Abstract

THE BUREAU OF JUSTICE STATISTICS (BJS) of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is one of the smallest of the U.S. principal statistical agencies but shoulders one of the most expansive and detailed legal mandates among those agencies. BJS requested that this panel be convened to examine the full range of BJS programs and suggest priorities for data collection. We described the current methods of and future options for the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) in an interim report (National Research Council, 2008b). This final report considers the balance of BJS’s portfolio, its assistance to state and local authorities, and the functions of BJS as a whole.

We conclude that BJS’s data collection portfolio is a solid body of work, well justified by public information needs or legal requirements and a commendable effort to meet its broad mandate given less-than-commensurate fiscal resources. We identify some major gaps in the substantive coverage of BJS data, such as white-collar crime, civil justice, juvenile justice, and contextual factors such as the interaction between drugs and crime. However, the methodological challenges involved in filling these major gaps preclude doing so under BJS’s current funding; it would require increased and sustained support in terms of staff and fiscal resources.

BJS generally espouses the principles and practices of a federal statistical agency, but it has sustained major shocks to its position of independence as a national statistical resource in recent years. We suggest two strong organizational measures to reduce the likelihood that BJS and its officials are inappropriately treated in the future. Concluding that BJS’s current administrative position within the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) is detrimental to the agency’s function, we recommend that BJS be moved out of OJP. We further recommend that the position of BJS director be made a fixed-term presidential appointment with Senate confirmation.



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Abstract T B UREAU OF J USTICE S TATISTICS (BJS) of the U.S. Department of HE Justice (DOJ) is one of the smallest of the U.S. principal statistical agencies but shoulders one of the most expansive and detailed legal mandates among those agencies. BJS requested that this panel be convened to examine the full range of BJS programs and suggest priorities for data collection. We described the current methods of and future options for the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) in an interim report (National Research Council, 2008b). This final report considers the balance of BJS’s portfolio, its assistance to state and local authorities, and the functions of BJS as a whole. We conclude that BJS’s data collection portfolio is a solid body of work, well justified by public information needs or legal requirements and a com- mendable effort to meet its broad mandate given less-than-commensurate fiscal resources. We identify some major gaps in the substantive coverage of BJS data, such as white-collar crime, civil justice, juvenile justice, and con- textual factors such as the interaction between drugs and crime. However, the methodological challenges involved in filling these major gaps preclude doing so under BJS’s current funding; it would require increased and sus- tained support in terms of staff and fiscal resources. BJS generally espouses the principles and practices of a federal statisti- cal agency, but it has sustained major shocks to its position of independence as a national statistical resource in recent years. We suggest two strong or- ganizational measures to reduce the likelihood that BJS and its officials are inappropriately treated in the future. Concluding that BJS’s current admin- istrative position within the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) is detrimental to the agency’s function, we recommend that BJS be moved out of OJP We . further recommend that the position of BJS director be made a fixed-term presidential appointment with Senate confirmation. 1

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2 JUSTICE STATISTICS BJS’s independence as a statistical agency would be enhanced by fuller use of its flagship study. The NCVS has unique value in providing insight on the etiology as well as the characteristics of crime not reported to po- lice. It is critically important for the NCVS to continue to provide annual estimates of levels and changes in criminal victimization—and be funded commensurately—but also that the NCVS’s substantive reach grow through the use of topic supplements. BJS’s individual data series are of generally high quality but would bene- fit from attention to explicit conceptual frameworks on several levels. Most generally, the interrelationships of BJS’s current set of collections are not always immediately clear; this is particularly so for BJS’s law enforcement collections, the utility of which have been hurt by an overly restrictive focus on management and administration issues. Core-supplement frameworks should be implemented within BJS’s major surveys, streamlining recurring basic content to a simplified “core” and adding structured topic supplements. In BJS’s data series on adjudication, we urge a third type of framework— progression toward a more rigorous basis in probability sampling as com- puterized case management systems become more accessible. The nation currently has two principal indicators of crime and justice: BJS’s NCVS and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, the latter of which covers crimes reported to the police. Both these series have unique strengths in studying crime but share the common problem of lengthy lag times between data collection and the release of the results. We suggest that BJS study the feasibility of compiling crime incident data already main- tained in individual police departments’ electronic systems. This new col- lection is not intended to duplicate the UCR, as it would not involve local police staff to record counts in a prescribed fashion; it is simply intended as a way to leverage the availability of existing local data and to produce a quick indicator of general national crime trends. BJS data cover all the steps in the criminal justice process but, almost exclusively, this coverage is cross-sectional in nature. We see a longitudinal approach as essential to study the performance of the justice system as a whole. We recommend a variety of strategies for improving longitudinal structures, ranging from improving the linkage capacity of existing data to fielding panel surveys of crime victims or persons leaving incarceration. Outreach and dissemination are areas in which BJS has made laudable strides. Its network of state Statistical Analysis Centers (SACs) stands as a strong example of federal-state cooperation. The network benefits BJS in terms of feedback and the inventiveness of research performed by the SACs, while the SACs benefit from technical assistance that would be cost- prohibitive to provide on their own; we urge continued strengthening of the BJS-SAC relationship. To further strengthen outreach, we suggest that BJS

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ABSTRACT 3 create a standing advisory committee and make continued use of ad hoc user and stakeholder workshops. We have avoided ranking data collections for several reasons, among them that the current collections are necessary for coverage of events in the justice system; elimination of data series would make BJS appear more visi- bly to fail to fulfill its massive legal mandates. However, this report suggests a mix of short- and long-term ideas for improving the evidence with which crime and justice policy in the United States is developed. The strategic goals we suggest through this report provide BJS a set of principles against which the content of its data collection portfolio can be assessed. In its thirtieth year, BJS can look back on a solid body of accomplishment; our work in this report suggests further directions for improvement to give the nation the justice statistics—and the BJS—that it deserves.

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