Obama Administration Launches Data-Driven Justice Initiative

Amazon Web Services, Appriss, Esri, MasterCard and RTI International will be among the first to supply goods and services to the initiative.

The Obama administration, which eight years ago instituted a "Cloud First" IT modernization policy for all federal offices and agencies, on June 30 issued another IT-related directive—this time aimed at law enforcement agencies of all levels.

Several Silicon Valley companies, including Amazon Web Services, Appriss, Esri, MasterCard and RTI International will be among the first to supply goods and services to the initiative. Details are below.

The Data-Driven Justice Initiative is designed to help state and local police and sheriffs—in addition to the courts—become better equipped to make decisions on how to handle criminal suspects following arrest. Historically in the United States, too many people have been jailed for minor infractions or mental health-related reasons while they await hearings, costing taxpayers billions of dollars per year that could be used in much more constructive ways.

Obama: Criminal Justice System 'Not as Smart as It Should Be'

"Our criminal justice system isn't as smart as it should be. It's not keeping us as safe as it should be. It is not as fair as it should be. Mass incarceration makes our country worse off, and we need to do something about it," the president said when the initiative was announced a year ago.

Every year, more than 11 million people move through America's 3,100 local jails, many on low-level, non-violent misdemeanors, costing local governments approximately $22 billion a year. In local jails, 64 percent of people suffer from mental illness, 68 percent have a substance abuse disorder and 44 percent suffer from chronic health problems.

Communities across the country have recognized that a relatively small number of these highly vulnerable people cycle repeatedly not just through local jails, but also hospital emergency rooms, shelters and other public systems, receiving fragmented and uncoordinated care at great cost to American taxpayers and with poor outcomes.

On any given day, across the country more than 450,000 people are held in jail before trial—nearly 63 percent of the local jail population—even though they have not been convicted of a crime.

How Miami-Dade County Is Breaking the Cycle

For example, Miami-Dade County, Fla., found that 97 people with serious mental illness accounted for $13.7 million in services over four years, spending more than 39,000 days in either jail, emergency rooms, state hospitals or psychiatric facilities in their county. In response, the county provided key mental health de-escalation training to their police officers and 911 dispatchers.

During the past five years, Miami-Dade police have responded to nearly 50,000 calls for service for people in mental-health crises but have made only 109 arrests, diverting more than 10,000 people to services or safely stabilizing situations without arrest. The jail population fell from more than 7,000 to about 4,700, and the county was able to close an entire jail facility, saving nearly $12 million a year.

To break the cycle of incarceration, the administration is launching the Data-Driven Justice Initiative (DDJ) with a bipartisan coalition of 67 city, county and state governments that have committed to using data-driven strategies to divert low-level offenders with mental illness out of the criminal justice system and change approaches to pre-trial incarceration, so that low-risk offenders no longer stay in jail simply because they cannot afford a bond.

What Exactly the DDJ Communities Will Do First

The DDJ communities will implement the following strategies that have proven to be effective in reducing unnecessary incarceration in jails:

--Use data to identify and proactively break the cycle of incarceration. DDJ communities will bring data together from across criminal justice and health systems to identify the individuals with the highest number of contacts with police, ambulance, emergency departments and other services, and link them to health, behavioral health and social services in the community with a goal of reducing overreliance on emergency health care and encounters with the criminal justice system.

--Equip law enforcement and first responders with the tools they need to respond and divert. Recognizing that police officers, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and firefighters are often front-line responders to people experiencing mental health crises, DDJ communities will create systems and protocols to help effectively de-escalate crisis situations and safely divert people to the appropriate service providers instead of arresting them.

--Use data-driven, validated, pre-trial risk assessment tools to inform pre-trial release decisions. DDJ communities will work toward using objective, data-driven, validated risk-assessment tools to identify low-risk defendants held in jail and identify opportunities for their safe release.

Administration Offering Guidance

The administration is developing a toolkit to provide concrete guidance for jurisdictions seeking to develop a strong pre-arrest diversion program. The brief, step-by-step toolkit will synthesize best practices, policies and programs that have been effective in DDJ communities. The toolkit also will provide links to federal resources and a funding table to assist jurisdictions in identifying opportunities to support their diversion programs.

