Prison Researcher Charts Growing Lag in BJS Reports

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Since 2017, data releases from the Bureau of Justice Statistics have seen a “dramatic” slowdown, the research director of the Prison Policy Initiative wrote in a detailed analysis of the trend. “It’s not news that government justice data has long been less well-funded, less timely, and less comprehensive than, say, labor statistics,” Wendy Sawyer writes. “Even so, these publications have slowed even further — and even been curtailed — under the current administration.”

Last month, a coalition representing thousands of academic and nonprofit researchers and advocates wrote to the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs with questions about missing and delayed data releases as well. Sawyer takes the complaint another step, by comparing the time between data collection reference dates and publication dates for six annual report series, including data on prisoners, jail inmates, probation and parole, and deaths in custody. The jail inmates report, for example, has long been published within one year of the data collection reference date, but the 2017 report was released 22 months after the midyear reference date, and it’s already been over 16 months for the 2018 data. Data collection has also lagged, Sawyer says, citing a local jail inmate survey that is many years behind schedule. Funding at BJS has not kept pace with increasing demands for justice data, she says, but the problems also signal neglectful leadership that’s not in touch with researchers’ statistical needs.

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