BGA seeks public input for Cook County criminal justice system database

The Better Government Association wants to hear from the community regarding its Cook County criminal justice system database.

Video Transcript

- Our weekend watch shines a spotlight on government activity. There is an effort between several groups to decode the Cook County court system. The Better Government Association is one of the groups involved in the project. The project is called The Circuit, and here to talk more about the issue from the BGA is Olivia Obineme. It's nice to have you with us, Olivia. Good morning.

OLIVIA OBINEME: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

- Yeah, so let's go ahead and talk about The Circuit. And right now, you're really reaching out to the community, because you want to hear people's stories. So start with what The Circuit is all about.

OLIVIA OBINEME: Yes. So The Circuit, it's an investigation collaborative effort between the BGA, the Injustice Watch Newsroom, and also the Civic Tech Nonprofit Datamade. And we've obtained more than six million records from criminal courts of Cook County, to really examine the inner workings of the court system.

So now that our reporters, my colleagues, have really been diving deep into the data, we are asking for community help and participation, in sharing their stories, with their interactions with the court system.

- Right. Talk a little bit about that, why it's so important right now to go to the community and say, if you have a story, who are you looking for, and what types of stories are you interested in hearing about?

OLIVIA OBINEME: Well, we're interested in all types of stories, and I think everyone has different interactions, if they have had connections to the court system, it's different for everyone. But we're really trying to understand what are the patterns, hidden or visible, within this system that make it different for a person to get treated than their counterparts in the courts?

So folks who have been harmed by the Cook County court system, we want to hear from you. We have ways that they can come to us, they can reach out to us and share their stories. And it's really important to put faces, put stories, context, behind this data. Numbers aren't the only things that tell the story.

- Right. So what is the best way for people to reach you? Because I know you've also sent out postcards to certain locations, certain neighborhoods as well.

OLIVIA OBINEME: Yes. So we've sent out postcards, and actually, I have some postcards here. These postcards have been sent out through Chicago, and we're planning on continuing the outreach, and folks can reach us by email,, they can call us or text us "Hello" at 773-232-7188, or they can simply mail us their messages, their notes, to our BGA Newsroom at 233 West Jackson Boulevard, Number 300, Chicago, Illinois, 60606.

- All right. A lot of information there. Of course, we're going to have it on our website as well. Olivia, thank you. Just so important, a lot of information and data, but always putting a face to that, and what that means for a person, right, is so important.

OLIVIA OBINEME: Yes, it's so important. And as journalists, we can't do this type of work without community help, and knowing that this is serving the community, providing more information about the folks that are here to serve them, and serve us all.

- All right. Olivia Obineme, thank you so much. And you could read more BJ articles at