Friday, September 30, 2016

Potter County to join White House Data-Driven Justice Initiative

COUDERSPORT, PA -- Potter County has been accepted as a partner in a national effort to improve the criminal justice system, enhance public safety and reduce inmate populations in prisons and jails across the country. Commissioners Doug Morley, Susan Kefover and Paul Heimel recently accepted the invitation to join the White House Data-Driven Justice (DDJ) Initiative.
This will allow Potter County to review best practices for criminal justice reform, establish contacts with nationally known experts, and benefit from the results of peer-reviewed research, according to Lynn D. Overmann, coordinator of the DDJ Initiative.
In accepting the invitation, Potter County has agreed to pursue measures that can more effectively address criminal cases involving two populations: (1) people with addiction and/or mental illness who have a high number of encounters with law enforcement, EMTs and emergency rooms, and other services; and (2) people held in jail before trial because they cannot afford to pay bail, not because they are a risk to the community or a risk of flight.
Specifically, the county has pledged to advance three innovative solutions that can better serve these populations, while stabilizing communities, and generating savings for taxpayers:
1.         Implementing data-driven risk assessment tools to ensure decisions on pre-trial release are informed by empirically validated methods of gauging defendants’ risk to the community, not ability to pay or other extraneous information.    

2.         Diverting people who may be committing low-level crimes primarily due to addiction and/or mental illness from the criminal justice system, where appropriate, and linking them to care management or community-based services.

3.         Creating or expanding, where possible, real- or near-real-time local data exchanges that combine justice, health or other system data, consistent with applicable legal and privacy protections, to enable identification of multiple system “super-utilizers.”

While multiple components of the county’s government and other systems will be asked to participate, Commissioner Paul Heimel will coordinate the initiative and serve as the lead point of contact. Heimel was recently reappointed to the Justice and Public Safety Committee of the National Assn. of Counties (NACo). Responsibility for implementing the DDJ initiative is being transitioned to NACo in the coming months.
Results from the Data-Driven Justice Initiative will be shared with the Potter County Criminal Justice Advisory Board and a Smart Justice Strategic Planning Committee that Commissioner Doug Morley has recently empaneled to plan for the use of county resources – financial, personnel and facilities – to adapt to changes in the criminal justice system. Members include Commissioners Morley, Kefover and Heimel, President Judge Stephen Minor, District Attorney Andy Watson, Sheriff/Jail Warden Glenn Drake, Chief Probation Officer Brian Abel, Public Defender Walter Stenhach, and Chief Clerk Kathleen Majot.