TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — A new data disclosure plan aims to pull back the curtain on the local criminal justice system in Tompkins County.

As a part of the county-specific goals of the Reimagining Public Safety Plan, data from the beginning of a criminal case to its end will be gathered from the Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office and Office of Assigned Counsel, and then presented to the public. 

But exactly what will be shown is still up for deciding. The plan is in its early stages, and as a part of their first steps, county officials are asking for the public to share what they want to see disclosed. 

Community Justice Center Director Monalita Smiley said she would like to see community members as a whole participate in the process of determining what they consider important information. 

“To me there’s really no sense in putting out a bunch of information that’s not useful, or that people don’t find useful,” she said. “So the community can tell us, what would be useful for them to have a better understanding of how this process works”

The Community Justice Center and the DA’s Office are both set to hire data analysts to assist to bring the plan into fruition. 

The data collection is supposed to include the demographics of people going through the system, like age, and the race and gender they identify as. What cases are dismissed, prosecuted, or deferred. Data could be made publicly available regarding the release standards or sentences specific judges give along demographic lines. 

Lance Salisbury, Supervising Attorney for the county’s Office of Assigned Counsel said, “We have a sense of how the system works for better or worse.” The data disclosure plan could be what validates the assumed flaws in the local system, demonstrates a lack of bias, or highlights potential issues.

District Attorney Van Houten has logged the first piece of input on the disclosure plan, for which the county has set up a web page. The soft deadline that the county has for community input is Nov. 30. 

Van Houten wrote that he wanted to see the number of individuals that end up participating in alternatives to incarceration programs after being charged with felony crimes, like mental health and drug treatment courts, and what the graduation rates of those treatment courts are. Outside of certain circumstances, like an individual committing a serious or violent crime, diverting individuals away from traditional incarceration has remained a stated commitment of Van Houten’s during his tenure as DA of Tompkins County.

Alternatives to incarceration programs, Van Houten said, “are helping people every day, helping them become healthy members of the community, helping them move away from the patterns of substance abuse or instability or houselessness, or things that caused them to commit crimes.”

Though, from the perspective of the local criminal justice system, the rates of success for these programs are not being measured.

The potential for the data disclosure project to reveal new insights into the local criminal justice system is very possible with an open mind, said Van Houten.

Salisbury said, “Transparency is difficult. The system is not used to that. So maybe people are uncomfortable with it, which I get […] but it’s good overall.”

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn