were hoping for?
- how many people in America own guns?
Texas has this data, sort of. Each jurisdictions reports the number of traffic stops in their annual racial profiling reports and some but not all jurisdictions also report pedestrian stops. These reports are compiled by TCLE on their website but are not routinely aggregated. So it's possible to know those totals - the data exists - but it would be a fair amount of legwork and statewide information is not immediately available.
- how often police stop pedestrians or motorists?
The number of "reported" DV incidents is unknowable. Cases may be dismissed, plea to other things, etc., so it's hard to identify them in the system. They're not necessarily flagged or tracked that way. For that matter, you could say that about a lot of things. For example: "We don't know how many injuries or deaths happen in bar fights." That's true for the same reason, because the data's not tracked that way. UPDATE: We do have information on DV arrests and convictions, a commenter pointed out. But I don't think we have the number for "reports" that don't result in arrests.
- how many incidents of domestic violence are reported to police?
Texas knows this number. As of Aug. 31, 2014, right at half of TDCJ prisoners were eligible for parole, according to the 2014 annual statistical report, p. 17. And the number of inmates whose cases are reviewed and the outcomes can be determined from Board of Pardons and Parole reporting. If you couldn't get there from those published reports, you could with a choice open records request or two.
- what percentage of those eligible for parole are granted release from prison?
Somebody at TDCJ Office of Inspector General probably keeps count, presumably on their fingers.
- how many corrections officers are disciplined or prosecuted for abusing prisoners?
We know how many arrests there are which would roughly correspond to referrals. And we know the number of case filings by prosecutors, which have gone down in recent years after a decade of rising in defiance of falling crime trends. But, with the exception of a few consultant's reports aimed at advising counties on reducing jail overcrowding, few people ever dig more deeply into the process to judge prosecutors' pre-plea decision making.
- how many criminal cases are referred to prosecutors and how they decide which to pursue?
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Known unknowns and Texas criminal-justice data
The Marshall Project this week had an article describing 13 things no one knows about the criminal justice system. Grits, of course, views such matters through a unique lens. I only care about the Texas state justice system and needn't concern myself with the the lack of apples-to-apples comparables in Louisiana or New York, etc.. So as I read this, I realized we actually have data for three or four of these gaps. On the others, we're as bereft as the rest of the country. Below, I've interspersed a Texas-centric analysis after each bulleted item listed by the Marshall Project.