The Launch of Convicted in Cook

Today we’re launching Convicted in Cook, a joint project of Smart Chicago, the Chicago Justice Project, and FreeGeek Chicago’s Supreme Chi-Town Coding Crew (SC3).

Convicted in Cook is an analysis of five years worth of conviction data received through the Office of the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County by Tracy Siska of the Chicago Justice Project. The goal is to shed a light on criminal convictions in Cook County.

The project is part of the Smart Chicago Collaborative’s Civic Works Project, a program funded by the Knight Foundation and the Chicago Community Trust to spur and support civic innovation in Chicago.


Each year, tens of thousands of people stand in front of judges at the Cook County Circuit Court, the largest unified court system in the country. Their offenses range from low-level marijuana charges to multiple murders that put people behind bars for life.

Rare glimpses of what happens behind the courtroom doors trickle out through media reports and the few sensational cases that make headlines.

But getting any more information is difficult. According to the 8 Principles of Open Data, a measure developed by open government advocates to create a set of universal data principles, Cook County courts, and the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court who maintain the court’s data, makes it only minimally available online and only meets half of the requirements.

Instead, a Cook County resident looking for data about the courts meets a months-long request process that moves through multiple government agencies, and with the possibility of a large filing fee.

Until now.

Yana Kunichoff is the project’s analyst and editor, Geoffrey Hing is the senior developer and Brian Peterson is the junior developer. Christopher Whitaker is the project manager, as he is for all Civic Works projects. The Illustrated Press created the illustrations.

Tracy Siska of the Chicago Justice Project worked tirelessly to get the data through a FOIA request. He brought the data to our attention months ago, and then worked as the primary research and subject matter expert. Tracy and his organization are the heart of this work. Here’s how Tracy describes the work on the CJP website:

This site offers the first of its kind deep dive into five years of conviction data from the Circuit Court of Cook County.

The data used for this site took CJP over two years of of hard work to open.

Remember that Cook County is not only the home to the largest unified court system in the country, but also the largest prosecutors office in the country, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, and the largest jail, the Cook County Jail.

This site offers the first detailed look at how the vast majority of cases that come through the Cook County Courts are for nonviolent misdemeanors or drugs despite the media’s obsession with street violence.

You can find the code backing this website on Github. We used the Chicago Tribune’s Tarbell content management system to build our site. Content and code is under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Licence.