The Importance of Data in the Criminal Justice Field

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches” over 100 years ago. But his detective Sherlock Holmes could have been speaking today when he said, “Data! Data! Data! … I can’t make bricks without clay.”

The use of data analytics in criminal justice is growing in an effort to prevent crime, reduce incarceration and prison costs, address systems of inequality and strengthen communities.

Criminal justice professionals with experience in the field can advance their careers with data analytics expertise. The William Paterson University (WP) Bachelor of Arts in Criminology & Criminal Justice – Accelerated Professional Track online program is ideal for law enforcement and corrections professionals looking to propel their career trajectory. They can apply up to 30 hours of credit toward this online program, which includes data analytics courses that prepare graduates to use qualitative and quantitative data in their jobs.

What Are 4 Ways Data Analytics Is Changing Criminal Justice Systems?

In the criminal justice system, data analytics can have an impact at the individual, community and societal levels. The following are some of the most significant ways that data analytics is shaping the field of criminal justice.

1. Improving investigative methods

Blood, hair and fingerprints were first used as evidence over a century ago. Today, investigators are turning to data to build a case. Deloitte Insights describes an FBI investigation that produced “six petabytes of data — the equivalent of more than 120 million filing cabinets filled with paper.”

It takes trained professionals to ask the right questions and discover new insights within all that data. Without that, Deloitte notes, “law enforcement agencies will struggle to counter the criminal actors they are charged with targeting.”

2. Tracking what matters

In her TED Talk “Why Smart Statistics Are the Key to Fighting Crime,” former New Jersey attorney general Anne Milgram recalls trying to learn more about the people in the nation’s prisons. It was 2007, and she soon realized that criminal justice agencies “didn’t track the things that matter.”

Milgram wanted to know more about people who had been arrested. Are they likely to re-offend, or can they safely be released? Milgram went on to build a universal risk assessment tool to support better pretrial decision-making. The Pretrial Justice Institute explains why this matters:

  • More than 631,000 people are in jail every day in the U.S.
  • Two-thirds of those being held in jail are in pretrial detention and legally innocent. Most are Black or and cannot afford bail.
  • S. taxpayers spend almost $14 billion a year on pretrial detention, resources that could be reallocated to address poverty, inequality and other causes of crime.

Data-driven assessments of pretrial risk can have far-reaching benefits for individuals, families, communities and taxpayers.

3. Detecting fraud

Fraud happens at all levels, from identity theft and imposter scams to large-scale money-laundering operations run by sophisticated criminals. Instead of relying on anonymous tips, law enforcement professionals can turn to behavioral analytics.

Fraud investigators use behavioral analytics to identify predictable patterns, which makes it easier to spot outliers. Take the case of fraudulent pandemic-relief payments, estimated at $100 billion.

As Reuters explains, a fraudster might submit hundreds or thousands of applications, hoping one is a winner. But if they all have the same address, a system with behavioral analytics tools will flag potential fraud.

4. Addressing systems of inequality

Historic inequalities in the criminal justice system are well documented. As just one example, the NAACP reports that “5% of illicit drug users are African American, yet African Americans represent 29% of those arrested and 33% of those incarcerated for drug offenses.”

There are concerns that data-driven approaches to law enforcement such as AI facial recognition technologies and predictive policing tools such as crime mapping may perpetuate systemic racism.

In an interview with Wired, computer scientist Fei-Fei Li discusses the use of data analytics to make a difference. She gives the example of using AI techniques to analyze the language used by police officers in bodycam footage. Research showed significant differences based on biases and prejudices related to race and respect shown to individuals. Insights such as this can promote positive change.

A career in the criminal justice field offers many growth opportunities. WP’s B.A. in Criminology & Criminal Justice program prepares graduates to propel their careers and pursue leadership roles in law enforcement, corrections and other criminal justice areas. Graduates may also pursue further education in law, social work and criminal justice administration.

Learn more about William Paterson University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Criminology & Criminal Justice – Accelerated Professional Track program.

Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.

Our Commitment to Content Publishing Accuracy

Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only. The nature of the information in all of the articles is intended to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered.

The information contained within this site has been sourced and presented with reasonable care. If there are errors, please contact us by completing the form below.

Timeliness: Note that most articles published on this website remain on the website indefinitely. Only those articles that have been published within the most recent months may be considered timely. We do not remove articles regardless of the date of publication, as many, but not all, of our earlier articles may still have important relevance to some of our visitors. Use appropriate caution in acting on the information of any article.

Report inaccurate article content: