The Importance of Data and Information Technology in the Justice Sector

In her winning essay on improving foreign aid: ‘What goes up, must come down’: the role of open data in improving aid accountability Susannah Robinson looks at the role of open data with reference to the health sector. In his essay for the same competition, Adam Stapleton looks at it from the persective of the justice ‘sector’. What follows is an abstract and a link to download the full essay. 

When you go to a doctor because you are not feeling well, s/he will ask some questions and run a few checks before prescribing a treatment. The diagnosis is sometimes surprising: the original complaint turns out to be a symptom of something deeper and wider that needs a concerted course of treatment over time.

So too with criminal justice systems: the symptoms of dysfunction (the length of time it takes to process cases, low conviction rates, prison overcrowding etc) that shout for remedial action are seldom solved by attention to the particular institution alone because all need to function if the system as a whole is to work.

A determination of the appropriate course of treatment, requires first an assembly of data from across the system and benefits from wide consultation with practitioners and users. International aid programmes in the justice sector have at best been inconsistent in observing this basic step.

Advances in software development are on the way to replacing the narrative report with its dizzy-making pie-charts, bar columns and spiderweb graphs (outdated the moment it is published) by an inter-active, visualisation of the justice system that enables planner, practitioner or the public - at a click of a mouse - to see whether justice is being done.

This essay argues that the ‘data revolution’ called for by the report of the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 development agenda would transform planning and assistance in the justice sector.

Download Adam's full essay by clicking here.

Adam Stapleton led the first Justice Audit in Helmand Province in Afghanistan in 2010. Adam notes how 'rule of law advisers in the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) cast doubt over the existence of any data worth the noun. Yet, this first ‘Justice Audit’ gathered reams of data by visiting the courts, police, prosecutors, prison, lawyers and other justice actors and listing the data under institutional headings. It established that even in a ‘broken’ justice system, there was data and furthermore the data was instructive.'  

Adam Stapleton led the first Justice Audit in Helmand Province in Afghanistan in 2010. Adam notes how 'rule of law advisers in the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) cast doubt over the existence of any data worth the nounYet, this first ‘Justice Audit’ gathered reams of data by visiting the courts, police, prosecutors, prison, lawyers and other justice actors and listing the data under institutional headings. It established that even in a ‘broken’ justice system, there was data and furthermore the data was instructive.'