Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Data Collection and Analysis

There are varying levels of data collection and data sharing in government agencies across the country. Many agencies have begun or even mastered the practice of collecting data. However, one outlying issue that almost all local jurisdictions face is sharing data with other agencies. In this section, you will find some basic ideas to help you start collecting and sharing information.

Helpful hint:

When staffing a CJCC, it can be useful to hire someone with experience in data analysis. If you are unable to staff your CJCC fully or unable to hire someone with experience in data analysis, leverage your resources with the partners you have at the table. See if a partner is willing to lend its staff to the data collection process.

Using Agency Statistics

Collect as much data as CJCC members will share. If data sharing is an issue for your jurisdiction, the CJCC could be a great platform to address it. Information sharing could be one of the CJCC’s goals for the future. If data is not readily available, make it a goal to start collecting it.

Some examples of data that could help inform your initial criminal justice needs are:

  1. Jail data
  2. Crime data
  3. Behavioral health statistics
  4. Human services data
  5. Demographics of justice involved individuals
  6. Court data

Many of your partner agencies may have annual reports or regular data reports that they would be willing to share with the CJCC to help you get started. Use the data from these publications to start important discussions about the criminal justice needs in your jurisdiction. Additionally, you should use this data regularly to drive decisions as the CJCC moves forward. Include data briefings in your agenda planning to help you continue to drive the practice of evidence-based decision making.

A constant flow of timely and relevant information helps decision makers define justice problems, set goals and priorities, and implement and evaluate strategies for accomplishing goals. It gives managers growing knowledge and facts. It sets the stage for continuous improvement built on knowledge, replacing the trial-and-error method of initiating programs. The criminal justice system will continually improve as professionals make decisions based on the collection, analysis, and use of data and information.

Data Dashboards

A data dashboard is an information management tool that visually tracks, analyzes, and displays key performance indicators (KPI), metrics, and key data points associated with the health of a line of business, department, or specific process. Data dashboards have become an extremely meaningful tool in government to measure outputs and outcomes. Although they can be a very arduous to build, dashboards can provide data for regular review by the CJCC.

The best dashboards use data from multiple agencies to connect the data to improve outcomes. (See the data section for more information about collaborating on data projects within a CJCC.)

Additional Information:

PCCD has also established dashboards for use by CJAB's in the commonwealth. The dashboards track key metrics from the county justice system, including prison indicators, courts indicators, juvenile indicators, probation/parole indicators, and law enforcement indicators. It includes data provided from the Pennsylvania State Police, Administrative Office. Click Here

Center for Effective Public Policy, & Carter, M. (2006, January). The Importance of Data and Information in Achieving Successful Criminal Justice Outcomes. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice. Click Here

National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA). "NCJA Staff Facilitates Justice System Mapping Workshop in St. Louis." Justice Bulletin, NCJA News, Accessed August 31, 2021. Click Here

A constant flow of timely and relevant information helps decision makers define justice problems, set goals and priorities, and implement and evaluate strategies for accomplishing goals. It provides managers with new facts and new knowledge, in a cumulative fashion. It sets the stage for a continuous improvement process built on knowledge that can replace the trial-and-error method of initiating programs.

Data Fidelity

One of the first concerns typically raised during a data discussion is that the data is not accurate and cannot be trusted. This can be a tough hurdle, but it is tremendously important to overcome. If there is no confidence in the accuracy of the data, there will be little support of decisions based on it.

There are many ways verify data accuracy. For example, take a sample size of the data in question and spend some time analyzing it to find where the inaccuracies may occur. Often the data is more accurate than agencies perceive it to be. It may just require an explanation of how the data is reported and tracked for stakeholders to trust it. Additionally, if an inaccuracy is identified, then a solution can be implemented.

One example of inaccurate and inconsistent data is often reflected in failure-to-appear (FTA) reporting. Many times FTA may be reported differently in each courtroom. In one courtroom, the FTA warrant is not issued right away and the public defender is given an opportunity to call the defendant and ask him or her to appear at a later date. In another courtroom, the FTA warrant is issued, and a FTA is entered into the system at the end of the day. Oftentimes, a FTA may even be reported if an individual missed a court date due to his or her incarceration in another jurisdiction. Since FTA data is often used in bond setting, however, knowing about these differences can allow the courts to work with you to find a solution to address consistency.

Data Literacy

Another common argument used in resistance to data sharing is that an agency’s data may be misinterpreted and used against the agency. Criminal justice data can be very complicated. The best way to address this issue is to educate the agency and maintain open communication with the council on all data points and definitions. Keeping a data dictionary can also be useful.

