The court system plays a critical role in the judicial process, impacting which arrestees are charged with and potentially convicted of a criminal offense. The court system consists broadly of prosecution, pretrial services and detention, defense services, and courts of limited and general jurisdiction, and oversees the adjudication process for juvenile and adult offenders.
BJS collects data on the offices and systems critical to the adjudication process, including indigent defense services, prosecutor offices, and state attorney general offices. Data from these offices provide estimates of staffing, caseloads, and expenditures associated with prosecuting and defending cases in the nation's courts. Several specialized collections focus on specific issues affecting the courts, such as cybercrime and how cases involving juveniles are processed in state court systems.
BJS also examines the adjudication of civil cases by bench or jury trial in a national sample of trial courts. These data provide information on the characteristics of plaintiffs and defendants as well as case processing and outcome characteristics, including post-verdict relief and appeals.
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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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.
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.