Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Op-Ed Proposes Ranking Court Systems

Amy Bach is the author of Ordinary Injustice: How America Holds Court. She wrote a thought provoking op-ed for the New York Times this week. Bach proposes a “justice index” to show how the essential aspects of our local courts are working.

Bach's "justice index" would rank local courts in the same way that college rankings are compiled. The index would evaluate county courts on factors like cost, recidivism, crime reduction and collateral consequences, including whether people lose their jobs or homes after contact with the criminal justice system.

Bach suggests piloting the index by amassing data from the country’s 25 biggest counties, where the courts are most likely to collect large amounts of information. Then through a panel of experts establish standards for the measurement. Once those measurements are determined they can be replicated by smaller jurisdictions.

An example of a form of measurement, according to Bach, would be the percentage of certain types of cases that get thrown out after a defined period of time, a possible indicator of inefficiency as well as disregard for traditionally under-prosecuted crimes. The index would also assess whether a county court has certain legal protections in place, like requiring that interrogations and confessions be taped.

The general public would be able to access the rankings and supporting data related to specific areas like civil liberties or crime reduction, in the same way college applicants can look at which schools are best for student life or athletics.

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