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Criminal justice data transparency makes communities safer

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While serving as a prosecutor and then as a judge, I saw firsthand that community distrust of our justice system, especially from victims of crime, is a major barrier to public safety. Our prosecutors’ offices struggle to build trust by being open with the community because we all collect and report data in different ways. Thankfully, SB1171 would establish uniform standards for Arizona county attorneys to aggregate and publish already public information. Our criminal justice system would be more effective with this bill in effect.

As town prosecutor of Patagonia and later as city attorney of Nogales, I focused our limited resources on protecting victims of crime. As a judge in Santa Cruz County, I kept seeing the same domestic violence offenders over and over, so I created a restorative justice-based program to support victims and break the cycle of violence in the home. 

Mary Helen Maynard

Mary Helen Maynard

Along the way, I learned that in order to make the entire community safer, we must increase public trust in the justice system. The community relies on us to seek justice for crime survivors by holding offenders accountable. But when domestic violence victims and other community members do not trust us, they do not call 911, talk to investigators, or testify in court. The crime shows on TV get it wrong — solving crimes is less about analyzing ballistics data and more about establishing public trust. 

One key to increasing public trust in our justice system is improving transparency. It is often difficult, sometimes impossible, to measure whether the tactics prosecutors use to seek justice are effective. We can’t measure performance and results without clear, consistent data across counties. In Arizona, some offices split data between digital and paper formats, while others store data in different digital systems that do not allow for comparison. This has prevented us from studying the effectiveness of our public safety systems. By keeping this data in disarray, we are keeping the public in the dark about our work, forfeiting a key opportunity to build trust. 

Senate Bill 1171 gives us back this opportunity by establishing data collection and reporting standards. Data released under SB 1171 will show Arizonans how prosecutors across the state are making choices to impact the lives of crime victims and entire communities. Transparency will help Arizonans regain faith in our criminal justice system. 

Transparency will also help prosecutors develop programs that effectively improve community safety. It took me years to realize that recidivism rates for domestic violence in Santa Cruz County were sky-high, which led me to develop a unique restorative justice model. Improved data collection and analysis would have given me this insight years earlier. SB 1171 will provide today’s prosecutors with similar insights into their offices’ practices and patterns. It will enable them to justify new programs and to share successes with the public. 

We know SB 1171 will make a difference in Arizona because we’ve seen similar data collection and analysis benefit other states. In Travis County, Texas, the District Attorney’s Office knew the rate of dismissed cases was high.  Some assumed it was the result of poor charging decisions — line prosecutors charging suspects only to discover they didn’t have enough evidence to bring the case to trial. But data analysis revealed that the high dismissal rate was in fact the result of successful diversions into mental health and addiction recovery services. The dismissal rate didn’t reflect badly on line prosecutors, it reflected well on diversion, so in response they increased investment in those programs.

In Arizona, without accurate and complete data, our criminal justice system is losing public trust, which prevents us from keeping people safe. SB 1171 would make our prosecutors’ offices more effective and improve public collaboration with our criminal justice system. SB 1171 has found support across the political spectrum because it would give lawmakers, prosecutors, and the public the information we all need to better serve justice. 

Judge Mary Helen Maley Maynard (Ret.) served as Patagonia Town Prosecutor, Nogales City Attorney, and as a Judge in Santa Cruz County, Arizona. She is now a speaker for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nonprofit group of prosecutors, judges, police, and other law enforcement officials working to improve the criminal justice system.

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