Legislation on Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s desk Wednesday would make Florida’s criminal justice system the most transparent in the nation, consolidating all county and state-level data in a single public website.
The online portal would require the state and counties to gather 25 percent more data on inmates, tracking their progress through arrest, bail, trial, imprisonment, and release, Government Technology magazine reported. The centralized website would be the first of its kind in the nation, with many arguing it should become the new standard.
“It’s a huge win because once it’s fully operational, it will provide a treasure trove of information by which we can measure disparities in the system,” said Carlos Martinez, the public defender for Miami-Dade. “This is a monumental undertaking, but it’s critical. You can’t change what you don’t know.”
The reliable data would allow lawmakers to get a clearer look at the effects of various justice reforms as well. Republican state Rep. Chris Sprowls, who sponsored the bill, wanted to establish the portal to enable tracking and combating racial disparities in sentencing.
“The ability to look at qualitative information about our criminal justice system will not only bring transparency, it will guide our future decision making,” Sprowls said in a statement.
The bill was inspired by a pair of 2016 and 2017 reports from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, which laid out evidence of racial biases in Florida sentencing. State legislators had pursued the same bill in 2017, but it never made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The 2018 version gained approval from the legislature on Friday.
Scott has yet to sign it, however, and may veto the bill due to some of its sponsors, which include the notoriously left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center, which has labeled center-right organizations as “hate groups.”
“The data collection is a good foundational step,” SPLC said in a statement. “It’s a predicate to more comprehensive criminal justice reform. What we know about how the system is operating in Florida is spotty. You increase data and transparency for the public, policymakers and the media. That allows us to see where the system is failing and hold prosecutors, judges and legislators accountable.”
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