Broward State Attorney’s Office joins Prosecutorial Performance Indicators project

The Broward State Attorney’s Office has joined a network of nationally recognized researchers and prosecutors who are committed to increasing transparency and accountability by objectively measuring and analyzing prosecutorial practices.

Following through on Broward State Attorney Harold F. Pryor’s commitment to make the criminal justice system as transparent and accountable as possible, the Broward State Attorney’s Office is partnering with Florida International University (FIU) and Loyola University Chicago to measure Prosecutorial Performance Indicators (PPIs). This innovative partnership is part of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, which is funding the Broward research.

The project creates data dashboards that are shared with the public online. The neutral and objective information is then used to help analyze and measure prosecutorial decision making and its impact on communities. The research will help prosecutors to make smart decisions and analyze what works and what needs attention or improvement.

“Before I was sworn in, I promised to help reform the criminal justice system in smart ways that deliver equal justice to all and keep our communities safe,” Broward State Attorney Harold F. Pryor said. “It will take time to conduct this research and implement changes but we are going to dig into the data so we can understand what works and what doesn’t work so well. Our goals are to address serious crime, improve our effectiveness, lower costs for taxpayers, and protect and serve victims while also reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.”

The Prosecutorial Performance Indicators are 55 measures of performance that challenge and expand traditional measures of success in the field of prosecution. They emphasize the priorities of safety, community well-being, justice, equity and fairness for everyone affected by our criminal justice system.

Prosecutors and other staff members at the Broward State Attorney’s Office are eager to work with researchers and our community to examine how we do our jobs. Using neutral and objective data will allow us to analyze the fairness and effectiveness of how we handle cases from the time they are presented to us by police agencies, through the evaluation and decision-making process on whether charges should be formally filed, which charges would be appropriate, and how cases are handled through dismissal, referral to diversion programs, prosecution, pleas, trials and sentencing.

The Broward State Attorney’s Office is the seventh prosecutorial office in the US – and the third in Florida – to join the project. The six other offices that are already part of the project are based in Charleston, S.C., Chicago, Ill., Milwaukee, Wis., Philadelphia, Pa., and Jacksonville and Tampa in Florida.

“Success for prosecutors should be associated with more than convictions and harsh sentences,” said Aisha Edwards, program officer at the MacArthur Foundation. “The Prosecutorial Performance Indicators offer a holistic way to define success, data collection to measure progress, encourages collaboration with community members, and provides the tools needed to tackle racial inequities. This data-driven approach will help create a more equitable and effective criminal justice system.”

“It is an honor to assist State Attorney Harold Pryor’s historic administration in meeting their goals of transparency for the people of Broward County. He joins Florida State Attorneys Melissa Nelson and Andrew Warren in leading the work in our state to make data culture in prosecution the norm,” said Melba Pearson, Director of Policy and Programs for the Center for the Administration of Justice at FIU and a co-manager of the PPI project.

“As more and more prosecutors are seeking guidance about how to use data to bring about a new vision for justice, it is time for researchers and prosecutors to work together in close partnerships. We look forward to working with the Broward State Attorney’s Office,” said Besiki Kutateladze, a criminology professor at Florida International University and lead researcher on the project.

The indicators look at nine objectives for a prosecutor’s office, from increasing timely handling of cases, to reducing racial and ethnic disparities, to expanding community outreach and engagement. They help create a multilayered and holistic assessment that moves beyond individual cases to determine broader impacts and effectiveness. They also allow prosecutors to discern trends, learn about progress and anticipate problems.

It will, of course, take time to set up the process and undertake the analysis of so many cases but this is a long-term commitment to improvement and change. State Attorney Pryor will create a Community Advisory Board for this project to seek input, ideas and feedback from community members and experts.

About the partners:

PPI team includes: Besiki Kutateladze, Florida International University; Don Stemen, Loyola University Chicago; Rebecca Richardson Dunlea, Florida International University; Melba Pearson, Florida International University; Ana Carazo, Florida International University; Lin Liu, Florida International University; Branden DuPont, Medical College of Wisconsin; David Olson, Loyola University Chicago.

Florida International University is Miami’s only public research university. Designated a top-tier research institution, FIU emphasizes research as a major component in its university mission. FIU is among the top 10 largest universities in the nation. Of its 54,000 students, 67% are Hispanic and 12% are Black.

Loyola University Chicago, a private university founded in 1870 as St. Ignatius College, is one of the nation’s largest Jesuit, Catholic universities. Loyola is among a select group of universities recognized for community service and engagement by prestigious national organizations including the Carnegie Foundation.

