Part 1 of the Cross-Cutting Issues' sector of the Criminal Justice Assessment Toolkit, produced by the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime in close co-operaiton with the Strategic Police Matters Unit of the OSCE Secretariat.
Assessing a criminal justice system can be quite challenging, particularly when there is very little quantitative information available on the system itself, on the problems and the types of crime that it is confronted with, or on the resources at its disposal. The capacity and the current performance of the system itself are difficult to assess in the absence of that information. Unfortunately, the information that is available is often of dubious quality. Even when the required information has been collected and is available somewhere, it is often still difficult to gather and analyze the data that could provide an overview of the crime and security situation and the capacity of the system itself. Analyzing that data and understanding its limitations are sometimes beyond the ability of the assessor who is hard-pressed for time and cannot necessarily meet with representatives of the main agencies responsible for collecting that data.
Assessors should remain cautious when analyzing and interpreting the data they receive. Wherever possible, they should make use of local expertise in interpreting that data and understanding its limitations. They must remain alert to the possibility that they may have been provided only with the data that serve the purposes and interests of certain agencies or individuals. In the context of developing countries, the data that is provided is often outdated and one should ascertain whether it still valid. In many countries, census data – which is typically used to put some crime statistics in context and provide a basis from valid comparisons among jurisdictions or over time – is often weak or incomplete and may introduce even more uncertainty about the information that is available to the assessor.
Crime statistics do not necessarily provide a good indication of the prevalence of crime and victimization in a given country, because they are greatly influenced by the willingness of victims to report the crime to the police. Victims and witnesses of crime are unlikely to report it to the authorities when they do not have much trust in them or cannot reasonably expect much help from them.
One of the first steps in developing the capacity of a country to enhance the overall capacity of its criminal justice system often consists of assisting it in developing some simple criminal justice statistics and basic management information systems. That task has been among the stated priorities of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme for many years. In fact, there were once great hopes that easier access to relatively inexpensive information management technologies would accelerate the development of greater national capacities to collect criminal justice information. That promise did not always come true and many countries still have wholly inadequate criminal justice information systems. Even in situations where countries have received some assistance to develop information systems, the effort to maintain such systems was not always sustained, and the integrity of these systems was often quickly compromised.