The "What is the sequence of events in the criminal justice system?" flowchart summarizes the most common events in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, including entry into the justice system, prosecution and pretrial services, adjudication, sentencing and sanctions, and corrections. An online version of this chart as well as a discussion of the events in the criminal justice system are available on the BJS site (13.5" x 7.5"; 300 DPI). A color version of the chart can also be ordered. See our How to Find BJS Products page for direction on how to submit your request.
In 2020, 17 inmates were executed in the United States. The Bureau of Justice Statistics' (BJS) Capital Punishment reports present characteristics of persons under sentence of death and persons executed, and summarize the movement of prisoners into and out of death sentence status. See Prisoners executed under civil authority in the United States, by year, region, and jurisdiction for additional data on executions.
The Brady Act recognizes the need to automate state record systems that contribute most of the relevant information to the FBI record system, which would be checked by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The Brady Act established the National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP)—a program of grants to be used by the states to create or improve computerized criminal history record systems—to assist in the transmittal of criminal records for use by the NICS and improve access to the NICS. NCHIP is administered by the Department's Office of Justice Programs through the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). At the state level, NCHIP grants are administered to state agencies designated by the Governor. Since 1995 NCHIP has provided over $500 million in grants to states to improve the automation of record systems that contribute to the FBI information used in NICS checks.
Notwithstanding these efforts under NCHIP and the tremendous progress the state and federal criminal justice information repositories have made in record automation since 1995, the databases checked by the FBI are still missing significant percentages of relevant data that originate in the states, including final dispositions of records of arrests for prohibiting offenses, records of convictions for domestic violence misdemeanor offenses, and information identifying persons with prohibiting domestic violence protection orders or with disqualifying mental health adjudications and commitments.
As with any specialized field, criminal justice has specific terms to convey specific ideas. Persons under correctional supervision are those on probation or parole or held in prison or jail. This definition casts the widest net when seeking the number under some sort of correctional surveillance.
Persons incarcerated include those in state or federal prisons or local jails. This is the population most often cited when asked how many people in the United States are behind lock and key. BJS publishes an imprisonment rate for the number of prisoners under state or federal jurisdiction sentenced to more than 1 year in prison per 100,000 U.S. residents. The incarceration rate is the number per 100,000 U.S. residents of inmates held in the custody of local jails, state or federal prisons, or privately operated facilities. (More information about jurisdiction and custody counts can be found here.)
BJS also has a total incarceration count that includes those held in state and federal prisons, local jails, Indian country jails, U.S territory facilities, military facilities, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, and juvenile facilities.
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Of the estimated 1,079,000 felons convicted in state courts in 2004, the vast majority (95%) of those sentenced for a felony pleaded guilty. The remaining 5% were found guilty either by a jury (2%) or by a judge in a bench trial (3%). See Felony Sentences in State Courts, 2004.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) does not have conviction and sentencing information by state. Court statistics for individual states may be available by going to the state court website for a particular state. See the National Center for State Courts site for links to state court websites.
BJS does collect national-level statistics on race for criminal sentencing in state and federal courts:
A. State court sentencing statistics:
- BJS compiles and publishes national statistics every two years on adults convicted of felonies in state courts. The statistics include information on the race or Hispanic origin, sex, and age of the person convicted. Demographic statistics of convicted felons can be found in two BJS publicationsFelony Sentences in State Courts and State Court Sentencing of Convicted Felons.
- Statistical table 2.1 of Felony Sentences in State Courts, 2004, indicates that, of the nearly 1,079,000 adults convicted of a felony in 2004 in state courts nationwide, 59% were white, 38% were black, and 38% were persons identified as American Indians or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander.
- State Court Sentencing of Convicted Felons, 2004 Statistical Tables, provides more demographic statistics on felony sentence types and sentence lengths. Table 2.7 provides the average sentence lengths received among persons convicted of a felony in 2004, broken out by the race of the felon.
- Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties, 2009Statistical Tables, provides criminal sentencing data in the nation's 75 largest counties. Individuals arrested and charged with a felony in state courts are sampled from 40 of the nation's 75 largest counties. Within those counties in 2009, 45% of felony defendants were non-Hispanic blacks, 30% were non-Hispanic whites, 24% were Hispanics or Latinos of any race, and 2% were non-Hispanic persons of some other race.
B. Federal Justice Statistics, 2009 Statistical Tables presents national level statistics describing all aspects of case processing in the federal criminal justice system, including adjudication in the U.S. district courts, sentencing, appeal of convictions and/or sentences imposed for the 12 month period ending September 30, 2009.
This is a question the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) frequently receives and unfortunately cannot completely answer. BJS publishes reports in the Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties series every two to three years, providing the number of persons charged with a felony in a sample of the nation’s 75 most populous counties. In 2009, about 56,000 defendants were charged with a felony in those counties. See Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties, 2009.
This is a question the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) frequently receives and, unfortunately, cannot completely answer. BJS can provide an estimate of the number of living persons in the United States who have ever been to state or federal prison. At yearend 2001, more than 5.6 million U.S. adult residents, or about 1 in 37 U.S. adults, had served time in state or federal prison. See Prevalence of Imprisonment in the U.S. Population, 1974-2001.
BJS publishes reports in the Felony Sentences in State Courts series every two years, providing the number of persons convicted of a felony in state courts in a particular year.
FOR STATES: The NICS Improvement Act has provisions that require states to meet specified goals for completeness of the records submitted to the Attorney General on individuals prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms. The records covered include automated information needed by the NICS to identify felony convictions, felony indictments, fugitives from justice, drug arrests and convictions, federally prohibiting mental health adjudications and commitments, domestic violence protection orders, and misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence.
The Act provides for a number of incentives for states to meet the goals it sets for greater record completeness.
-- First, the Act allows states to obtain a waiver, beginning in 2011, of the National Criminal History Record Improvement Program's (NCHIP) state matching requirement, if a state provides at least 90 percent of its records identifying the specified prohibited persons.
-- Second, the Act authorizes grant programs to be administered consistent with NCHIP, for state executive and judicial agencies to establish and upgrade information automation and identification technologies for timely submission of final criminal record dispositions and other information relevant to NICS checks. Up to 5 percent of the grants may be reserved for Indian tribal governments and judicial systems. For Fiscal Year 2009, $10 million has been appropriated.
-- Finally, the Act provides for discretionary and mandatory Byrne grant penalties for non-compliance with record completeness requirements: after 3 years, 3 percent may be withheld in the case of less than 50 percent completeness; after 5 years, 4 percent may be withheld in the case of less than 70 percent completeness; and after 10 years, 5 percent shall be withheld in the case of less than 90 percent completeness (although the mandatory reduction can be waived if there is substantial evidence of the state making a reasonable effort to comply).
IN THE FEDERAL SYSTEM: The NICS Improvement Act creates an independent statutory obligation for federal agencies to report records identifying prohibited persons to the Attorney General. It also requires that federal agencies that issue prohibiting mental health adjudications or commitments establish a program under which a person subject to such an adjudication or commitment can apply for relief from his or her firearms disability according to standards under 18 U.S.C. 925(c). Additionally, the Act provides that a prohibiting adjudication or commitment issued by a federal agency or department may be nullified in certain instances by a qualified set aside, expungement, release from mandatory treatment, or other specified means.
CHANGE TO THE MENTAL HEALTH PROHIBITOR: Prior to the NICS Improvement Act, section 922(g)(4) was effectively a lifetime prohibition on possessing firearms by any person "who had been adjudicated a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution." The Act, however, provides that when relief is granted under a federal or state relief from disabilities program that meets the requirements of the Act, or when certain automatic relief conditions are met with respect to persons federally adjudicated or committed, the event giving rise to the mental health disability is "deemed not to have occurred" for purposes of the federal firearm prohibition.