In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Criminal Justice Data Sources

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Data Archives

Criminology Criminal Justice Data Sources
Lee Slocum
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 May 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0111


Early data on crime and the criminal justice system were the product of the “moral statistics” movement of the 1800s, which was devoted to the idea that scientists can use quantitative methods to understand and explain social phenomena. The first national data on crime and the criminal justice system were published in France in 1827, although several countries had been collecting data prior to this time at the subnational level. In the United States, states began collecting criminal justice data as early as 1829. The annual reporting of national crime statistics was not mandated until 1870, when Congress created the Department of Justice. This directive was largely ignored until 1927, when the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) formed a committee tasked to create Uniform Crime Records. This reporting program was taken over by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (BOI, later FBI) shortly after the initial reports of crime known to the police were released in 1930. Since the 1970s, changes in conceptions about crime and the control of crime have resulted in a “veritable ‘data explosion’” in the field of criminology and criminal justice (Maguire 2007, p. 246, cited under General Overviews). Evidence of this growth can be seen in the establishment of large data archives created to house these datasets and make them accessible to researchers and policymakers. It can also be seen in the formation and growth of government agencies dedicated to the collection, analysis, and dissemination of crime and criminal justice data. This article introduces some of the most frequently used sources of crime and criminal justice data. It is split into three sections. The first section describes some of the largest repositories of crime and criminal justice data in the United States and Europe. The next section describes the three major sources of data on crime (official data, victimization surveys, and self-report surveys). The strengths and weaknesses of each of these sources of data have been written about at great length and are also discussed in this section. Data on white-collar and corporate crime are discussed separately from data primarily used to study street crime. The final section identifies datasets that provide information on different aspects of the criminal justice system including law enforcement, sentencing, corrections, and the juvenile justice system. It also describes data sources related to a relatively new area of interest to criminologists, terrorism.

General Overviews

Mosher, et al. 2011 provides a historical overview of the measurement of crime. It also describes the three major sources of data on crime and outlines the strengths and weaknesses of each type. Similar information is provided in the chapter Maguire 2007, but the emphasis is on the United Kingdom rather than the United States. Maguire 2007 also has a section on the challenges of studying hidden or hard-to-measure crimes such as crimes within institutions, crimes against businesses, and family violence. The volume Duffee 2000 was commissioned by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to review the developments in the measurement and analysis of crime and criminal justice data that took place in the 20th century and to look forward to the challenges and new developments that lie ahead. See also Maltz 1977.

  • Duffee, David, ed. 2000. Criminal justice 2000. Vol. 4, Measurement and analysis of crime and justice. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs and National Institute of Justice.

    Edited volume that includes papers covering methodological and analytical issues related to the measurement of crime and the functioning of the criminal justice system. Several chapters elaborate on measurement issues associated with specific substantive areas such as sexual victimization, drug abuse, and fear of crime.

  • Maguire, Mike. 2007. Crime data and statistics. In The Oxford handbook of criminology. Edited by Mike Maguire, Rod Morgan and Robert Reiner, 240–301. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A more advanced overview of the measurement of crime. Emphasis is on crime data collected in the United Kingdom.

  • Maltz, Michael D. 1977. Crime statistics: A historical perspective. Crime & Delinquency 23:32–40.

    DOI: 10.1177/001112877702300103

    Describes the history of criminal justice statistics in the United States, particularly the Uniform Crime Reports. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Mosher, Clayton J., Terrance D. Miethe, and Timothy C. Hart. 2011. The mismeasure of crime. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    An easy-to-understand overview of commonly used methods for measuring crime, including the strengths and weakness of each approach. Appropriate for undergraduate and graduate students.

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