An example of this is found in an “inmate cost per day” data point. Often, this number is used to suggest cost savings. This can be problematic as it relates to the budget of a sheriff’s office. If the cost per day to supervise an individual in a facility is $100 (based on the typical practice for calculating this cost), and the count of individuals is reduced by five people over the course of a year, on the surface it could appear that this equates to a cost savings of ($500 dollars a day X 365 days) or $183,230 annually. Often, due to the demands and fixed costs associated with operating a jail, the actual cost savings will be much less. Individuals will still need to be classified and separated; ratios of incarcerated males and females must be collected; and ratios of officers to the individuals they supervise must be maintained. Additionally, there are many fixed costs, such as facility maintenance and operating costs, included in the calculation. Therefore, using the $100 figure to calculate cost savings is an inaccurate representation of savings to the sheriff’s office budget.

Having these data literacy discussions during council sessions allow for more comfortable sharing data sharing.

Data Sharing Agreements

If the council is in the beginning phases of data sharing, it can be helpful to have a data sharing agreement or memorandum of understanding (MOU) in place. If the CJCC plans to share only de-identified data, this may not be necessary; however, it is still good practice for more advanced sharing systems in the future. These agreements can range from simple MOUs to ensure best intentions to complicated data structured agreements that include accessibility restrictions and federal, state, and local criminal justice compliance. The amount and type of data that will be shared will drive the agreements you need.

Helpful Tip:

For more complicated agreements, it can be helpful to create different working groups of legal and IT representatives from each agency within a CJCC Information Sharing Task Force. Ensure all parties (IT staff, legal representation, and signing authorities) understand the scope of work and agree on the drafted language. Getting these types of documents drafted and signed can be one of the major hurdles and one of the most time-consuming activities of data sharing projects.

Helpful Resource:
The Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Justice Information Sharing Initiative developed a Global Federated Identity and Privilege Management (GFIPM) framework. This framework presents justice communities and partner organizations with a standards-based approach for implementing federated identity. A “federation” is a group of two or more trusted partners with business and technical agreements that allows a user from one participating agency to access information seamlessly and securely from another participating agency. Establishing a “federation” allows agencies to provide services directly for trusted users that they do not manage directly. It allows justice agencies to use one federation agreement developed by all partners to share information. It streamlines the process and eliminates the need to have multiple one-off MOUs between agencies. For more information

Where to Begin in Analyzing Data

There are two basic ways to begin analyzing data.

  1. Trends over time
  2. Comparative analysis to benchmarks

Knowing where you are, where you have been, where you are heading, and how you compare to other jurisdictions of similar size and makeup are the best principles to follow when beginning to look at data among the council. Use the data you have to look historically over time. If there is enough historical data, you can use it to forecast for future planning as well.

If you have jurisdictions of similar size and make-up, see if the council can review their data as well. Having information to show how each jurisdiction compares to another is invaluable for decision-making, it can open a window to sharing of ideas with counterparts in other jurisdictions down the road.

Using Data to Identify Racial and Ethnic Disparities

Most CJCCs are committed to a fair and just system and conducting data analysis can help identify criminal justice policies that may have disparate effects on some community groups (e.g., racial and ethnic minorities, women, men). To begin, separate criminal justice data elements demographically. Then combine it with county demographic data to determine relative representations of each group at every stage of the criminal justice process.

For example, if Latinos comprise 16% of a county’s adult population but represent 54% of adult arrests, a system-level question might be “What is law enforcement’s arrest policy, and why does it disproportionately affect Latinos?” Another key question may be about the concentration of minority groups deeper in the criminal justice system. For example, if Latinos represent 54% of all arrests but 62% of cases filed, a key question is “Why does Latinos’ representation in our criminal justice system become concentrated between arrest and case filing?”

Data can be powerful to aid in the discussion of racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system.

Helpful Resources:
In April 2016, the National Association of Counties (NACo) hosted a two-part series on Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities in County Justice Systems. On this webinar, a national expert at the W. Haywood Burns Institute presented information about how county elected officials can identify racial and ethnic disparities in their justice system and how they can use this information to inform policy and funding decisions. The second part of the series included an interactive virtual discussion with the webinar speakers to answer questions.

  • Go here to view the recording or download the PowerPoint slides.
  • Click here to join the interactive discussion.

Example: Trends and Issues in Illinois: As mentioned above, it is critical for CJCC members to have access to data and information to understand what is occurring in their justice system and make informed decisions to address issues. In Illinois there is a long-standing partnership and agreements between state level criminal justice agencies, the state administering agency and Loyola University Chicago, Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy and Practice at Loyola University Chicago, to produce research reports. David Olson, Ph.D., professor, Graduate Program Director, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology has produced several Trends and Issues Reports for county level CJCCs using data gathered from state level justice agencies. These county-specific reports provide an overview of how local justice systems are structured, the extent and nature of crime, and justice agency operations and caseload. Additional reports are produced at the request of the CJCC based off these foundational reports. See the links below for the specific county reports that have been published publicly to date.

‌All county reports are here:

  • St. Clair County Trends and Issues
  • Winnebago Trends and Issues Report
  • McLean County Trends and Issues
  • Cook County Trends and Issues
  • Lake County Trends and Issues
  • McHenry County Trends and Issues
  • Winnebago County Prison Use Bulletin 2018
  • Cook County Prison Use Bulletin 2018