2021 | Government

State’s Attorney’s Office commissions independent review of criminal justice

Study will examine trends in prosecution, give recommendations

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Montgomery County States Attorney John McCarthy announced on Wednesday that he is commissioning an independent study of his office.

Photo by Dan Schere

The Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office is commissioning an outside review of the department, examining trends such as racial, gender and ethnic disparities in how the law is applied, as well as arrests, charges, plea offers and sentencing.

On Wednesday, State’s Attorney John McCarthy said the county is hiring Melba Pearson, the director of policy and programs for the Center for the Administration of Justice at Florida International University, to lead the study, along with University of Maryland criminology professor Brian Johnson.

The study will use Prosecution Performance Indicators (PPI) as its criteria of evaluation. Up to 55 indicators cover areas such as organizational and staff capacity, racial and ethnic disparities, timeliness and ethics.

The study will cost about $500,000 and the county is looking at “a combination of funding sources,” State’s Attorney’s Office spokesman Ramon Korionoff told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday.

McCarthy — who filed in April to run for a fifth four-year term — told reporters that the study will begin in the fall and last two years. It will consist of both data analysis and engaging with the community through “listening tours” to help build trust in the criminal justice system.

“From information gained during those tours, we will create a community advisory board,” he said.

At the conclusion of the study, there will be a report and recommendations. McCarthy said his goal is to increase transparency within his office.

“What Melba and what Brian are gonna do is tell us where there might be blind spots, where there might be implicit bias in the way we operate. And if we find those things, we’re gonna change them. That’s what the commitment is,” he said.

Pearson said on Wednesday that the study is “not about the performance of individual prosecutors.”

“This is about looking at systems and the office as a whole to determine where areas of improvement lie, where change is needed and where things are going well,” she said.

Pearson said that not all 55 indicators in the PPI model will necessarily be applicable to the Montgomery County study. Topics that will be explored will include recidivism rates, the types of crimes being committed and rates that diversion programs are used.

Pearson said she and Johnson are beginning to collect data, but have not yet begun to analyze it yet. When the study is complete, there will be a “dashboard” on the State’s Attorney’s Office website that people can use to see how well the metrics outlined in the study are being met, Pearson said.

The review of the State’s Attorney’s Office is the latest initiative the county has undertaken in trying to examine policing and criminal prosecution in determining whether changes need to be made.

Other efforts include legislation the County Council passed last year that limits instances in which officers can use force (currently the subject of a lawsuit by the county’s police union) and separate task forces on policing convened by the council and County Executive Marc Elrich.

McCarthy said “America needs to do better” when it comes to the criminal justice system.

“It’s not a Montgomery County issue. It’s a national issue,” he said.

Council Member Sidney Katz, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, said the independent review is important.

“We’re bringing in someone from the outside to examine, to tell us what we’re doing right, and hopefully we’re doing a lot right. But if we aren’t, someone needs to tell you,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com