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Choosing the Right Data Strategy for Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice Initiatives

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2021
9 pages

This brief assists project coordinators and research partners working with government entities or nonprofit agencies in identifying, collecting, and prioritizing appropriate data and recommended measures for effective behavioral health and related criminal justice programs.


One major section of this brief addresses the selection of key metrics, which guides project coordinators, researchers, implementation teams, and advisory groups in identifying what data are appropriate to collect and track in relation to program goals. Issues discussed in this section are the key benefits of data collection, the interface process measures and police-mental health collaboration. Some examples cited are measurement of how many people are having trouble finding and keeping stable housing within the criminal justice system, as well as helping counties create programs to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in local jails. The second major section of this brief provides guidance on data sources. It notes that there are various sources from which to collect data, and the selection of data source can impact how the data can be used. Data types are characterized as quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative data sources contain objective information and statistics, such as demographic characteristics of program participants, dates, and types of events. Sources of quantitative data can inform researchers about participant characteristics and outcomes. Sources for such data are listed. Qualitative data sources pertain to opinions and perspectives of program staff, partners, and participants. Such data can be obtained through organizational and participants surveys, interviews, and focus groups. The concluding section of this brief presents and explains six key recommendations for collecting data and selecting evaluation methods. The appendix identifies and describes the features of various key criminal justice and behavioral health metrics.

Date Published: October 1, 2021