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Penn Law’s Quattrone Center partners with Montgomery County DA’s Office to improve professional standards

October 22, 2014

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman was joined today by the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law to announce the implementation of key changes in the organizational structure of her office to ensure the highest professional standards, integrity, and quality control in the county’s criminal justice system. The changes are being implemented at the conclusion of a root cause analysis conducted in partnership with the Quattrone Center.

District Attorney Ferman requested assistance from the Quattrone Center when she announced in March 2014 that an investigator misread a lab report in a case, leading to Ferman’s decision to dismiss the case. “I take my responsibility to protect the integrity of the criminal justice system very seriously,” said District Attorney Ferman. “Pennsylvania prosecutors have a long history of identifying and promoting reforms and efficiencies in the criminal justice system. This new partnership will put Montgomery County on the front line of improving professional standards to ensure accuracy, reduce errors and most importantly achieve justice.”

The Quattrone Center specializes in a systems approach to criminal justice that focuses on collaborative partnerships to help all facets of the criminal justice system minimize the potential for error and ensure conviction integrity. Root cause analyses have been used in a number of industries. Conducting open and honest, blame-free event reviews allow organizations to constantly improve their procedures and create a culture of learning and professional development. The Quattrone Center’s interdisciplinary team of investigators has experience in blame-free event reviews in law, medicine, and transportation, and reviewed an error surrounding a Montgomery County case in collaboration with the District Attorney’s Office and with the full support of the District Attorney and the cooperation of her investigative personnel.

Over the last six months, District Attorney Ferman’s office, under the direction of First Assistant District Attorney Kevin R. Steele, has participated in the root cause analysis with the Quattrone Center, including a comprehensive systems review to develop recommendations to promote improvements in the accuracy and professional standards in the Montgomery County criminal justice system. Among the recommendations are the creation of two new prosecutorial positions — a Deputy District Attorney for Professional Standards and an Assistant Chief of Trials. The Deputy District Attorney will serve as an office “Ombudsman” as well as lead independent case reviews for other members of the office. Both positions have been included in the District Attorney’s 2015 Budget submitted to the County Commissioners, along with the reduction in two other positions so as not to increase the overall staff of the office. Additionally, recommendations adapted by the District Attorney included restructuring the County Detective Bureau by creating a new unit devoted to Violent Crime and Technology and beginning the process of seeking law enforcement accreditation of the Bureau. Read more in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“In order to function at the highest level, a prosecutor’s office must have procedures and policies that avoid errors, systems that can identify errors, and a culture that values accuracy, truth, fairness, and justice. Checks and balances are critical to the operation of the criminal justice system. I expect my office to operate with the most robust checks and balances that can exist to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the critical work we do,” said District Attorney Ferman. As prosecutors, we hold ourselves to the highest standards of integrity and fairness. As difficult as it is for anyone to acknowledge mistakes, I consider an honest assessment of a job not well done as an opportunity to improve the system on behalf of all the people we serve, the community, the victims of crime, and those suspected or accused of crime.”

“Root cause analyses have been used in a number of industries to conduct open and honest event reviews that allow organizations to constantly improve their procedures and create a culture of learning from error,” said John Hollway, the Executive Director of the Quattrone Center. “Organizations that have embraced these processes have improved relationships with their communities and serve as examples for the rest of the country to follow.”

Hollway added, “I want to commend District Attorney Ferman. It can be challenging to put this kind of transparent and accountable culture in place and her actions demonstrate strong leadership, integrity, and a deep commitment to justice. Her willingness to openly acknowledge an error by her office, request an independent event review, and implement recommendations for improvement will benefit her office, the broad community she serves, as well as the community of law enforcement professionals. We are pleased that she came to us and believe that like other organizations that have embraced this kind of review and assessment, the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office will serve as an example of the benefits to all of implementing best practices and a culture of continuous improvement.”

The Quattrone Center and the District Attorney’s Office plan to continue their collaboration. They are working on a report detailing the process of the root cause analysis which will be published to share these experiences and outcomes with other prosecutor’s offices across the Commonwealth and the United States. In addition, they are exploring developing a system, or success metrics, to evaluate the effectiveness of these changes to the District Attorney’s Office and the justice system.

The Quattrone Center plans to extend its root cause analysis capabilities to other prosecutors’ offices, defenders’ offices, and forensic service providers across the country in the coming months.

“In our role as ministers of justice, we know there is always room for improvement in the criminal justice system,” said First Assistant District Attorney Kevin R. Steele. “I know District Attorney Ferman and I both look forward to a long and fruitful partnership with the Quattrone Center. The integrity of our criminal justice system will always be grounded in truth. As technology and science continue to evolve, so too must our criminal justice system.”

Just this past week, District Attorney Ferman was tapped by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association to chair its own, newly formed Best Practices Committee. In that role, she will help formalize a role the PDAA has fulfilled informally for years, of providing leadership in identifying best practices and helping district attorneys and law enforcement personnel to share information with the goal of enhancing the quality, effectiveness, and application of the tools available to law enforcement as they navigate complex criminal cases.