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This is the 70th report in the Juvenile Court Statistics series. It describes the delinquency and status offense cases handled between 1987 and 1996 by U.S. courts with juvenile jurisdiction. National estimates of juvenile court caseloads in 1996 were based on analyses of approximately 894,600 automated case records and court-level statistics summarizing nearly 191,500 additional cases. The data used in the analyses were contributed to the National Juvenile Court Data Archive by nearly 1,800 courts with jurisdiction over 67% of the juvenile population in 1996.

The first Juvenile Court Statistics report was published in 1929 by the U.S. Department of Labor and described cases handled by 42 courts during 1927. During the next decade, Juvenile Court Statistics reports were based on statistics cards completed for each delinquency, status offense, and dependency case handled by the courts participating in the reporting series. The Children’s Bureau (within the U.S. Department of Labor) tabulated the information on each card, including age, sex, and race of the youth; the reason for referral; the manner of dealing with the case; and the final disposition of the case. During the 1940’s, however, the collection of case-level data was abandoned because of its high cost. From the 1940’s until the mid-1970’s, Juvenile Court Statistics reports were based on the simple, annual case counts reported to the Children’s Bureau by participating courts.

In 1957, the Children’s Bureau initiated a new data collection design that enabled the Juvenile Court Statistics series to develop statistically sound, national estimates. The Children’s Bureau, which had been transferred to the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), developed a probability sample of more than 500 courts. Each court in the sample was asked to submit annual counts of delinquency, status offense, and dependency cases. This design proved difficult to sustain as courts began to drop out of the sample. At the same time, a growing number of courts outside the sample began to compile comparable statistics. By the late 1960’s, HEW ended the sample-based effort and returned to the policy of collecting annual case counts from any court able to provide them. The Juvenile Court Statistics series, however, continued to generate national estimates based on data from these nonprobability samples.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) became responsible for Juvenile Court Statistics following the passage of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. In 1975, OJJDP awarded the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ) a grant to continue the report series. Although NCJJ agreed to use the proce-dures established by HEW in order to ensure reporting continuity, NCJJ also began to investigate methods of improving the quality and detail of national statistics. A critical innovation was made possible by the proliferation of computers during the 1970’s. As NCJJ asked agencies across the country to complete the annual juvenile court statistics form, some agencies began offering to send the automated case-level data collected by their management information systems. NCJJ learned to combine these automated records to produce a detailed national portrait of juvenile court activity—the original objective of the Juvenile Court Statistics series.

The project’s transition from using annual case counts to analyzing automated case-level data was completed with the production of Juvenile Court Statistics 1984. For the first time since the 1930’s, Juvenile Court Statistics contained detailed, case-level descriptions of the delinquency and status offense cases handled by U.S. juvenile courts. This case-level detail continues to be the emphasis of the reporting series.

Data Access

The data used in this report are stored in the National Juvenile Court Data Archive at NCJJ in Pittsburgh, PA. The Archive contains the most detailed information available on youth involved in the juvenile justice system and on the activities of U.S. juvenile courts. Designed to facilitate research on the juvenile justice system, the Archive’s data files are available to policymakers, researchers, and students. In addition to national data files, State and local data can be provided to researchers. With the assistance of Archive staff, researchers can merge selected files for cross-jurisdictional and longitudinal analyses. Upon request, project staff are also available to perform special analyses of the Archive’s data files. Researchers are encouraged to contact the Archive directly to explore the possible uses of Archive data files for their work.


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Juvenile Court Statistics 1996   July 1999

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