Data Drives Criminal Justice Reform

A Q&A with Pamela R. Metzger of the SMU Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center

Tell us about the Deason Center.

The Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at the SMU Dedman School of Law collects, analyzes and assesses data to drive smart, sane and sustainable justice policies. The center then uncovers, recounts and amplifies the individual stories that bring the data to life. Together, these stats and stories make a compelling case for compassionate criminal justice.

What was your background before becoming the center’s director?

As the center’s director, I am known primarily for my defense of more than 8,000 incarcerated defendants who were left without legal representation after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. The Deason Center’s research director, Dr. Andrew Davies, co-founded the Indigent Defense Research Association, the nation’s first research organization devoted to empirical study of public defense services.

What are some of the center’s projects?

Indigent Defense

The Deason Center has been retained to identify and promote data-driven best practices for the delivery of federal public defender services. This is believed to be the first research-driven effort to systematically identify which public defender practices improve case and client outcomes across multiple jurisdictions.

The Initial Appearance Project

Across the United States, newly arrested people languish behind bars for days, weeks — or even months — before they see a judge or an attorney. The Deason Center’s Initial Appearance Project documents these delays in initial appearance and assesses how they impact criminal defendants. The project includes a multistate survey of initial appearance laws. The project also supports legislation and litigation that advance the right to a prompt postarrest judicial appearance with the assistance of an attorney.

The Prosecutorial Charging Practices Project

Local prosecutors decide whether or not to charge a person with a crime and decide what charges to file. The Deason Center’s Prosecutorial Charging Practices Project explores how prosecutors engage with police, consider evidence, and assess the public’s interest in prosecution or dismissal. At the conclusion of the project, the research team will provide the participating office with key insights about its internal processes and recommendations about best practices.

Dallas County District Attorney Partnership

The Dallas County District Attorney, John Creuzot, is working with the Deason Center to explore whether or not new prosecution policies create a smarter, safer and more equitable criminal justice system. The first phase of the partnership will examine the impact of reformed misdemeanor prosecution policies, comparing data from the three years prior with data from Creuzot’s first two years in office (2019-2020). Future studies will include cost-benefit analyses, assessments of access to justice and research into the efficacy of diversion programs.

This article is part of the 2020 Higher Education Review Magazine.