As we have noted before, decisionmaking based on measurable objectives and valid data are a useful, perhaps indispensable, tool for improving performance. Two recent pieces suggest a possible dark side of metrics in the justice arena. In a NYT op-ed this weekend, "Why Police Lie Under Oath," Ohio State law professor Michelle Alexander says financial incentives for arrests encourage law enforcement perjury:
Police departments have been rewarded in recent years for the sheer numbers of stops, searches and arrests. In the war on drugs, federal grant programs like the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program have encouraged state and local law enforcement agencies to boost drug arrests in order to compete for millions of dollars in funding. Agencies receive cash rewards for arresting high numbers of people for drug offenses, no matter how minor the offenses or how weak the evidence. Law enforcement has increasingly become a numbers game. And as it has, police officers’ tendency to regard procedural rules as optional and to lie and distort the facts has grown as well. Numerous scandals involving police officers lying or planting drugs — in Tulia, Tex. and Oakland, Calif., for example — have been linked to federally funded drug task forces eager to keep the cash rolling in.
And at Sentencing Law and Policy, a provocative question is posed: "Should a US Attorney take pride in helping to "have produced the longest average prison sentences in the country"?