- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Lancaster County prosecutors will be opening their files and allowing special access for a group that will check racial equity in the prosecutors’ decisions.

The New York-based Vera Institute of Justice has been engaged for the study. The group gathers and analyzes data to help ensure the justice system is fair to all and more effective.

“The saying is true that you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” the institute’s Whitney Tymas told Lincoln television station KLKN.

The county’s chief prosecutor, Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly, said he doesn’t know of any problem areas and is entering the project without expectations.

“I am convinced that only good can come from it,” Kelly told the Lincoln Journal Star. He said he began thinking about the study after reading an article in summer 2012 about a project in Milwaukee that was undertaken by the institute.

Kelly is familiar with the institute’s work with the Nebraska Community Corrections Council on prison reform, parole and release and drug court issues, he said.

Most studies on the topic of racial equality in the justice system have examined original charges and subsequent sentences.

“In between those two junctures are a lot of decisions, most of which are made in the county attorney’s office,” Kelly said.

The institute will have access to files going back several years, as well as to local databases available to prosecutors. Researchers also will talk to area residents.

The study, final report and recommendations could take two years to complete.

“I think it’ll make our system in Lincoln, in Lancaster County, a more fair criminal justice system,” Kelly said.

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