Researchers to Task Force: Unfunded Mandate Would Be Wrong Approach on Data Transparency

A state task force of legislators studying transparency standards for State’s Attorneys heard expert testimony advising against establishing an unfunded mandate as the means to accomplish greater transparency. Recommendations are due by the end of the year.

Following hearings on proposed legislation regarding prosecutorial transparency, the General Assembly created the Task Force to Study Transparency Standards for State’s Attorneys, to convene on the topic through this interim.

In a recent meeting, legislators from both the Maryland State Senate and House of Delegates received updates from experts studying this issue across the country. A major takeaway was that these types of public facing data systems cost money, along with the staff to analyze the data. Researchers shared that while transparency can bolster trust and confidence in the judicial system, jurisdictions need financial support to bring those opportunities to life.

Counties fund the budget for the State’s Attorneys offices, therefore any new requirement would represent an additional cost for almost all counties. One researcher shared with lawmakers:

“Just to ask them to do this as an unfunded mandate would be setting this up for failure. There would have to be a funding stream.” Melba Pearson, Director of Prosecution Projects at Florida International University and Principal at Prosecutorial Performance Indicators.

The most recent meeting hosted a group called the Prosecutorial Performance Indicators (PPI), which comprises college and university based research teams who have studied this issue and helped implement changes in other states, specifically public facing dashboards with prosecution data, including age, race, and gender markers. PPI worked directly with agencies in Colorado to produce this type of dashboard but noted that the majority of those jurisdictions were already using the same system, which made it easier and more cost effective to implement. Montgomery and Baltimore City currently have similar dashboards and analysts that manage this information, while many other counties have the data but lack the software or analysts to create and analyze public facing versions of the information. Additionally, researchers shared that lawmakers need to have a better understanding of where all the locals are at before taking any additional steps to change or add requirements. When asked about the start up costs for something like this, no information was readily available.

A Maryland Matters article covered the meeting as well and shared thoughts. Videos of the first and second meetings of this task force are available online. The next meeting will take place on November 14 at 1:00pm.

Thee Task Force will report its findings and recommendations to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the House Judiciary Committee by the end of the year.