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Illustration by Security Management

U.S. Department of Justice Launches Data Tracking and Analysis Tool for Prison Systems

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the launch of its criminal justice data collation program, Justice Counts, on Wednesday, 26 January.

"Our justice systems should be built on principles of fairness, effectiveness, and efficiency, and policymakers and the public need better data in order to advance these principles," said U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, in a statement. "The better equipped we are with timely data, the more effectively we can serve our communities and secure the trust and confidence of those we serve."

The initiative, which will be led by the Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, will combine data collection, analysis, and reporting of criminal justice data. This data will include prison, probation, and post-release supervision (including parole) populations; supervised post-release and probation revocations; admissions to probation and prisons; and releases, whether to the community or to a post-release supervision program.

In collaboration with 21 professional associations representing the criminal justice system, Justice Counts also collected these data points—from departments of corrections, U.S. Census datasets, and elsewhere—to showcase how people who enter the corrections system move through it. Justice Counts, however, does not claim that this data creates a complete picture.

“The data points shown on this site are not standardized,” according to the website. “The data is taken directly from state reports without transformation (other than occasionally aggregating reports from adjacent time periods).”

One analysis Justice Counts is highlighting is local confinement rates, both individual and cumulative, where such data is publicly available. These rates represent the size of a county’s jail population relative to its overall population.

The program’s website also includes U.S. state and national data, with dashboards based on information from state and local agencies, the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the Vera Institute of Justice, as well as data from corrections agencies and jails in all 50 U.S. states.

According to the Justice Count's website, these tools will consolidate the data from various sources to give policymakers a way to spot trends at state and local levels, plus “quickly and easily understand how people move through the criminal justice system and how related policy and financial changes may impact public safety.” The resource can also point out where data is lacking with regards to corrections reporting. 

With help from state and local leaders, the initiative said it will eventually create a set of national criminal justice metrics. 

It will also provide U.S. states and localities with “tools and assistance from Justice Counts partners to adopt metrics and use the data to inform their decision-making,” the DOJ said in a press release about the program’s launch.