Justice Outcomes Explorer data dashboard sheds new light on US criminal justice system

May 01, 2024

Contact: Jon Meerdink ([email protected])

ANN ARBOR — A new data dashboard developed at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research will give an unprecedented look into the effects and outcomes of the United States’ criminal justice system.

The Justice Outcomes Explorer, or JOE, makes millions of statistics available in an accessible, easy-to-navigate format that should bring about a greater understanding of how the U.S. criminal justice system shapes the lives of millions of people throughout the country. The data dashboard is available today at

Ron Jarmin, Ph.D., the deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau, praised the dashboard for its transformative look at criminal justice data.

“Administrative data can be used to produce innovative products like the Justice Outcomes Explorer (JOE) that just aren’t feasible using surveys alone. Importantly, the JOE will expand access to information so that the public and policymakers can make evidence-based decisions.”

Developed by ISR’s Criminal Justice Administrative Records System (CJARS), JOE leverages billions of lines of raw data from the justice system and blends it with data sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau to produce an unprecedented look at crime statistics and outcomes.

The project was born out of a desire to solve a specific problem with data from the American criminal justice system: it’s notoriously hard to access. The sheer volume of data is difficult to manage, and privacy restrictions make it a challenge to create a unified picture of what’s happening within the system. But since its inception eight years ago, CJARS has been well-positioned to address this challenge, and after three years of development, JOE is ready to shed new light on the effects of the justice system.

“Our goal was to create a product that meets the needs of a number of different stakeholder audiences,” said Mike Mueller-Smith, Ph.D., CJARS director and assistant professor of economics at U-M. “Whether you are an advocate, a policy-maker, a researcher, working in the criminal legal system, or a directly impacted individual, I think there is something that you can gain and learn from JOE. Ultimately, if we all start to ground our collective practice in sound empirical evidence, we hopefully can start to make meaningful progress on building a more fair, equitable, and just criminal legal system.”

As constructed, the data dashboard will allow users to see aggregate statistics representing interactions between individuals and the justice system, tracking key issues like recidivism and its wide effects, a noteworthy use case for researchers. John H. Laub, Ph.D., the former director of the National Institute of Justice, believes the uses for JOE go both deep and wide.

“One of the long standing challenges in the formulation of evidence based criminal justice policy is the lack of sound comprehensive data. In order to be useful, data are needed across stages of the criminal justice system over time. Moreover, data that can be linked to a variety of important outcomes, especially outcomes beyond recidivism, are particularly desirable. CJARS and JOE fill this important gap and criminal justice research will be forever changed as a result.”

The dashboard strives to present a harmonious representation of numerous different data sources, ranging from local jurisdictions to the federal level. The intersection of data is a key feature, according to Keith Finlay, Ph.D., co-founder of CJARS and a research economist at the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The Justice Outcomes Explorer highlights how an ecosystem of administrative records increases the value of any individual dataset,” he said. “By harmonizing data from across the country, the CJARS team has unlocked previously hard-to-access information and made it possible to compare outcomes across agencies. By leveraging the Census Bureau’s Data Linkage Infrastructure, JOE adds further value to CJARS data — enabling an unprecedented look at how the justice system fits into the lives of many Americans.”

The dashboard’s three-year development process included key stakeholders at both CJARS and the U.S. Census Bureau, initially centered on the goal of creating a new statistical product. As the work grew, CJARS partnered with independent web-development firm Hyperobjekt to create and refine the user interface that’s now available for online use. Work on the dashboard was funded by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Arnold Ventures, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

It all comes together to make a new data dashboard that ISR Director Kate Cagney, Ph.D., calls “groundbreaking.”

“The CJARS Justice Outcomes Explorer is a pioneering platform that sheds light on criminal justice outcomes across the United States. This groundbreaking initiative will enable greater evidence-based research and policymaking, giving stakeholders unprecedented access to socioeconomic and recidivism data.”

The Justice Outcomes Explorer data dashboard from the Criminal Justice Administrative Records System officially went live at on May 1, 2024. CJARS will hold a webinar explaining and exploring different aspects of the JOE data dashboard on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. To register, click here.

For more information on the Justice Outcomes Explorer, view the video below.