DATA Story: Case Volume and the Criminal Justice System

Philadelphia DAO
Mar 3 · 4 min read

The vast majority of Philadelphia residents will never step inside of a courtroom in the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice (aka The CJC). Most of what the public knows about the criminal justice system and crime in their city is based on what they see on TV, in newspapers, on websites, and social media — which is not always representative of people’s real experiences.

That big jury trial you saw on the 6 o’clock news, that was reported on by the major local news outlets? It was just one of tens of thousands of open criminal cases in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office on any given day of the week.

Tracking crime statistics or prison population alone is insufficient to measure the progress we’re making toward a fairer, more effective criminal justice system that holds people who commit serious crimes accountable and promotes public safety and stable communities. In this DATA Story, we’re going to talk about another key metric: case volume.

The following steps will explain how to find case volume over the past few years, year-to-date case volume so far this year, and how many cases are open at any given time. These metrics can be useful for both researchers and community members alike in understanding how the criminal justice system is working in real time, and in comparing it to years past.

Case Volume Over Time

To find the case volume for past years on the DAO Dashboard, go to Year End Reports, the first option under the Reports header. Then click Year End Charges on the following pop-up menu.

Image 1. Shows the home screen of the Data Dashboard, with ‘Year End Reports’ and ‘Year End Charges’ highlighted.

You will be taken to a page with a header that reads Charges. If you scroll to the bottom of this page you will find the information highlighted in Image 2, under Year End Counts of Cases:

Image 2. Shows the Year End Count of Cases Charged by Offense Category on the Charges page. In 2019, there were 32,601 cases, down from over 43,000 in 2014. There has been a downward trend in the number of cases each year since 2014, with the total just above 32,000 in 2018 and 2019.

Here you will also find the breakdown of the year end counts from 2014 to 2019 for all major offense categories such as violent offenses, property offenses, and drug offenses.

Year-to-Date Case Volume

You may also pull up year-to-date counts of a particular type of offense category by clicking on Reports at the top of the page, and then Charges, for example, which appears as follows:

Image 3. Shows the home screen of the Data Dashboard, with Charges highlighted on the Reports drop-down menu.

You will find a table of year-to-date offense counts, including for 2020. These counts are automatically updated early every morning, and should be updated in time for your morning coffee.

Image 4. Shows the bottom of the Charge Report page where the Year-to-Date Counts can be found. The data in this image were pulled on February 10th, 2020. Criminologists caution against overanalyzing YTD numbers early in the year, or extrapolating from those numbers to predict year-end totals, because there is almost no way to predict crime. (Prevention, however, is possible. A topic for future DATA stories.)

Open Cases

In addition to knowing how many cases are opened each year, or year-to-date, you can also see how many cases are open at any given time. To do that, click on the Case Length tab, and see the Cases Currently Open metric.

Image 5. Shows the homepage of the Data Dashboard, with Case Length highlighted on the Reports drop-down menu.

Case Length tells you the number of days between arrest and resolution of a case, and is important because it reflects the efficiency of a criminal justice system. Open Cases tell you the number of cases that are active and proceeding through the system on any given day. In the future, we will further parse the inventory of open cases.

Image 6. Shows the key metrics on Case Length, with Cases Currently Opened highlighted in red. On February 10th, 2020, there were 32,317 criminal cases open in Philadelphia.

The Justice Wire

News from the Philadelphia DAO media center

Philadelphia DAO

Written by

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is committed to seeking fair and equal justice for 1.5 million residents, while upholding Constitutional rights.

The Justice Wire

News from the Philadelphia DAO media center

More From Medium

More on Philadelphia from The Justice Wire

More on Philadelphia from The Justice Wire

More on Philadelphia from The Justice Wire

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade