Sentencing Support Project
Gail McKeel, Multnomah County DSS-Justice Project Manager, is supervising the final improvements in the beta version of sentencing support tools. We’ve struggled through various challenges of data validation, processing speed, display, nomenclature, and program analysis. Meanwhile, Multnomah County judges have received new laptops, and the court and county ITD folks have finally agreed on a mechanism for direct connection with the county servers to support DSS-Justice. The program should reach at least the first handful of judges interested in using these tools in September, 2001.
State ITD Begins Work
on Sentencing Support
Thanks to the direction of the Chief Justice, the Oregon Judicial
Department Information Technology Division has moved state-wide sentencing
support to its list of active projects. On June 25, 2001, Jeff Barlow,
James Roten, and Keith Kohan of OJD ITD met with Judges Michael Marcus
and Ed Jones, and Gail McKeel of DSS-Justice, to discuss the first steps
of state-wide work. Since the initial meeting, James Roten, Lead
Design Analyst on the project, has begun meeting with Gail and her staff
to learn from Multnomah County’s experience on DSS-Justice. Gail
has sent copy of Multnomah County’s code to James.
The Technology in the Courts Committee will act as sponsor of the project, with regular input from the Criminal Law Committee.
To avoid unproductive confusion, we agreed that formulating the nature of the project carefully was critical:
“[T]he project must be perceived as feasible if it is to be delivered within the foreseeable future. ITD is used to building tools to do what we’ve always done more efficiently, with a minimum of change in what it is we do as an inevitable side effect. Sentencing support tools, in contrast, will enable us to do what we could not do before – to access information about how offenders similar to the one before us have fared, in terms of recidivism, after being sentenced to any of the dispositions available under the law and used in the past. We must learn a great deal by using them before we can design their future iterations; at this point, our objectives are modest.
“The initial objective is to provide users with ready access to existing data displaying correlations between sentencing elements and future charges or convictions for offenders who are similar to the offender facing sentencing and who were sentenced in the past. The guiding principle is to give us the best views of data that is and will become available, rather than to design a product that cannot give us information before unavailable data becomes available.
“For example, what constitutes a group of offenders similar to the one before the court will be constrained by our access to data. While we can access only OJIN data, we will probably have access to age, gender, and prior Oregon criminal history; we may have access to ethnicity; but we will not initially have access to mental health status, prior treatment history, and so on – although when we share data with DOC’s IITP program, either directly or through the Public Safety Data Warehouse, this sort of information will be available.
“Multnomah County’s DSS Justice tools define ‘similar’ in part by dividing criminal history into six categories, and rating an offender’s known criminal record from ‘none’ to ‘severe’ (five levels) in each of those categories according to data rules which are also based on what data is available. The categories are violent crime, sex crime, property crime, drug crime, DUII/major traffic crime, and domestic violence. Multnomah County currently adds age ranges, gender, and ethnicity to the variables which determine what cohort of offenders is ‘similar’ to the one before the court. The user can modify all of these variables to accommodate new information that comes to light in the sentencing hearing, or to broaden or modify the cohort, and immediately ‘recalculate.’
“By default, the Multnomah County tools compare only those who are similar to the defendant who were sentenced for a similar charge. For example, if the offender before the court is being sentenced for a theft, the program compares similar offenders who were sentenced for a ‘property crime.’ The program allows users to broaden or narrow the range of charges for which it compares sentencings in the past. The user can insist, for example, that only similar offenders sentenced for violating the same statute as the defendant are included in the analysis, or the user can broaden the sentencings to include similar offenders who were sentenced on any charge – and almost anywhere in between. Again, the user can modify the settings and recalculate.
“Finally, the Multnomah County tools by default select an outcome measure of any conviction for a similar offense within three years of sentencing. The user can narrow or broaden the outcome measure from a specific crime to any crime (and many selections in between), select between conviction and arrest, and alter the period tested to any of six months, three years, five years, or any time known to the data.
“By way of beginning the requirements discussion on the state level, I propose that the description above is a good place to start. The details underlying this simplicity are numerous and complex, but this should get the process started.”
Uniform Criminal Judgment
State ITD has been working for years on a uniform criminal judgment,
which has finally been deployed in a growing number of counties, and which
may actually be in all counties by the end of the year. Many of the
developments in software are interdependent, so that exactly when which
counties will have the ability to use the automated judgment depends on
whether they have adopted such parts as “Hold a Proceeding,” the new calendaring
system, and GUI OJIN.
