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EZAJCS Easy Access to Juvenile Court Statistics: 1985-2020




Since its inception, the Juvenile Court Statistics series has been the primary source of information on juvenile court activities in the United States. The first Juvenile Court Statistics report was published in 1929 and described cases handled during 1927 by 42 courts. At that time, few courts kept statistics or statistical records on the cases they handled. At the request of the Children's Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor, courts volunteered to complete a statistical reporting card on each delinquency case they handled.

In the mid-1940's, this case-level reporting was determined to be impractical. The primary focus of the reporting system then became aggregate counts of the number of delinquency cases handled by courts with juvenile jurisdiction. Each year, courts were asked to complete a single form that recorded the number of various case types they processed during the previous year.

In 1957, the Children's Bureau (by then within the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare) initiated a new data collection program that for the first time in the history of the series enabled the development of national estimates of juvenile court activity. A stratified probability sample of more than 500 courts was constructed. Each court was asked to provide annual aggregate counts of the number of delinquency cases it handled.

The statistical integrity of the Children's Bureau sample was difficult to maintain. After a decade, the project adopted a policy of collecting annual case counts from any court that could provide them. National estimates were then generated from this nonprobability sample.

Following the passage of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, the primary responsibility for monitoring juvenile delinquency activities at the Federal level was delegated to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) within the U.S. Department of Justice and OJJDP assumed responsibility for the reporting series. In 1975, the National Center for Juvenile Justice (NCJJ) was awarded a grant by OJJDP to continue the Juvenile Court Statistics series. NCJJ agreed to continue the data collection and reporting procedures established by the Children's Bureau.

A critical innovation in the Juvenile Court Statistics series occurred with the proliferation of computers in State and local governments during the mid-1970's. Many juvenile courts began to develop automated record keeping and statistical reporting systems. These data files contained detailed, case level data on each case disposed. Although the design and structure of the courts' automated information systems varied, the information they collected on juvenile cases was similar. Through careful processing, automated records from many jurisdictions were combined to produce a detailed national portrait of juvenile court activity.

Today, the National Juvenile Court Data Archive, maintained at the National Center for Juvenile Justice, collects these data and prepares the annual Juvenile Court Statistics reports.

Unit of Count

The information presented by this application represents national estimates of delinquency cases handled by U.S. courts with juvenile jurisdiction since 1985. Courts with juvenile jurisdiction may handle a variety of matters, including status offenses, child abuse and neglect, traffic violations, child support, and adoptions. This application presents data only on the delinquency cases processed by the courts.

In measuring the activity of juvenile courts, one could count the number of offenses referred; the number of cases referred; actual filings of offenses, cases, or petitions; the number of disposition hearings; or the number of youth handled. Each "unit of count" has its own merits and disadvantages. The unit of count used in Juvenile Court Statistics is the number of "cases disposed."

A "case" represents a youth processed by a juvenile court on a new referral regardless of the number of law violations contained in the referral. A youth charged with four burglaries in a single referral would be represented by a single case. A youth referred for three burglaries and referred again the following week on another burglary charge would contribute two cases, even if the court eventually merged the two referrals for more efficient processing.

The fact that a case is "disposed" means that a definite action was taken as the result of the referral - i.e., a plan of treatment was selected or initiated. It does not mean a case was necessarily closed or terminated in the sense that all contact between the court and the youth ceased. For example, a case is considered to be disposed when the court orders probation, not when the term of probation supervision is completed.

Reporting sample

The sample of juvenile courts that provide data to the Juvenile Court Statistics series varies each year. Most courts in the sample provide detailed information on each delinquency case they handled in the year. Other courts are only able to provide an aggregate count of their delinquency caseloads with no detail on case characteristics. The following table describes the samples for the years presented in this application.

Number of Cases
Year of
With detailed
In aggregate

The national estimates presented in the Juvenile Court Statistics reports were generated with data from a large nonprobability sample of juvenile courts. Consequently, statistical confidence in the estimates cannot be mathematically determined. Although statistical confidence would be greater if a probability sampling design were used, the cost of such an effort has long been considered prohibitive. Secondary analysis of available data is the best practical alternative for developing an understanding of the Nation's juvenile courts. Those interested in a more detailed description of this estimation procedure are encouraged to review the method section of Juvenile Court Statistics.

Changes to race coding

With the release of the 2014 data in March 2017, detailed race estimates developed by the National Juvenile Court Data Archive (Archive) project were expanded to include estimates for cases involving Hispanic youth for data years 2005-2014. As a result of this change, the race data shown in some sections of EZAJCS are not comparable across all data years. For the 1985-2004 data period, all race estimates are limited to 4 race groups (White, Black/African-American, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Asian/Pacific Islanders) without consideration of ethnicity; that is, during this data period, persons of Hispanic ethnicity can be of any race and are included within each of the four racial groups. Beginning with the 2005 data year, persons of Hispanic ethnicity are treated as a distinct race group and are excluded from the other race groups. For this reason, race estimates for the 1985-2004 data period are not comparable to the race estimates after 2004. An important exception must be noted. Data provided to the project did not always allow for identification of Hispanic ethnicity for cases involving American Indian youth. Specifically, data from many jurisdictions did not include any means to determine the ethnicity of American Indian youth. Rather than assume ethnicity for these youth, they are classified solely on their racial classification; as such, the American Indian group includes an unknown proportion of Hispanic youth.

Changes to detention

With the release of the 2015 data in March 2018, the project improved the coverage of detention data used to generate national estimates. As a result of this change, detention data prior to 2005 is no longer compatible with data for 2005 and later. Several data presentations within this application have been modified to account for this change. Specifically, the tables available from the "Demographics" and "Case Processing" sections have been modified to display detention information for the 2005-present data period.

Users interested in detention information prior to 2005 should contact the National Juvenile Court Data Archive [njcda@ncjfcj.org].

Population at risk

The populations presented in this section are also available in a spreadsheet file named EZAJCS.xls,
click here to download the file.

Population at risk of juvenile court handling in 2020

  12 13 14 15 16 17 10 to
Upper Age
Male 2,143,9292,155,5522,138,4932,131,3842,136,1521,696,09616,558,600
Female 2,057,0482,064,3692,047,8652,044,5362,051,7221,627,90315,883,616
White 2,174,5822,197,9602,202,8462,217,2982,251,6891,835,33617,088,157
Black 645,191643,457627,866618,278614,352469,1484,865,487
American Indian79,42279,97478,44777,93476,10465,230612,587
Male White1,112,3991,125,5361,129,6711,135,7491,154,076940,7098,752,174
Male Black327,048327,196318,221314,000311,537237,7332,468,873
Male American Indian40,31640,76839,90039,43238,46933,152310,687
Male Asian/NHPI127,529125,818124,422125,646126,413108,391988,176
Male Hispanic536,637536,234526,279516,557505,657376,1114,038,690
Female White1,062,1831,072,4241,073,1751,081,5491,097,613894,6278,335,983
Female Black318,143316,261309,645304,278302,815231,4152,396,614
Female American Indian39,10639,20638,54738,50237,63532,078301,900
Female Asian/NHPI122,654120,584120,816124,934126,066107,845964,088
Female Hispanic514,962515,894505,682495,273487,593361,9383,885,031
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