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.
In 2021, 11 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.
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.