November 28, 2018
Today, the National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT) is launching a new interactive public website as part of our PROTECT Sunlight Project. We have piloted our Community Safety Tool in Minnesota. The site will enable citizens to explore a decade of data from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission on felony sex crime convictions, by county and crime type. Users can compare counties by sentencing and successful prosecution rates per capita. They will also be able to view selected case-level data, including judges, presumptive dispositions, reasons for departures, and more.
It is our hope that this website will be received positively by Minnesota County Attorneys, especially by sex crime prosecutors.
In 2005, PROTECT was invited by the Arkansas state legislature to convene a roundtable on transparency in the criminal justice and child protection systems. The night before, a group of prosecutors from three states filed through the kitchen of Doe’s Eat Place in Little Rock to a back room to discuss the project with PROTECT and a prominent senator. The prosecutors debated at length about whether their performance could really ever be measured fairly and objectively. One said it was impossible and another was leaning his way.
Finally, the senator grew impatient. “I’m a pharmacist,” he said. “If you ask me who the best pharmacists are, I can tell you. And I can show you how I did it. Either you help us evaluate how prosecutors are doing or a bunch of politicians will do it for you.”
Since that night, PROTECT has worked with prosecutors, crime victims, and lawmakers across the country to improve transparency on crimes against children. We’ve done this with a great deal of input from prosecutors along the way. We are not only pro-prosecution, we regard career sex crimes prosecutors among our heroes.
About Our Approach
No single website can present a complete picture of the complex workings of all actors in the criminal justice system. We understand that your success depends upon the quality of child protective services, police work, sentencing guidelines, and judicial practices. We’ve made every attempt to present metrics that we believe to be important in a fair and objective fashion. We’ll be the first to explain these complexities to interested parties.
Nevertheless, some of our values are implicit in the data we have chosen to highlight:
• We believe that removing sexually predatory individuals from access to children using meaningful prison sentences – not probation and brief local jail time – is the appropriate response for adults who rape, sexually abuse and exploit, or traffic victims for sex. It is therefore the most logical and understandable performance metric on how the criminal justice system is responding to sexual violence.
• We believe that successful prosecution rates are also a crucial performance metric. Due to the limitations of available data, we have not been able to include acquittals in this rate, but we want to emphasize that we regard acquittals as an indicator of success, not failure, and we applaud prosecutors who are willing to risk them. In future versions, we hope to also include substantiated child sexual abuse reports to CPS, by locality.
• We believe that stays of impositions for these sex crimes should be used rarely, if ever, and that stays of adjudications for adults have no place at all in these cases. In 2006, we were successful in eliminating stays of adjudications (or “deferred adjudication”) for serious sex crimes in California. When we expressed surprise to the state prosecutors’ association that they had not fought us on this, they said, “We almost never use them.” Our data shows that neither do some Minnesota counties.
• We believe that Minnesota’s shockingly weak response to child sexual exploitation – particularly granting probation and misdemeanor stays for the human rights crime of trafficking in child abuse imagery – is unacceptable and an urgent crisis for Minnesota. We have therefore included findings on sentencing for child exploitation on our site.
• Finally, we believe that Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines and weak sex offender grid must be addressed in any honest public conversation about sentencing outcomes. In future versions of our Community Safety Tool, we hope to expand transparency on judicial decision-making. We are hopeful that in discussing this data with the public, this website will assist you in explaining how guidelines impact final outcomes for prosecutors.
We were recently moved to read Ramsey County Attorney John Choi’s “Sexual Assault Systems Review,” which shows a rare and genuine commitment to reform. The report states:
“Sexual assault – especially involving teen and adult victims – is characterized not by widespread criminal accountability, but by widespread attrition in the criminal justice system. Picture a funnel – wide at the top and dripping a drop in the bucket at the bottom. This is nothing new and not specific to any one jurisdiction; it is recognized by professionals as a nationwide problem that persists today.”
With the addition of young child victims, we could not agree more. We hope that shining sunlight on current prosecution and sentencing practices helps all reformers – within your ranks and among the public – identify areas that need improvement and garner support for positive change.
National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT)