Justice Counts Technical Implementation Guide

Justice Counts Overview

Justice Counts is a national initiative led by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center that makes more timely, accurate, and accessible data on safety and justice available to policymakers, removing the burden on agency staff to respond to frequent data requests. The initiative is supported by an unprecedented coalition of partners, including criminal justice membership associations such as the Correctional Leaders Association, organizations representing state and local leaders like the National Governors Association, national research and technical assistance organizations such as RAND, and more. The Justice Counts coalition is led by a 27-member national steering committee composed of leaders and innovators across the criminal justice system.

Together with BJA and the CSG Justice Center, these partners helped to design the three core components of Justice Counts: (1) consensus-driven metrics for the entire system that help agencies focus on sharing the most critical data that policymakers need to make effective decisions; (2) a novel set of tools to empower agencies to easily publish the metrics; and (3) technical assistance to help agencies effectively and efficiently share data that answer policymakers’ most frequently asked questions and better frame the narrative about their work to decision-makers.

The Metrics

The Justice Counts metrics were developed by seven sector-specific subcommittees composed of practitioners and researchers who focused on determining the most useful and feasible metrics for policymakers to consider and for agencies to publish. Through a series of votes and detailed prioritization discussions that included feedback from subcommittee members, partner organizations, and system stakeholders, the Justice Counts coalition came to consensus on a first tier of 86 metrics that were released to the public in May 2022.

Agencies can use these Tier 1 metrics to provide timely and important data to policymakers and decision-makers about their work. The metrics are feasible for several reasons:

  • They only require aggregate-level data; therefore, no data-sharing agreement is required for agencies to participate in Justice Counts.
  • The metrics largely reflect data that agencies already collect, but that may not be publicly shared on a regular basis. Therefore, they generally do not require new data collection efforts.
  • Metric definitions, time periods, and sharing frequency can be adjusted to each agency’s needs.

Justice Counts Digital Infrastrucure

Participating agencies will publish metrics through the Justice Counts digital infrastructure—a suite of tools and resources that are flexible and responsive to each agency’s data collection and publishing abilities and needs. The digital infrastructure includes a cloud-based database for secure data storage and a flexible control panel with options for multiple data uploading processes, ranging from manual data entry to automatic data transfers. Agencies will learn how to use the Justice Counts digital infrastructure and set up how they will publish the metrics through an onboarding process. This Technical Implementation Guide allows agencies to preview the choices they will be asked to make during the onboarding process and anticipate and prepare for the level of detail onboarding requires. It can also be used as a tool to engage the various staff who may be experts regarding the collecting and analyzing of different data points about the preferred approach for each metric.

During the onboarding process, representatives from each agency will use a control panel to accomplish four tasks:

  1. Select the metrics and breakdowns they will share. Agencies will review the list of metrics and simply turn off any metrics they are not able to share at that time. This approach can also help agencies employ a phased approach, focusing on priority metrics first and addressing others later.

  2. Configure the definition of the metric and the breakdowns to align with their agency’s specifics. Each Justice Counts metric has a short, high-level text description. That description is accompanied by a table of potential data elements, which constitutes the technical definition of the metric. The table assigns an instruction to either include or exclude each data element; the default settings of those “includes” and “excludes” designations make up the preferred Justice Counts definition. When onboarding, an agency can either accept that preferred definition or customize what their definition includes and excludes to better reflect the reality of their data.

    The metrics are disaggregated into several breakdowns. Each breakdown also has its own preferred definition and a table of data elements to include and exclude in an agency’s methodology for defining the breakdown. Once the definition is configured, it applies to both the metrics and any breakdowns nested underneath. For example, if your prisons do not house people on probation sanctions and that data element is excluded under “Admissions,” that exclusion is also applied to “Admissions for person offenses.” Breakdowns are designed to be mutually exclusive as a subset of the overall metric, so that the sum of the breakdowns should equal the overall metric. A person or case should not be included in more than one breakdown. For example, if a person is convicted of both property and public order offenses, they should be counted in only one of those breakdown categories (based on which is the most serious offense).

    Each metric also has an “other” breakdown for any data that might fit under the umbrella of the overall metric, but do not fit into one of the explicitly provided breakdowns. When sharing an “other” breakdown, an agency can further describe the data it is providing in free text. Please be as specific as possible when providing data definitions in the “other” categories.

  3. Define when your agency publishes a metric, or when it could easily publish a metric. The preferred sharing frequency describes how often Justice Counts suggests that an agency shares data for the metric. The preferred sharing frequency applies to the metric itself, as well as its breakdowns.

  4. Select the sharing frequency and time period for the metrics Justice Counts recommends. The preferred time period describes the amount of time that the data for the metric should cover. The time period configured applies to the metric itself, as well as its breakdowns.

This approach considers the individual needs of agencies and helps the Justice Counts team to meet an agency where it is in terms of its data collection, sharing, and definitions. Additionally, metadata about these agency-specific configurations attach to each metric and travel with each agency’s data in both aggregation and public display, ensuring that the appropriate context for those data is preserved.

Once an agency receives access to the digital infrastructure, it will have access to it at all times and can make changes at any point. The Justice Counts team is available via phone, video, or in person to provide technical assistance to agencies with the digital infrastructure onboarding process.