The Office for Civil Rights within the Department of Health and Human Services is also developing guidance to help jurisdictions understand how they can share data within the framework of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The Department of Veterans Affairs will work through its Veterans Justice Outreach Liaisons Specialists in DDJ communities to coordinate with local law-enforcement and other justice-system personnel as they develop mental-health diversion protocols to help ensure eligible veterans are linked to VA benefits, including housing, health care and access to mental health services.

Approximately 7 percent of people in local jails are veterans, and 55 percent of them have a mental illness. It is estimated that up to 80 percent of justice-involved veterans may be eligible for VA health care services and benefits.

What IT Companies Will Contribute to the Data Use and Data Exchange

DDJ communities are taking new steps to link data from across the criminal justice and health systems to identify the highest-need, highest-cost individuals who have come into frequent contact with law enforcement or emergency services; proactively link these individuals to supportive services that provide stability; decrease encounters with law enforcement; and reduce the costly over-reliance on emergency medical treatment.

The following organizations responded to the administration's call to action by committing to help DDJ communities access and link data while protecting privacy:

--Amazon Web Services (AWS) will convene a Technology and Research Consortium made up of a diverse range of technologists, data scientists, researchers and private-sector collaborators to work with DDJ communities. The consortium will identify technology solutions to support the efforts of DDJ communities by reducing local jail populations and linking people to care.

Companies and organizations that have committed to join the consortium include Appriss, the California Department of Justice, Code for America, Esri, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, MasterCard, Motorola Solutions, New York University School of Law's Criminal Justice Innovation Lab, Palantir, RapidSOS, RTI International, Socrata, TriggrHealth and the University of Chicago Center for Data Science and Public Policy.

AWS also will provide the cloud infrastructure to facilitate individual-level data exchange among relevant criminal justice and health-care practitioners in DDJ jurisdictions and a data repository for anonymized health and criminal justice data. This will enable the consortium's practitioners and researchers to access and analyze these data sets to better understand populations of people who are frequently incarcerated, identify opportunities for early intervention, and test which programs are most effective.

The consortium will invite jurisdictions that contribute data to join a policy and governance working group to help guide the research agenda.

--Appriss conducted and on June 30 released a new analysis of data from more than 3,000 local, criminal justice agencies to help DDJ communities identify indicators in jail data that appear to be most predictive of individuals at high risk of re-arrest, overdose, and housing instability or homelessness.

DDJ jurisdictions can use these data fields to develop reports from their jail management systems to help identify individuals with frequent bookings for low-level offenses.

Appriss is also releasing its national-level analysis of more than 9.8 million bookings from 2015 to identify arrest patterns and repeated bookings, finding more than 276,000 individuals across the country who had four or more bookings in one year. Using this analysis, Appriss is developing a data-driven product that will systematically identify individuals who meet data-validated criteria as high users of multiple criminal justice and health care systems.

--Esri will donate enterprise licenses to the first 100 DDJ communities for the purposes of research, development, testing and demonstration of a pilot application using spatial technology so that communities can highlight and hot-spot their relevant criminal justice and related data to identify opportunities for intervention.

By pledging $500,000 worth of software and solutions, Esri and AWS partnered to offer Esri’s Geographic Information System (GIS) software, ArcGIS, in the Amazon Cloud. Using Esri's geographic information system (GIS) software, law enforcement officials can help identify programs that offer rehabilitation and ensure the highest standard of care in the most economical manner.

--MasterCard is using its Center for Inclusive Growth and recently acquired Applied Predictive Technologies tool "Test & Learn" technology to provide insights on the operational efficiencies and economic impact of DDJ programs in participating communities.

--RTI International will release its Call for Service (CFS) analytics as an open-source tool available to all participating DDJ jurisdictions. CFS Analytics provides law-enforcement agencies with the ability to analyze and visualize their calls for service data in order to identify emerging problems, monitor specific types of calls within and across local communities, and evaluate how police resources are being allocated.

In addition, RTI International will partner with one or two jurisdictions to explore, in depth, how CFS Analytics can be used to identify and analyze patterns in calls for service related to mental health.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...