The purpose of this project is to support the development and evaluation of new evidence-based plea bargaining policies and practices in the Durham District Attorney’s Office. Evidence to inform and evaluate new office policies will be obtained from the following sources:
- Secondary charging and sentencing outcome data from the prior and current DA administrations;
- Primary case, defendant, process, and outcome data collected on felony plea deals negotiated in the office; and
- Primary qualitative, semi-structured interviews conducted with prosecutors in the office.
Plea policies for the office will be developed based on these data and implemented during the project. Comparative interrupted time-series analysis will be conducted to assess whether charging and sentencing outcomes changed significantly when the new DA took office and when new policies were implemented, compared with similar counties not experiencing these changes. After an initial policy implementation period, a new sustainable quality improvement-based data system will be instituted for ongoing office management and evaluation.
In collaboration with the Durham District Attorney's office, we will develop a novel tool for collecting data on plea bargaining practices, which notoriously occur in a “black box” in the United States. This data collection tool will not only assist the DA’s Office in developing and evaluating new plea bargaining policies, but will provide the foundation for a data collection system that can be used for ongoing evaluation and quality improvement in the office.
The data collection system developed through this research project will enable evidence-informed prosecution in Durham and provide a model for other jurisdictions.