The Department of Justice (DoJ) has launched a new initiative – dubbed “Justice Counts” – to help states make smarter policy and budget decisions using up-to-date, actionable criminal justice data.

The initiative is led by the Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center in collaboration with 21 professional associations representing every part of the criminal justice system.

“Our justice systems should be built on principles of fairness, effectiveness, and efficiency, and policymakers and the public need better data in order to advance these principles,” said U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “The better equipped we are with timely data, the more effectively we can serve our communities and secure the trust and confidence of those we serve.”

In a press release, DoJ said it created Justice Counts as a response to calls from policymakers and public safety professionals for more actionable data on crime, incarceration, community supervision, and related topics. DoJ explained that state leaders are making budgetary and policy decisions based on data that are inconsistently collected and reported across the comparable agencies in their jurisdictions.

“We take for granted that the fiscal and policy decisions being made by our elected leaders are informed by up-to-date, carefully analyzed data, but we find that, on issues of public safety, that is often not the case,” said BJA Acting Director Kristen Mahoney. “This partnership – virtually unprecedented in its size and scope – will drive us toward consensus on the key data points needed to shape our responses to our nation’s crime and justice challenges.”

Additionally, state agencies lack the time, technology, and mandate to create scalable solutions. In addition to state leaders and public safety professionals, DoJ noted that the general public is also seeking greater transparency in criminal justice budgets.

The department said that Justice Counts will “deliver a set of key recommended criminal justice metrics as well as aggregation tools that make the most of data already collected to help leaders reach informed decisions without requiring costly upgrades.”

“This impressive collaborative of partners is working together to make criminal justice data visible, digestible, actionable, and transparent,” said Amy L. Solomon, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP). “The Justice Counts initiative is building the data infrastructure this country needs – and will use – to create safe and just communities.”

As part of the initiative, states and localities will receive tools and assistance from Justice Counts partners to adopt metrics and use the data to inform their decision-making. The DoJ said that the Justice Counts Data Scans have already demonstrated the concept in a central, practical resource for stakeholders to identify gaps and inconsistencies in corrections reporting across all 50 states.

“Before we can solve the challenges facing our criminal justice system, we first need an accurate picture of what is happening inside the system,” said Director Megan Quattlebaum of the CSG Justice Center. “Unfortunately, many policymakers are forced to make important decisions surrounding public safety and justice based on outdated or incomplete information. Justice Counts is an unparalleled, consensus-based initiative that will empower states to use accurate, comprehensive, and up-to-date data, allowing state and local leaders to make informed decisions that increase public safety, health, and equity.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs