Empirical Criminal Justice data: NIJ and BJS resources

October 25, 2013

Is local policing effective? Is the state prison system serving a rehabilitative function? How can we improve criminal justice outcomes nationally? These questions are often best answered via empirical analysis. As Greg Ridgeway, Deputy Director of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), and William J. Sabol, Acting Director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, detailed at the 8th annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies (CELS) at UPenn Law School, cutting edge criminal justice reports and data are available via the NIJ and BJS. The NIJ and BJS support original scholarship (e.g., via funding, see endnote 1) in criminal justice; both agencies generously fund fellowships (see NIJ, BJS fellowships, see endnote 2).

The National Institute of Justice supports social science, physical science, and forensic science research in criminal justice. Currently, the Institute is funding 32 randomized controlled trials in firearm reduction, interpersonal violence, license plate readers, bodyworn cameras, and other subjects. The Institute just released early findings about “swift, certain, and modest…” sanctions in drug abuse cases in Hawaii. Early on, the swift-certain-modest intervention seems to be an effective mechanism for reducing arrests, drug use, skipped appointments, and probation revocations. More broadly, the NIJ is involved in criminal justice research on a host of topics. Data from these studies is available online via the NIJ and National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD) websites, and in-person via U.S. Census Bureau Research Data Centers (e.g., at Baruch College in NYC). Institute reports are available in topical areas such as: corrections; courts; crimes and prevention; drugs and crime; forensic sciences; law enforcement; standards and testing; technology and tools; tribal crime and justice; and victims and victimization. 

The Bureau of Justice Statistics supports empirical work that explores the broad range of activities and actors involved in the criminal justice system. According to Director Sabol, the work of BJS might best be explained via the bureau’s complex “Sequence of Events in the Criminal Justice System” flowchart, which commences with an observation or report of a crime and culminates in the conclusion of the criminal justice process (e.g., end of probation). The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is the bureau’s largest project; it “is the nation’s primary source of information on criminal victimization.” Additionally, the BJS Law Enforcement Unit “maintains more than a dozen national data collections covering federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and special topics in law enforcement.” The National Corrections Reporting Program (NCRP) reports on prison admissions and releases, and parole in selected U.S. jurisdictions. Currently, the Bureau is developing the National Crime Statistics Exchange (NCS-X), a joint project with the FBI, to collect more fine-grained data on individual crime incidents, offenders, victims, and criminal justice responses. 

These are just some of the initiatives, publications, and datasets available via the NIJ and BJS. Along with the Census Bureau, FBI, U.S. Sentencing Commission, and other government institutions, the NIJ and BJS are supporting the advancement of evidence-based decision-making and reform in the criminal justice system.

1. NIJ and BJS research funding solicitations are typically released in the fall, according to the directors. Funding peculiarities (e.g., continuing resolution funding) over the past couple of years have delayed and disrupted funding announcements. 

2. According to Director Sabol, BJS visiting faculty fellows can request support for graduate student researchers/RAs. 

Image: Alcatraz Island, view from San Francisco looking north. Unknown photographer. Courtesy of Yale Digital Image Collection. 

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