The Bureau of Justice Statistics (2009a) Web site is a religiously-updated one-stop repository of information about all things pertaining to the criminal justice system in the United States. Just how comprehensive the links in this field are is shown by such diverse matters as: presenting law enforcement capability from the Federal level down to campuses; everything about criminal offenders; the judicial and correctional systems, drug abuse; how many tort cases are concluded by bench or jury trials; and patterns of domestic violence.
Like the “civilian” counterpart Bureau of Census and Statistics, BJS reports findings chiefly from regular reporting rounds it enforces or periodic surveys the bureau conducts to update CJ statistics. The examples cited above, for instance, are really generated by such efforts as Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS), a sample survey conducted every four years or so; merging information from surveys of State Courts and State Court Organizations; an annual series of surveys of jails; and the National Judicial Reporting Program that collates data every other year. The entire subset about Criminal Offenders, on the other hand, is an example of data processed and archived internally since it is intrinsic to the mission of the Office of Justice Programs within the Department of Justice.
A Focus on Juvenile Crime and Delinquency
The case of monitoring offenders who are minors is illustrative of the strengths and limitations that pervade BJS reports. The special concern and sympathy society has for adolescent delinquents and youthful offenders is reflected in the scope of juvenile crime statistics: examining their characteristics, elucidating on their lot as victims, providing updates on the structures and processes attending juvenile-related law enforcement and judicial systems, and tracing their path from probation, confinement to juvenile correctional facilities, and post-release care and rehabilitation (National Center for Juvenile Justice, 2008). On the other hand, such completeness of scope has a price. The latest-available trending report for 1995 to 2005 was published only in 2008.
The source of data for delinquency and juvenile offending are the 2,100+ courts nationwide charged with jurisdiction over the youth who run afoul of the law.
At last count, such courts reported handling a total of 1.7 million delinquency cases, the term given to offenses that could render an adult counterpart liable for prosecution. Over the last four-and-a-half decades or so, juvenile offending quadrupled, from around 400,000 annually as of 1960 to prevalence rates exceeding 1.8 million in the late 1990s. Since then, juvenile delinquency shrank marginally and plateaud at the 1.7 million level. This parallels a downward trend in adult crime though the explanations and antecedents in both cases would require analysis in greater depth.
While crimes against property have declined somewhat since 1997, those against persons, illegal drugs and against public order account for ever greater shares of juvenile offending.
As of 2005, the three most common juvenile offenses were simple assault (17.6% of the total), larceny-theft (15.6%) and obstruction of justice (13.1%).
Bureau of Justice Statistics (2009a). Statistics about… Web.
National Center for Juvenile Justice (2008). Statistical briefing book: Juvenile court statistics 2005 (NCJ 224619). Web.