Why it matters

Without reliable and timely data, states cannot effectively analyze whether policy reforms are achieving intended impacts or whether investments are resulting in cost savings and improved outcomes. Further, it is critical to hold agencies accountable for reporting accurate, high-quality data to ensure transparency with the public about how taxpayer dollars are used.

This is why some states are allocating resources to corrections agencies to update databases, create systems to track new types of data to enable analysis of key performance metrics, and add personnel to track and analyze trends and impacts of criminal justice system reforms. In addition, state leaders are working collaboratively to establish the  performance measures, such as changes in prison and supervision populations, and performance metrics, which are calculations between two measures, such as revocation rates, that must be tracked to measure the success of reforms.[67] Identifying and tracking the top performance measures and metrics is critical to ensure that state leaders are able to assess progress toward the goals of policy changes.

What it looks like

  • Invest in IT upgrades or develop new infrastructure necessary to accurately collect data regularly.
    • See Case Study: Justice Reinvestment states build data capacity to improve data collection
  • Support local government efforts to collect and report data.
  • Identify key performance measures and metrics that must be tracked to analyze whether policy reforms are working as intended.
    • See Case Study: States improve infrastructure to track behavioral health data
  • Ensure that state and local criminal justice agencies share data, as appropriate, to facilitate analysis of performance measures and metrics. 

Key questions to guide action

  • What measures are agencies currently tracking and what new measures must be tracked to analyze the impacts of reforms?
  • What IT upgrades or new systems need to be created to enable the collection and reporting of new measures and metrics?
  • Do agencies have qualified personnel responsible for tracking and analyzing data that is collected?

Use the information that follows to inform your answers to these questions.

States can use key measures and metrics to assess the impact of policy changes on crime, recidivism, and criminal justice costs.

Additional Resources

Justice Reinvestment Data Tracker

The Urban Institute publishes a Justice Reinvestment Initiative State Data Tracker, which provides information on correctional system-level indicators, such as annual prison, probation, and parole populations and overall state savings and reinvestment for states that pursued a Justice Reinvestment approach.

A measure is a number that is derived from taking a measurement. The number of people in prison or on supervision in a given year is a measure. Common performance measures include tracking how the number of people in prison or on supervision changes over time. A metric is a calculation between two measures, and the calculation is often division. A common metric is a jurisdiction’s recidivism rate. For example, if there were 100 people released from prison in 2010 and 32 of them returned to prison within three years, the recidivism rate for this cohort would be 32 percent.  A performance metric would evaluate how recidivism rates have changed over time.

Case Study

Justice Reinvestment states build data capacity to improve data collection

Some states that have pursued a Justice Reinvestment approach have made investments in improving their capacity to collect and analyze performance measures and metrics. These investments also ensure that these states meet the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance’s data reporting requirements for states receiving technical assistance for implementing Justice Reinvestment legislation. States must submit data on policy trends and outcomes throughout the implementation phase and for an additional two years following the completion of technical assistance.

  • In Alabama, the Board of Pardons and Paroles hired a statistician in 2016 to oversee the agency’s multiple data tracking systems, which resulted in significant increases in the agency’s ability to track outcomes of their Justice Reinvestment policies. The agency also built a response matrix application into their case management system to streamline data entry for supervision officers.
  • In Arkansas and Montana, which both enacted Justice Reinvestment legislation in 2017, efforts to upgrade current software in the states’ correctional agencies will allow those agencies to incorporate Justice Reinvestment changes into their case management system databases and offer more reporting flexibility.
  • In 2013, the Kansas Sentencing Commission hired a full-time research analyst to track implementation of the state’s Justice Reinvestment legislation and to compile and present key data to stakeholders, including the governor.
  • In 2015, the Nebraska Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) invested in business intelligence and performance analytics software to improve their capacity to report on sentencing trends. The Office of Probation Administration, which is part of AOC, has been able to use this software to report on various Justice Reinvestment outcomes for the community supervision population.

Case Study

States improve infrastructure to track behavioral health data

States and local jurisdictions have recognized the importance of improving infrastructure to track behavioral health data related to correctional populations and measure treatment outcomes. Behavioral health measures include the number of client referrals made to providers, number of clients entered into treatment, number of completions, number of failures and reasons why, and measures of symptom reduction and recidivism reduction.

  • Johnson County, Kansas has a countywide data system that includes criminal justice data, behavioral health data, and information on public benefits and social services that can be shared across agencies.
  • As part of Justice Reinvestment, North Dakota is implementing a robust data system to track process and outcome measures related to the state’s $7 million reinvestment in community-based behavioral health services for people on community supervision. This system will allow information to be shared across the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Department of Human Services, community service providers/vendors, and probation and parole officers and will measure a variety of outcomes related to performance-based contracting, including employment stability, housing stability, and abstinence from substance use.