The Criminal Justice Administrative Records System (CJARS) is a data infrastructure initiative at the University of Michigan in cooperation with partners at the U.S. Census Bureau. The aim of CJARS is to improve public administration of the criminal justice system in the United States by supporting data-driven research. CJARS is collecting and integrating administrative data from state and local criminal justice agencies across all parts of the system, including arrest, booking, court, community supervision, incarceration, and other sanction files. In addition, we are linking these records with other administrative and survey records held at the U.S. Census Bureau. The goal is an integrated data system that follows each individual through every criminal episode, linkable at the individual-level to a wide range of outcome data.
The CJARS data infrastructure is necessary to answer fundamental questions about the justice system which were previously impossible to answer because of a lack of data integration. Basic questions, such as which policies effectively reduce recidivism, are often impossible to answer because of insufficient data infrastructure. The deficit in large-scale data infrastructure that can support empirical research on the justice system is a critical issue that prevents informed criminal justice policy-making. We have also designed the CJARS data infrastructure to scale in a way so that it can be linked to other disparate sources of data that are rarely integrated with administrative criminal justice records. This allows for research on the intersection between the criminal justice system and other vitally important topics, such as public health.