BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
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FAQ Detail
Why do data take so long to collect and publish?

Data collections vary in scope, burden, and frequency of collection - (see individual data collection descriptions for more information). Generally, BJS collects data both from administrative records and from interviews with prison and jail inmates. All data collections must be approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) prior to fielding, which takes several months. Collections must be resubmitted for approval every 3 years (sooner if there are changes in the data collection). For data that are collected through inmate interviews, there must also be an Institutional Review Board (IRB) to protect human subjects (prior to OMB submission), and individual jurisdictions may require additional reviews prior to participation.

All data collection is voluntary. Without a specific mandate by Congress, no jurisdiction is compelled to participate in our data collections; individual surveys are conducted only with persons granting formal consent to participate. Most jurisdictions choose to participate because the information is helpful for policy and practice and may be used to allocate funding. It takes time to achieve a complete enumeration, particularly in times of staff shortages and budget cuts in many levels of government.

Administrative collections are sent out close to the reference date in the survey and are due to BJS 2 to 3 months later. Most respondents submit the data on time, but for various reasons, other jurisdictions take longer to submit the data. BJS staff or contractor staff work with jurisdictions to obtain the necessary information, which can take an additional 3 months.

After data are collected, they must then be cleaned, weighted (in the case of sample populations), and analyzed. BJS staff has several methods of release, including a formal report, statistical/electronic tables, or a summary brief. All data are fully verified prior to release. Keeping in mind that each data collection is different and the times may vary significantly depending on the collection of interest, provided below is an average data collection and processing timetable:

Collection, 5–6 months (from reference date) for administrative surveys; 8–12 for interview surveys

Cleaning/weighting, 1–2 months for administrative surveys; 3–6 for interview surveys

Analysis/verification, 2–12 months, depending on survey type and complexity of analysis

Preparation to disseminate, 2–3 months


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