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Reimagining Public Safety – Tompkins County District Attorney and Assigned Counsel Kick Off Data Disclosure Plan, Seek Community Input

The Tompkins County Reimagining Public Safety Plan to “require public disclosure of District Attorney and Assigned Counsel Office statistics on a quarterly and annual basis” has kicked off for community input and implementation. The plan is one of four plans specific to the County organization approved in 2021 by the Legislature, and one of nearly twenty total plans being implemented under Reimagining Public Safety efforts by Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca.

The goal of the plan is to increase transparency into the local criminal justice system. The plan asks the offices of the District Attorney and Assigned Counsel to publicly make available key case data including demographics, dismissals, prosecutions, and deferred cases, as well as additional data that may be available through theirs and other Tompkins County departments.

More information on the plan and a call for community input can be found on the Reimagining Public Safety Website. Community members are being asked to share ideas on what data should be made publicly available by submitting an idea on the website before December 2022. All ideas shared on the website will be considered for implementation by a working group including the District Attorney, Assigned Counsel, law enforcement, and community members. 

A working group has been convened to implement the plan and will share progress on the website and through other community engagement activities.

Tompkins County District Attorney Matt Van Houten stated, “This is about transparency. It’s important for the public to have a better view of who is being prosecuted in our criminal justice system and for what offenses. My office is committed to bringing more information to light and finding ways to present that information so the community can best understand it and take action.” He continued, “This reimagines public safety by giving the community a clearer view of how criminal offenses are prosecuted here and how alternatives to incarceration are working. I’m proud of the work that my office does, and I look forward to hearing from you on what information we should share publicly.”

Director of the Tompkins County Assigned Counsel Office Lance Salisbury stated, “There is a wealth of data available in our local criminal justice system that just isn’t traditionally made public in an active and digestible way – this plan sets out to change that. I’m glad that this plan was included under the reimagining initiative because “public safety” is a system that extends beyond just law enforcement activities.” Salisbury continued, “My office represents those people who cannot afford an attorney, the data that we’ll be able to share will help the community better understand the demographics and cases of people entering the criminal justice system. This data should be able to help us better address needs before some crimes, including crimes of poverty, happen.”

Monalita Smiley, Project Director of the Community Justice Center stated, “This is an opportunity for the community to come out and tell us what information would help you better understand the criminal justice system. The goal of Reimagining is to reduce the contact that minority community members have with our criminal justice system, in order to do that we need to make the data public on who is being prosecuted through the system and for what offenses.” Smiley continued, “We have a great working group of interested and expert community members, and we’re looking forward to seeing all of the ideas that the community brings forward.”

 

About the Tompkins County District Attorney:

The role of the District Attorney is to promote public safety through the prosecution of criminal offenses defined under New York State law, committed within Tompkins County. The Tompkins County District Attorney’s Office is committed to a progressive strategy of diverting individuals from the traditional prosecutorial model toward alternatives to incarceration focused on addressing the underlying individual needs that lead to involvement in the criminal justice system.

About the Tompkins County Assigned Counsel Department:

The role of Assigned Counsel is to provide free attorney services to those who are unable to afford legal counsel. Attorneys are provided for charges including violations, misdemeanors, felonies, and appeals in criminal court, and most matters in family court.