Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Philadelphia DA Looks to be on Cutting Edge

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office is exploring the use of technology to make their prosecutions more efficient and transparent. District Attorney Seth Williams, has obtained a $492,000 grant to equip his office with software that, for the first time, will be able to routinely produce conviction data, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Eventually, his office plans to make the results publicly available on what it says will be a greatly retooled office website.

"Seth's view is that this stuff should be open and transparent," said Sarah Hart, deputy district attorney for performance and policy, a new post. "I suspect it won't always be pretty, but it's important we shine a light on it," Hart told the Inquirer.

Hart said the office's new software would remedy that, producing data showing not only how many cases fail to end in conviction, but the precise reasons.

The office will seek to scientifically measure such factors as threats to witnesses, the number of times a witness has to show up in court per case, and much more.

With a new "attrition analysis" in hand, Hart said, the office will be able to fix key breakdown points.

M. Elaine Nugent-Borakove, president of the nonprofit Justice Management Institute and an expert on prosecutorial policy, told the Inquirer that Hart's project appeared to be on the cutting edge in a field where data are sometimes scarce or not shared with the public.

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