BJA and the CSG Justice Center Launch Initiative to Help State Corrections Agencies Expand Data Analysis Capacity

March 10, 2023

Corrections agencies allocate significant time on a daily basis for collecting data to track their populations. They also invest large sums of money in building and maintaining data management systems to warehouse that data. However, many agencies lack staff time and resources to proactively use the data they collect to regularly inform their operations.

As part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center is working with the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to launch a new initiative to place data analysts in residence at state departments of corrections (DOCs). The analysts will help those agencies develop their data analysis capacity and increase the utility of data for decision-making while also building the corrections analyst workforce.

Based on interest from DOCs, the analysts will help DOC leadership build out their data infrastructure and more fully integrate the use of data analysis practices, tools, and reporting into their daily operations and management. This will help DOC staff better understand their systems and use data-driven decision-making to improve outcomes for people under their charge, increase safety, and plan more efficiently.

What the Project Involves

The CSG Justice Center will place an analyst in up to six DOCs for a period of three months to a year. Analysts will range from graduate students to mid-career professionals, and the placement employment length will be determined based on the goals and complexity of each DOC’s project. Each analyst will work on-site at a DOC central office at least one week per month during the project period. A senior CSG Justice Center data scientist will provide in-depth guidance and oversight to alleviate some administrative burden for DOC staff.

Analysts will be integrated into a DOC’s research or IT department and tackle projects that are tailored to the needs of each DOC and their existing data analysis capabilities. They will help DOCs set up new tools and practices that can be easily sustained after the placement period, for example:

  • Building basic data analysis functionality to give decision-makers better access to reliable data metrics, such as setting up sustainable technology solutions to access automated reporting; helping create an annual report; or identifying gaps or quality issues in current data collection and charting a path forward to address those challenges.
  • Creating data visualization tools, like dashboards, to help DOC leadership access easy-to-digest data to inform decision-making and institutionalize the routine review of data to monitor operations.
  • Developing population projections so that DOC leaders can better plan for their future needs.
  • Answering more complex research questions through in-depth analysis on specific topics, like the impacts of violent crime trends on the prison system, the causes of changes in correctional populations, or drivers of system disparities.

Why It Matters

Corrections leaders regularly make high-stakes population management decisions using the best information available to them in the moment. They also must make long-term planning decisions based on their best approximation of how their system may change in the future and advocate to policymakers for funding, staffing, and other resources to support those plans. While emphasizing the importance of data collection to track staff practices and day-to-day occurrences, many DOCs struggle to regularly provide decision-makers with meaningful data analysis that synthesizes this information with system trends to inform those important decisions.

Additional staff support through a resident analyst will improve the capacity of participating DOCs to understand system trends, on-the-ground staff practices, and correctional population outcomes, like program completion, reentry readiness, and prison readmissions. This will in turn help DOC leaders plan and better address system challenges to improve outcomes for DOC staff and incarcerated individuals.

Next Steps

Resident analysts will begin full-year placements for employment in the spring of 2023. Shorter-term placements will begin throughout 2023. Resident analysts will begin their employment by learning their DOC’s data systems and working with agency leadership to create a plan and structure for their projects. These analysis plans will culminate in final products customized to each DOC’s needs. Examples of these products could include dashboards, reproducible data system reports, programming code that organizes or automates processes, population projections, or an annual report. Resident analysts will bring

  • Experience with statistical software packages to support development of analytic products;
  • Demonstrated experience applying data analysis to real-world data problems; and
  • Knowledge of criminal justice systems and settings.

Please reach out to Sara Friedman at if you have any questions about the project.

Sign up for the CSG Justice Center’s newsletters to receive updates about this project and our other Justice Reinvestment Initiative work.

About the author

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Program Director, State Initiatives
Sara Friedman oversees a portfolio of projects that help state leaders improve outcomes and reduce recidivism by building and implementing technology for data-driven decision-making. Prior to this role, she led teams of CSG Justice Center staff who helped states adopt
and measure research-driven criminal justice policy and practice changes through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. Previously, Sara was the director of resource development at an alternative-to-incarceration nonprofit, focusing on grant writing, program development, and building organizational capacity through data collection and program evaluation. Sara earned her BA from University of Pennsylvania and her MPA from New York University.  
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  • BJA logoThis project was supported by Grant No. 15PBJA-21-GK-04348-JRIX awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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