The Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington is one-two District Attorney's that are partnering with the Wilson Center for Science and Justice at Duke Law to provide unprecedented access and information about plea agreements in criminal cases. Harrington and Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry have partnered with researchers at the Wilson Center to design and pilot a new Plea Tracker project that is generating comprehensive data on the factors that drive case outcomes.  

The Plea Tracker seeks to measure outcomes, increase transparency, and build public trust throughout communities served by the Durham and Berkshire District Attorney’s offices, as well as serve as a national model. Despite plea agreements accounting for approximately 90-95% of all criminal case dispositions, what actually happens during the negotiation process has historically not been studied.  

The Plea Tracker's initial yearlong study will result in aggregated data to uncover patterns and trends in how prosecutors use their discretion. In a bold step toward creating evidence-based and data-driven prosecution strategies, the offices will use this data to inform future policies and decision-making.  

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What does it mean when an office chooses to begin tracking their pleas in this way? The prosecutors taking part to complete an online form once a case has been negotiated and the plea agreement is finalized. The online form has been tailored to each DA’s office—the particular jurisdiction, interests, resources, and practices used by their staff—to maximize the benefits of participation for the office itself and the independent research team.  

The Plea Tracker gives so much insight into processes that are otherwise completely unobservable. This project is an attempt to lift the hood on the vast majority of cases, and really see how the justice system works... The lessons learned from this project will undoubtedly have an impact on our understanding of how justice is negotiated, and I think will result in a better understanding of how progressive prosecution can improve the criminal justice system. ~ Will Crozier, Wilson Center Research Director 


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