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Ensuring the Quality, Credibility, and Relevance of U.S. Justice Statistics
Limited though it was, the brief footnote on the NCVS “break in series” was made as a comment to a pair of sentences that provide a good starting point for fuller discussion:
The decision to include unbounded, first interviews in NCVS estimates was made as our panel was being established and assembled, and so we do not think it proper to second-guess it; we understand the fiscal constraints under which the decision was made. However, it serves as an example of a seemingly short-term fix with major ramifications, and it would have benefited from further study prior to implementation.
We return to a discussion of the NCVS break in series at various points in Chapter 5, particularly Section 5–B.8.
The maintenance of statistics on persons under correctional supervision in the United States dates back to the 1850 decennial census, giving corrections data the longest lineage of BJS data series. As discussed by National Research Council (2006:Sec. 3–D), the 1850 census was the first to give enumerators formal rules for determining residence. One of these was the specific direction to treat jailors and other superintendents of institutions as heads of “families,” counting prisoners under their supervision as members of the family; as the term was used in censuses of the period, “family” had no direct tie to blood relations. This practice continued in the next several censuses, with the 1880 and 1890 censuses introducing a special form for enumerators to record information on individual prisoners. In 1904, the newly permanent Census Bureau began the annual publication “Prisoners in State and Federal Institutions,” beginning to tally commitments to the institution in a calendar year rather than a single reference date (as in the decennial census). In a 1923 count, the Census Bureau began to count discharges from prison or jail, along with information on time served (Cahalan, 1986:1–2; see also Beattie, 1959). In 1950, authority for this annual collection was transferred to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which in turn was transferred to the LEAA. Contracting with the Census Bureau as data collector, BJS has conducted the collection as the still-continuing National Prisoner Statistics (NPS) series since 1973.
Data on the correctional population has grown in importance and meaning, given the massive growth in that population since the 1970s; see Table 3-4. Counts of the prison population draw particular concern—tripling between 1980 and 1995 after decades of remarkable stability (Blumstein and Beck, 1999) before settling into slower rates of annual growth—as state governments have struggled to keep pace and develop facility capacity. In doing so, new and ever more varied styles of incarceration have developed, including use of privately built and operated facilities and community cor-