Contact: Paula McMahon, spokeswoman for the Broward State Attorney’s Office
[email protected] or 954-831-7910

Decoding Cannabis

Article by Tess C. Kelly

Via The Crimson

Before cannabis had been legalized in any state, Staci Gruber was already studying it in her lab.

Currently a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School and the director of McLean Hospital’s Marijuana Investigations for Neuroscientific Discovery (MIND) Program, Gruber has studied the effects of cannabis for roughly three decades. She has recently turned her attention to a project focusing on the effects of cannabidiol, or CBD, the semi-mysterious compound heralded by health bloggers and celebrities for its supposed alleviation of pain and stress.

That project is a partnership between McLean Hospital and Charlotte’s Web Holdings, a CBD company that sells hemp-based products like oils and gummies. Gruber cites their reputation as “one of the most recognized names in industrial hemp-based products,” as a key factor in her decision to work with them. “They really were the very first to bring [medical cannabis] to the nation’s consciousness,” she says. She also recalls an earlier study conducted by MIND in which she tested the cannabis products used by study participants and noted the high quality of those made by Charlotte’s Web.

Gruber’s partnership with Charlotte’s Web includes two projects related to the effect of cannabis on different medical conditions. One evaluates a hemp-based product’s impact on people with moderate to severe anxiety, while the other examines a different product’s effect on anxiety in patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

While this partnership is unique in its link to an outside company, in most ways the research process is the same for Gruber as it was in past projects. Charlotte’s Web helps with the choice of study and the products used, but the actual research is up to Gruber and her team. This distinction, Gruber says, is key to ensuring the integrity of the results. “I think that’s also incredibly important [that] we don’t do anything in which we are beholden to an outside organization with regard to how we do the study [and] what the data will say,” she says.

Her research with cannabis began about 30 years ago as she studied the neurological effects of recreational cannabis on college students. Around that time, she also was studying various psychiatric disorders, and her work with bipolar disorder in particular was a “turning point” in her approach to cannabis.

Gruber noticed that patients with the disorder would report using cannabis to combat feelings of depression. “I thought, ‘That’s really interesting — I’ve never heard that before,’” she recalls. She secured a grant in 2008 to study the effects of cannabis on people with bipolar disorder.

As she began to look into medical cannabis, Gruber noticed a lack of available research and particularly a lack of long-term data. She started the MIND Program in 2014 to combat this problem. Its first project was a long-term study to observe participants’ medical cannabis habits and examine the products they used.

That study has led to a variety of current projects, including research into chronic pain, cannabis use among veterans, and clinical trials. Those trials include the “first-whole plant full-spectrum” solution, containing not only CBD but all compounds found in the cannabis plant, designed by Gruber to treat moderate to severe anxiety.

While cannabis is the general subject of Gruber’s research, she feels the term is often misplaced. “We tend to use one term, cannabis or marijuana, to define the entire landscape, that is anything that comes from the plant,” she explains, “which is unfortunate because it’s a misnomer.” That landscape actually includes hundreds of compounds, such as the commonly known CBD and psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and the more obscure terpenoids and flavonoids. These compounds exist in various combinations: some cannabis products include all compounds, some are THC-free, and others are a single compound.

The climate around cannabis research can be difficult to navigate. “In many ways, it’s much like the Wild West because there are very few guidelines and regulations for certain types of -products-,” Gruber says. Strong opinions about cannabis and its potential risks, as well as its Schedule I status under federal law — the most restrictive status for substances — complicate the ability to get funding and study cannabis. “You have to be tenacious if you want to do research in this area,” she adds.

Gruber’s future research “may very well” include more work with Charlotte’s Web, but she also intends to develop the types of studies and programs currently running at MIND. She still sees her current goals guiding future research. She’s focusing on “how you can possibly use this for addressing symptoms and conditions, and health and wellness, but reduce the risk of potential liabilities, and I think those things are equally important,” she says.

Gruber hopes for increased government regulation in the future of cannabis. Based on current guidelines, some CBD products are not subject to any regulations. “Everyone deserves to know what they’re taking,” she says. As the government and general public become more educated about cannabis and its various forms, however, Gruber believes more oversight and quality assurance will follow.

She adds that people are currently interested in cannabis-based products not only to treat medical conditions but also to promote general health and wellness. “I think the future is likely headed towards greater numbers of individuals exploring the use of these products,” she says.

As a scientist, though, she would still like to see more research, regardless of the public’s increasing confidence in cannabis. “It would be great if we had a little more data,” she says, “to help people make good decisions.”

— Magazine writer Tess C. Kelley can be reached at [email protected].