The Education, Technology in the Courts, and Criminal Law Committees have worked with ITD in planning a substantial presentation on the UCJ at the upcoming Fall Judges’ Conference.
The relationships between the UCJ and sentencing support are indirect, but important. First, automated data exchange between courts and state and local criminal justice partners is of course essential to the development of sentencing support. Second, the automated judgment will greatly regularize and improve the quality of data collected from sentencing events. Data integrity is both essential for and reinforced by the sentencing support application. Third, the spread of the automated judgment should generally increase acceptance for the role of computer technology during sentencing hearings, an impact which should ease the acceptance of sentencing support tools when they are in fact available.
The purposes of the UCJ have always focused on data integration before convenience. Users are finding, however, that fears of slowing the process down have failed to materialize, and, with some growing pains, implementation of the UCJ has been relatively painless
Data Warehouse and LEDS
Technical staff within the Oregon State Police have begun construction
of the Public Safety Data Warehouse with Byrne-grant funds that should
last through the first phase, expected to extend into summer 2002.
As of this writing, Judicial Department representatives are finalizing
their input into the charter and other organic documents. The issues
include how early into the project the PSDW will provide data useable for
sentencing support tools within OJD, whether users will be able to perform
their own analysis or be dependent upon PSDW for both analysis and data,
and the extent to which user agencies are free to devise their own applications
for PSDW data.
Critical to the success of PSDW and to criminal justice data integration generally, and thus to robust sentencing support technology, is the ability to link records. Users must be able to ensure that records for individuals appearing in multiple databases are accurately matched as between data in the PSDW and data from other sources.
The “ID Unit” of the State Police has raised issues about its ability lawfully to share SID numbers with users outside the OSP. Unfortunately, the ID Unit raised this issue too late for resolution by the 2001 legislative session, and the issue has delayed receipt of LEDS data by Multnomah County’s DSS-Justice while threatening drastically to limit the functionality of the PSDW. The issue is currently before the Attorney General’s office for an opinion. If legislation is necessary, we will have to seek its introduction in the next session.
In any event, the organic documents for the PSDW project recognize the goal of all of this is:
“to create a data warehouse using criminal justice data from Oregon State Police, Oregon Judicial, Oregon Youth Authority and Oregon Department of Corrections. The data warehouse is to provide stakeholders and research entities a means to determine the effectiveness of adult and juvenile correctional programs and their ability to reduce future criminal conduct.”
Sentencing support technology and the Multnomah County DSS-Justice
sentencing tools are now illustrated in a Corel Presentations “slide show”
which, in various versions, has been presented numerous times, including
September 29, 2000, at the University of Oregon Law School for the Joint
Interim Judiciary Committee’s Sentencing Workshop; February 16, 2001, at
the Yale Law School sentencing class of US District Judge Nancy Gertner
(D. Mass); May 26, 2001, at the Third International Symposium on
Judicial Decision Support Systems, at Chicago-Kent College of Law; and
June 13, 2001, Yamhill County Local Public Safety Coordinating Committee.
As of this writing, presentations are scheduled for August 14 and 16, 2001,
at the National Center for State Courts’ Seventh National Court Technology
Conference (CTC7) in Baltimore, and September 6, 2001, before the Multnomah
County Board of Commissioners.
Copies of the CD presentation are available upon request, and have been distributed to law professors in several parts of the United States.
New Sentencing Support URL
You can now access the sentencing support web site by entering “smartsentencing.com” in your web browser’s address bar. “Sentencingsupport.com” works as well.
The Criminal Justice Commission’s Public Safety Plan: Report to the Governor and the Legislature (2001): Recommendation No. 1: “Oregon should develop availability of offender-based data in order to track an offender through the criminal justice system and to facilitate data-driven pre-trial release, sentencing and correctional supervision decisions.”
Future of the Courts Committee 2020 Vision: the goal “To Build Strong Partnerships with Local Communities to Promote Public Safety and Quality of Life” includes as “Strategy 4.6”:
“Sentencing Practices. Employ judicial sentencing discretion to make decisions that effectively advance public safety.• Exploit modern decision-support technology
• Build and maintain relationships with correctional agencies, higher education, and crime-research partners.”
The head of Multnomah County’s Adult Community Corrections Presentence Investigation Unit, Bill Penny, has pledged to make discussion of “what is most likely to work and why” a regular portion of presentence reports.