The U. S. Department of Justice retains data for analysis, dissemination, and study to help those in law enforcement and those wishing to research data related to criminal justice. The Bureau of Justice Statistics program under the DOJ, an executive, administrative branch of government, is an extremely useful tool for students to analyze an array of issues including both victim and offender information, including characteristics of these populations.
The information provided in this database is extremely useful in that the quantifiable information can be used to assist policy-makers with decisions that effect both offenders and those in criminal justice fields. Without this information, many needed programs would not be initiated and ineffectual programs would continue. A weakness of this database, however, is that is contains only quantitative data, painting only a small part of the profile of an offender, these statistics give mostly demographic information, as a guide, and cannot assist in profiling fugitive criminals to give closure to open cases.
The information being researched in this brief paper is the characteristics of the parent prison population and their children and the BJS is a very useful start before further study. Found in the BJS is a very alarming aspect of prisoner data in that many prisoners have minor children, who very rarely get to interact with their parents. It is reported in 2007 that there were roughly 1,706,600 minor children in the U. S. living without a parent due to the parent’s prison stay.
The statistics, also include (from surveys) information on the amount of time these children are in contact with their incarcerated parent, sources of financial contributions to the children’s households, caregiver information for the children and more. This type of data can help in reducing risk of recidivism due to the desire of incarcerated parents to reunite with their children and other information provided in the BJS can point to issues that may further facilitate this possibility or deter it.
For example, homelessness, unemployment, mental health issues, and substance abuse can all compound reunification and further bring out re-offense. The data suggests that drug offenders and persons committing property crimes were more likely to be parents than violent offenders, which can be viewed as a positive in that the lack of violence in their crimes would make parenting possible and less risky to their children.
Sadly, though drug recidivists are more likely to be parents than other types of recidivists, making family reunification difficult if special attention is not paid to this problem while these parents are incarcerated. There is much to be taken from this database to help gather information to help bring about programs to help the population mentioned above in the form and legislation, a strength of these statistics. However, as stated before, the BJS is a starting point for students and those involved in the criminal justice system and cannot be used as a tool to solve crime.
Additionally, though there is a wealth of information here, other sources must be brought in to make a complete study, such as on the children and parents caught up in the prison system with more qualitative study.
Department of Justice: Bureau of Justice Statistics. “Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children”. Available online <http://www. ojp. usdoj. gov/bjs/pub/pdf/pptmc. pdf>. Last Accessed 20 September, 2008.