Posted on January 1st, 2022

by Dr. Marie VanNostrand

Simple question, still challenging to answer after all these years.  Not because we don’t know what we do – our mission is to advance pretrial justice in America and we believe our partnerships with communities across the country do just that.  But what does that look like?  To us it looks like reforming justice systems to be more ‘just’ – it means safer communities, reduced racial and ethnic disparities, and a less costly and more fair system.  But when people ask “what do you do?”, they really want to know “how do you do it?”.  That question is harder to answer because the way we achieve our mission has changed over time.

Early on when there was little interest in pretrial justice reform (hard for many to imagine now I know) we found different ways to accomplish our mission.  When county budgets appeared limitless and the jail boom was happening, we partnered with architectural firms in jail planning projects to conduct system assessments and recommend system reforms to reduce future jail bed needs.  When county budgets plummeted and jails were grossly overcrowded, we worked with counties facing federal civil rights violation lawsuits to reform their systems and responsibly reduce jail populations.  When people seemed genuinely interested in the pretrial justice space with all of its brutal realities, there was a recognition of the scarcity of research showing what could effectively reform these systems.  So, we conducted research for several years on the ‘Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention’, the ‘Effectiveness of Alternatives to Detention’, the ‘Strongest Predictors of Pretrial Outcomes’, and a like.  We then spent a few years leveraging implementation science to work side by side with communities to adopt what were considered best practices at that time.

I know, I know, how did we end up dedicated to Transforming Siloed Data Into Justice System Insights?  Simple.  All of the ways in which we have worked to advance pretrial justice has involved data.  System assessments require data.  Responsible jail population reduction projects require data.  Research studies require data.  And yes, implementation projects require data to monitor the impact of the reforms.  We always knew that a lack of useable data was the biggest challenge to our work and anyone trying to reform the ineffective, unfair, costly, and often downright cruel system we call pretrial justice.  Why?  Because the pretrial justice system consists of numerous independent agencies with siloed data, or no electronic data at all, that were rarely meant to be shared or to function as a system.  But over the years we created and refined methodologies to standardize, transform, and link data from siloed software systems.  Eventually it turned into a model for data integration (SAVANT – Justice System Data Fusion℠) with standardized and well-defined key performance metrics, business logic, visualizations, linking strategies, and even pseudo-code.

In hindsight, SAVANT was created organically out of necessity.  And then one day we realized that we had the knowledge, skills, and abilities to use it to create usable data and potentially overcome the biggest barrier to advancing pretrial justice. And not just usable data – data that is accessible, interpretable, and provides insights that can be acted upon.  Data to effectively monitor system performance in real time; empower strategic and data driven decisions; fuel research and the discovery of true evidence-based practices; increase transparency and accountability; illuminate actionable insights; and so much more.

What do we do?  We transform siloed data from independent justice system agencies into usable, accessible, interpretable, and actionable data.  That is what we do.