Module 4: Section 2: Data Collection

This section helps you understand what data should be collected and used to make decisions. Agencies are often faced with one of two problems:

  • Some agencies have only basic information about their population and available resources, and start from scratch when developing their data collection systems.
  • In contrast, other agencies are rich in data, but the data are not in a format that can be easily extracted, analyzed, shared, or presented in easy-to-comprehend reports.

To make matters worse, even when available, the data are often located in different electronic management systems (EMS) or separately on paper documents, which makes data integration nearly impossible. Rarely do agencies have the ability to share real-time data.

Regardless of which of these problems your agency has, the first step is to review management information systems, program records, and other data sources maintained by the jail, pretrial services, community corrections, the courts and community partners to identify the characteristics and needs of their jail-involved clients, as well as the range of available resources in the jail and the community.

This information is critical to create a baseline understanding of the pre-TJC state, an accurate assessment of key issues, and the development of an appropriate set of integrated responses.

To begin, you will need to identify what data are presently available from the jail, pretrial services, community corrections, the courts, service providers, and other sources; in what format; and how confident you are in the data's reliability. We recommend that you begin by cataloging the following information:

  • Name of each data source
  • Information available from each source
  • Data format (e.g., electronic, paper)
  • Ownership of data
  • How to access the data
  • Restrictions on data

Once you have the baseline information, it is time to prioritize and develop a system to collect necessary data not currently collected. Some of the information will be primary data, and some will be secondary data.

Pretrial Services Data

Data from pretrial services programs can be easily overlooked when planning reentry activities. But pretrial services programs gather a great deal of information about defendants which can be used to help develop effective jail transition interventions. Pretrial services is often the first entity to screen and assess the person and to develop a supervision plan. Pretrial staff also have relationships with providers in the community and can help you identify the health and human services available in your county.

 

Addressing the following six questions is the best way to begin collecting and using data.

1. What data needs to be collected?

At the individual level

  • Individual characteristics: age, name, race/ethnicity, education, employment history, criminal justice history, physical and mental health needs, length of stay, risk and needs factors, program participation, and geographic area to which the individual returns post-release.
  • Subsets of the population that consume disproportionate criminal justice and program resources (e.g., frequent users, the severely mentally ill, and those with chronic diseases).
  • Individual outcomes such as recidivism, employment, health care access, and sobriety.

At the system level

  • Your community's crime problems, locations of crimes, laws and policies that impede or facilitate successful transitioning from jail to the community.
  • The availability and accessibility of services, gaps in services, fractured or unfunded services, data on programs, and resources that can be leveraged to support reentry.

2. How can data be obtained?

  • Intake, screening, and assessment files
  • Program data from the jail, pretrial services, community corrections, the courts, and community agencies
  • Self-administered surveys of clients or staff
  • Interviewer-administered surveys of key stakeholders, service providers, and clients
  • Focus groups
  • Direct observations

3. Who is responsible for collecting the data?

  • Managers
  • System stakeholders: courts, pretrial services, probation, jail, police, treatment providers, and others
  • Office of computer information services or local information technology (IT)/data management group/department

4. How confident are you that the data are accurate?

  • Develop clear instructions and definitions about what is to be collected
  • Identify who originally enters the data
  • Train staff on data entry
  • Verify that the data appear to be complete
  • Regularly evaluate the fidelity and accuracy of data, methods of collection, and the people collecting data
  • Develop written policies, procedures, and guidelines in place to verify data quality

5. In what format will the data be collected?

  • Electronically, via a management information system on a computer
  • Paper based, such as case files and paper directories
  • Verbally, via personal interviews and phone surveys

6. How will you use the data you collect?

  • Develop and disseminate easy-to-read reports
  • Meet with staff to review results
  • Identify necessary changes

Ada County, Idaho’s Sheriff Department collects and disseminates recidivism data in a short, easy to read and engaging format to gain support for its frequent flyer reentry program.

Data Challenges

Data collection is often challenging, and you should be aware of the problems you might face. Chuck Shorter at Tulane University identifies the following barriers to collecting data:1

  • Lack of knowledge about where data exist
  • Lack of knowledge about how to access data
  • Data not in electronic form
  • Data in an incompatible format
  • Only aggregated data available
  • Only individual-level data available
  • Frequency of data release
  • Approval process for accessing data
  • Previous interactions and history of partnerships (e.g., lack of trust)
  • Fear of misinterpretation/misuse of data
  • Confidentiality and privacy concerns
  • Policies, including federal and state laws that limit access
  • Limited resources (e.g., staff time)

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to address these barriers. In general, as we discussed in the Collaborative Structure and Joint Ownership module, a reentry implementation committee can help gain trust and facilitate standardized data collection among partnering agencies. You might want to hire an IT consultant if you begin to find that the data systems you want to integrate are not compatible.

Finally, as was also discussed in the previous module, developing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that includes a data-sharing agreement clause will ease fears of misuse of data.

For more information on data collection, click here for the Pre- and Post-Release Intervention Sections of the Triage Matrix Implementation Tool and the TJC Pre-Implementation Case Flow Process templates to begin your inventory of the interventions in the jail facility, at transition, and in the community.  

For more information and examples from the field

1. Howard County, MD Presentation to the Reentry Coordinating Council on Who's in the Jail.

2. La Crosse County, Wisconsin TJC case flow process diagram based on classification, Proxy screen scores and LSI-R assessment.

3. Montgomery County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Confidentiality Agreement: Montgomery County, Maryland, Pre-Release & Reentry Services.

4. New York Transition from Prison to Community  Strategy and MOU on Data Sharing, TPC Reentry Handbook (2008, pp. 181–196).

5. Urban Institute. Short, eight-item questionnaire to identify if your agency collects the following criminal justice client data.

6. Urban Institute. A detailed list of suggested TJC baseline measures of jail population characteristics.

7. Urban Institute. TJC Performance Management Worksheet. A detailed chart of TJC baseline measures of jail inmate population characteristics in Excel format and a memo providing guidance to assemble the initial TJC performance indicators.


1 Chuck Short, “Barriers to Accessing/Sharing Data.” Presentation of the data sharing and access subgroup of the Center for Disease Control. Available at http://www.healthsystems2020.org/content/resource/detail/528/ and http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/tracking/wkshop04/pdfs/II/discuss1/1_shorter.pdf.

Let's Review

Let's revisit what we have learned so far in the Data-Driven Understanding of Local Reentry module. Please select the phrase that correctly completes the following sentence.

Written policies, procedures, and guidelines can help you to

Verify the accuracy and quality of the data.

Ensure that the data are disseminated as widely as possible.

Analyze trends and patterns of your jail population.

Identify what is not working in your facility.

Summary

In this section you learned that it is important to thoroughly review what data are currently collected by your initiative partners. Staff and other agencies can help you to identify gaps in your current data collation systems. A data-sharing protocol can be established through the use of a memorandum of understanding. A sample memorandum of understanding was provided.