Data quality improves the more the data are used. Information systems that are used to support court or agency functioning will produce better quality data than data that are gathered to meet a higher-level agency’s reporting requirement. Improvements in national data are achieved by improving local data. Data and analysis improvements can improve decision-making at local, state, and national levels.
For more than four decades, the NCJFCJ’s research arm, the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ), has facilitated the expansion of juvenile court automation. NCJJ’s National Juvenile Court Data Archive (Archive) staff provided technical assistance and consulted with state and county court and juvenile justice agency information technology departments. The Archive-hosted workshop lets those responsible for juvenile justice information systems network and learn from one another. NCJJ’s Statistics and Systems Development (SSD) Program – funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) – helped OJJDP redesign its residential placement data collections. The project has also created a family of very popular Easy Access online data analysis tools. Iowa’s Division of Criminal & Juvenile Justice Planning contracted with NCJJ to develop a similar tool to allow them easier access to their criminal court data.
NCJJ’s Juvenile Justice Model Data Project, in partnership with leading law enforcement, probation, and juvenile corrections organizations, defenders, prosecutors, and researchers, developed strategies to improve juvenile justice system data and data use. The project developed the Fundamental Measures for Juvenile Justice website that provides juvenile justice data elements, their definitions, and performance measures to improve data at the national level through data improvements at the state, local, and tribal levels.
As juvenile justice systems rely less on deep-end corrections and more on diversion, traditional recidivism measures based on cohorts of youth released from state secure custody are unsatisfactory as measures of system performance. NCJJ worked with the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project in five states to improve their development of measures of subsequent offending and other juvenile justice system outcome measures.
NCJJ also works with courts and other juvenile justice agencies to develop meaningful performance measures, assess data quality, and improve data to use in support of decision-making.
One example of how the Archive workshop has helped to improve automation is the Juvenile Online Tracking System (JOLTS) developed by programmers in Maricopa County’s Juvenile Probation Department. Jurisdictions participating in the Archive’s workshop witnessed demonstrations of JOLTS’ capabilities. Maricopa was willing to give JOLTS to these other jurisdictions. Dozens of jurisdictions eventually adopted JOLTS (or the PC version, JCATS) and were for the first time able to submit data to the Archive. More recently, through the Archive, Pennsylvania has similarly offered its Juvenile Case Management System (JCMS) to other jurisdictions.
Archive staff routinely provide technical assistance and support to data providers to improve their information systems and the quality and scope of the data they collect. Jurisdictions are encouraged to consider national information and reporting needs during their system design/redesign. The SSD/OJJDP redesign of OJJDP’s residential placement data collections resulted in the:
- Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement that collects youth-level information on juvenile offenders in residential placement in juvenile facilities;
- Juvenile Residential Facility Census that collects facility-level information about facility characteristics, services provided to youth, and deaths of youth in placement; and
- Survey of Youth in Residential Placement that interviewed youth in placement and asked a range of questions about their history, their placement experience, and their plans for the future.
NCJJ’s Performance Measures for the Juvenile Justice System showed that it is both possible and feasible to measure the performance of juvenile justice systems. Today there are many jurisdictions that publish their own report cards and use performance measures to assess the quality of their work. Through the Juvenile Justice GPS (Geography, Policy, Practice & Statistics) website, NCJJ draws attention to states with progressive data. The JJGPS website shows which states have data needed to answer fundamental questions about juvenile justice performance, such as the proportion of youth represented by counsel during delinquency proceedings.
Local juvenile justice agencies have adequate resources to make data and analysis improvements. Judges encourage information system data improvements to support data-driven decision-making. OJJDP has adequate funding to fulfill its federal role as a collector and disseminator of national statistics on the juvenile justice system. The NCJFCJ recommends setting aside federal court improvement funds to help support juvenile justice data and analysis improvement efforts as well as funding to support technical assistance efforts by non-profit organizations.