Jurisdictions need to develop the analytical capacity to allow policymakers to routinely examine criminal justice system data. They should work toward an information system that allows for the linkage and integration of separate system databases. Some jurisdictions are developing data warehouses to integrate data across separate systems. This kind of capability allows for a more sophisticated and ongoing system analysis. (See the SEARCH white paper on the importance of justice information sharing in justice reform and our section on Justice Information Sharing)
Compiling data on the local jail and criminal justice system is fundamental to any long-term planning exercise. By revealing local practices, these data help decision makers see “the big picture.” Framing the data helps frame the debate. With good data in hand, decision-makers are in a better position to identify practices that affect the jail, observe patterns, and determine where to focus further study. More importantly, jail and system data provide a reference point, or baseline, against which to measure change. The real value lies in comparing jail and system data over time: to track and observe the effects on the jail of modifications to policy and practice. Over time, this repository of local system data will become an important source of information with which to inform and shape criminal justice decisionmaking.
This section addresses data critical to assessing jail population, developing and validating risk assessment instruments, and measuring outcomes, and how to deal with challenges to obtaining and managing this data.
Critical data includes, but is not limited to:
Number of jail admissions (by type)
How many individuals are in jail?
What is the average length of stay in jail, by risk-level?
What are the average bond amounts per charge?
Are arrestees screened using a field-based risk assessment tool?
Is information from this risk assessment tool shared with the court, prosecution, and defense counsel?
What is the percentage of defendants who see a judge?
What is the percentage of defendants who are released (by type of release)?
What is the percentage of high-risk defendants who are released?
What is the number of people who plead guilty and are released?
What is the percentage of released defendants who receive a court reminder?
What are the rates of compliance with (1) court appearance rates; (2) technical violations; (3) rate of re-arrest; and (4) rate of arrest for a violent crime?
One day snap-shots
The National Institute of Correction's Jail Capacity Planning Guide is an excellent resource for constructing one-day snapshots of your jail population.
Challenges: Incomplete or Inaccessible Data
Jail population management depends on access to good information. Receiving feedback about trends and performance in the criminal justice system is vital to guiding change. Criminal justice systems must track trend and performance data, but they must also monitor the quality of their efforts and track outcomes. Decisionmakers must have information about the long-term effect of interventions so they can answer fundamental questions such as what it cost and whether it made a difference.
Advancing a new pretrial approach requires that systems across agencies talk to each other and share relevant data. Counties run into implementation problems when their data systems and data sharing approaches are in silos.
Potential Data and Research Partners
Statistical Analysis Centers (SACs), Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils (CJCCs), university partners and others may be enlisted to provide technical and research assistance.
Statistical Analysis Centers
Statistical Analysis Centers are units or agencies at the state government level that use information from all components of the criminal justice system to conduct objective analyses of statewide policy issues. SACs currently operate in 52 states and territories, and are housed in a variety of state entities, such as state planning or coordinating agencies, governor's offices, criminal justice agencies, and universities. They perform a variety of activities including collecting and distributing criminal justice data, conducting policy-relevant research, and designing and implementing automated information systems. The SAC's are represented nationally by the Justice Research and Statistics Association.
Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils
Criminal justice coordinating councils (CJCCs) can be a valuable resource implementing and sustaining pretrial programs. A criminal justice coordinating council (or board) is the general term used to describe a body of elected and senior justice system leaders that convene on a regular basis to coordinate systemic responses to justice problems. CJCCs differ widely in the membership and structure, but generally speaking, a CJCC is a partnership of decision makers who have a stake in the effective administration of justice. Visit the Justice Management Institute's National Network of Criminal Justice Coordinating Councils.
Training and Technical Assistance
The National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA) represents state, tribal and local governments on crime prevention and crime control issues. Its members represent all facets of the criminal and juvenile justice community, from law enforcement, corrections, prosecution, defense, courts, victim-witness services and educational institutions to federal, state and local elected officials. NCJA regularly convenes SAAs regarding multiple criminal justice issues, and is able to provide implementation and justice information sharing TTA.
Please contact NCJA Senior Policy Advsior, Carol Poole at email@example.com for more information about training and technical assistance opportunities.