Slower than a Speeding Bulletin

The percentage of juveniles arrested for murder who are black shot up to 54 percent in 2005, a year that saw a 20 percent uptick in juvenile murder arrests. The percentage of arrestees who were black had never topped 50 percent before.

Was it an aberration of a year? Or is there a upward trend in the number of juveniles arrested for murder, particularly black youths, that the juvenile justice field needs to contemplate. 

OJJDP will let you know…in about 2010.   

The aforementioned stats are an example of the kind of data that are charted and analyzed in the Juvenile Arrest bulletins, which are written by the National Center for Juvenile Justice based on FBI Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and then put out by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Juvenile Delinquency. The time between when those arrests occurred and when the JJ field has a chance to see OJJDP’s data and statements on them has continued to wide in recent years.

Juvenile arrest data for 1996 was published by the agency in November of 1997, and that pattern of next-year publishing continued through the 1999 bulletin.

For the 2000 through 2004 bulletins, the turnaround time basically doubled. In all cases, the bulletin was released two calendar years after the one covered in the bulletin.

And 2005 data was just released last month. It has gotten so absurd that NCJJ now posts data online before OJJDP approves the actual bulletin, and OJJDP has no problem with that. The numbers that will appear in the 2006 bulletin have been up on NCJJ’s website since December.

Jeff Butts, who used to work for NCJJ, doesn’t even wait for that anymore. He recently created a breakdown of 2007 UCR data and posted it on his personal website (first entry under “presentations”).

Raw data are becoming available in a timely way through NCJJ and people like Butts, but without any authoritative statement from OJJDP on its meaning. And it lacks trend analysis. Going back to the example of murder arrest rates for black juveniles, NCJJ’s site includes some arrest rates by race for 2006 but has no analysis of whether black juveniles continued to account for a higher percentage of murder arrests. 

One source we asked about this says the biggest impact of the delay is political interest. While a juvenile justice advocate may know to find the crime statistics on a website or call an expert like Butts, a candidate or congressman probably won’t. They are more likely to take notice of the data and trends, the source said, if it comes in the bulletin, which provides insight on the numbers and the stamp of approval from a government agency. 

Obviously, it’s impossible for most national statistics to be measured in real time, and things that are done for the government by grantees need to be checked. But NCJJ sent the 2005 bulletin to OJJDP for approval in late 2006.

What is the hold up?

JJ Today called OJJDP to ask why the bulletins have taken increasingly longer
periods of time to publish. The response, via Department of Justice spokeswoman Kara McCarthy:

Publication timeframes vary depending on a number of factors. Since mid-July, OJJDP has released nine publications. It is anticipated that Juvenile Arrests 2006 will be released in October 2008.”

That’s not really responsive to the question.

It is true that the agency has published nine reports since July. But one is the 2005 bulletin and two are the youth gang surveys from 2005 and 2006. Another is the Annual Report for 2005, which the administrator is required by the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act to submit annually to Congress.

“The failure of this office to provide this annual status report has inhibited the ability of Congress and other interested parties to understand and assess the activities and priorities pursued by OJJDP,” former OJJDP administrator Shay Bilchik testified before a congressional subcommittee this week considering the state of his former agency.

If Juvenile Arrests 2006 (which the agency received from NCJJ in November) is actually released next month, that would get the agency back on its former two-year lag time schedule. 

We guess that’s a start.


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