Just Facts Campaign
We can have facts without thinking but we cannot have thinking without facts.
- John Dewey
Effective public policy cannot be based on instinct or anecdote; rather, it must be based on solid information that enables policy-makers and practitioners to identify and quantify problems in the system, propose and implement solutions, and then evaluate whether the solutions are, in fact, effective.
Massachusetts currently fails to collect crucial data at most of the significant decision points in the juvenile justice system, and it has no policy and data oversight commission to analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the system.
An Act Improving Juvenile Justice Data Collection directs the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate to devise an instrument to collect basic, non-identifying statistical data on youth at each key point of contact in the justice system. All stakeholders in the juvenile justice system—including the police, courts, district attorneys, and the Department of Youth Services —would be required to report this data and make this information available to the public.
The legislation would also create a Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Commission to evaluate policies related to the juvenile justice system, oversee the collection and dissemination of aggregate data regarding the system, and study the implementation of any major statutory changes to the juvenile justice system, including the expansion of juvenile jurisdiction. This Commission would ensure the juvenile justice “feeder systems” – child welfare, education, and mental health systems– are represented. The Commission would:
- Examine the current data collection processes to remove inefficiencies and facilitate the coordination of information sharing between state agencies and the courts;
- Identify and evaluate racial and ethnic disparities within the juvenile justice system and recommend ways to improve the system’s fairness;
- Evaluate the impact of any legislation that alters the functioning of the juvenile court
- Monitor quality and accessibility of diversionary programs available to children and youths
- Study the justice-involvement of youth who are also involved in child welfare or mental health systems;
- Review appropriations necessary to accomplish any goals or suggested policy changes identified by the Commission.
Given lawmakers’ obvious commitment to juvenile justice reform, the Commission would be a useful tool. It could synthesize state data, national research and evidence from the experience of other states. Ongoing reforms would be guided by leading edge knowledge, producing smart policy that will benefit communities, youth and taxpayers.