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Supreme Court, UC Form Sentencing Data Partnership

The paintings on the walls of the Ohio Supreme Court’s law library tell the story of the evolution of law through the ages. On Monday, state leaders marked another point in history.

Representatives from the Supreme Court, Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission, and the University of Cincinnati (UC) signed a partnership agreement for criminal justice reform. The idea is to standardize felony sentencing in the state by creating a digital Ohio Sentencing Data Platform.

"We are in essence building, what I call a judicial ecosystem, which when fully operationalized, would be the first such system in the country,” said Sixth District Court of Appeals Judge Gene Zmuda.

The collaboration is the product of a longstanding effort by the Supreme Court to collect sentencing data. The Criminal Sentencing Commission is spearheading the development of a statewide criminal sentencing database.

Trial courts in Ohio operate autonomously and don’t have information linked across jurisdictions due to different operating systems and varying approaches as to what data is entered.

The first step in gathering statewide data was the development of templates that courts can use for their sentencing entries that are uniform across Ohio. The details in those entries provide the most clear and concise minimum language required to impose a lawful sentence as well as demographic details about the defendant. The purpose is to help judges navigate an exceedingly complex sentencing structure and provide a more complete picture as a means for fairness and consistency. 

“It’s making me think about my sentences in a different way and ensuring that I am being fair,” said Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jaiza Page.

“Collecting data is essential if a business is to thrive, to grow, and to prosper,” said Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. “Why should the criminal justice… or any facet of government be any different?”

To initiate a ground floor for information gathering, the Criminal Sentencing Commission created an inclusive governance structure of judges, academicians, and other partners to work with UC’s information technology programmers to create a digital interface that can connect courts. In essence, the platform combines information from individual courts that have been separated in silos for decades.

“To bring together disconnected criminal justice data sources, in our state, to better inform decision-making, this is of utmost importance to our society,” said UC President Neville Pinto.

So far, Allen, Cuyahoga, Delaware, Franklin, Hancock, Lake, Lawrence, and Summit counties are piloting the data platform with several others in discussions to implement it.

Chief Justice O’Connor said the felony sentencing database is a starting point to eventually track the entire spectrum of a criminal offense from an arrest through the post-sentencing phases. That way stakeholders in the courts, law enforcement, corrections staff, and the legislature can more accurately assess what’s working, and more importantly, pinpoint elements that need reform.

“I feel like a pioneer blazing through a forest, and I can’t wait to see what’s on the other side,” Allen County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Reed.