Article  |  Juveniles

Assessing the quality of Illinois Criminal History Record Information System data on juveniles

 |   | 

The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, in partnership with the Illinois State Police, has access to records in the Illinois Criminal History Record Information (CHRI) System for research purposes. One such purpose is the derivation of statistical information from those records, especially on aspects of the justice system not covered by other statewide sources. The juvenile justice system is particularly in need of detailed statewide statistical data to inform policy decisions, as no comprehensive data collection program currently exists to capture individual-level data on justice-involved youth.

The CHRI System offers promise, and has been used with some success, but its full potential for statistical purposes has not been systematically evaluated. This report provides such an assessment, focusing on the completeness of the juvenile arrest and court information collected by the CHRI System in light of state statutes that govern reporting practices. It provides a comprehensive statewide look at arrest and court records submitted for youth ages 10 to 17 during the year 2013, a time period chosen to allow sufficient time for court cases to be resolved and reported to the system. The findings of this assessment are aimed at educating researchers and policymakers on the strengths and limitations of juvenile CHRI System data as a source of useful statistical information.

Data derived from the CHRI System offers several benefits for juvenile justice research not found elsewhere. Illinois’ Uniform Crime Reporting (I-UCR) System, the state’s official source for crime and arrest statistics, does not collect any demographic information on persons arrested. Without the age of the offender, it is not possible to isolate juvenile arrests. Further, no other statewide system is designed to track the outcomes of specific arrests, or to track an individual’s contact with the justice system over time. However, the CHRI System has its own limitations that need to be understood.

While there are many similarities between juvenile and adult criminal history records, reporting requirements for juvenile records focus on the most serious offenses for the purpose of creating a youth’s transcript (or rap sheet). Since 2000, the Illinois Criminal Identification Act [20 ILCS 2630/5-5] and the Illinois Juvenile Court Act [705 ILCS 405/5-301] have mandated reporting of felony arrests and prosecutions to the CHRI System. The acts allow discretion in the reporting of Class A and B misdemeanor arrests and prosecutions. In actuality, the CHRI System will accept any arrest submitted with fingerprints, including petty offenses and local ordinance violations.

Discretionary reporting poses a challenge for researchers using CHRI System data to examine Illinois’ juvenile justice system. Even with all relevant juvenile records extracted from the system, it is difficult to determine the extent to which they adequately represent the true nature of juvenile justice system activity.

In this study, comparative methodologies were used to assess the utility of CHRI data for research purposes and pinpoint areas for system improvement. Findings are presented by county and region to provide an overview of juvenile CHRI reporting practices.

Key findings

In 2013, 559 Illinois law enforcement agencies reported 37,707 juvenile arrests to the CHRI System, representing 9 percent of the total 438,184 arrests submitted that year. Included were arrests for felony, misdemeanor, and petty/local ordinance violations. These arrests represented 24,271 unique youth; 36 percent of all arrests were for the same youth arrested more than once in the year. While just 58 percent of all law enforcement agencies submitted juvenile arrest data to the CHRI System in 2013, they accounted for 86 percent of Illinois’ population.

Cook and the five collar counties, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will accounted for the majority of juvenile arrest records submitted in 2013 (82 percent), followed by the central region (Springfield, Peoria, and Champaign areas) (9 percent).

Assessment of representativeness

Several comparative methods were used to assess the representativeness of the juvenile arrests submitted to the CHRI System, in order to determine the most appropriately uses of the data for research and policy. Approaching this issue from several perspectives allowed for more robust findings than would be afforded by any one method alone. Overall, findings led to the conclusion that juvenile CHRI arrest records are representative of overall juvenile arrest activity in Cook and surrounding counties, but should be interpreted with caution when seeking to draw conclusions about overall juvenile arrest activity in the central or southern regions of the state.

The first assessent method was a comparison of the volume of juvenile CHRI arrest records to the juvenile population in each region, as an indicator of over-or-under-representation of juveniles arrested. Juvenile arrests in Cook County were significantly overrepresentative of the total juvenile population residing in the county, accounting for 62 percent of all unique youth arrests submitted in 2013, but only 38 percent of the state’s juvenile population. Arrests submitted from the northern region (Rockford area) were equivalent to the proportion of juvenile population residing in the region, while arrests submitted from the other regions of the state were underrepresentative of their juvenile populations.

The second assessment method used was an examination of the percentage of law enforcement agencies in each region that submitted juvenile arrest records. The rate at which law enforcement agencies participate in juvenile arrest reporting drives the volume of arrests found in the system. Eighty-three percent of Cook County law enforcement agencies submitted at least one juvenile arrest compared to 43 percent of law enforcement agencies in the central region. This further supported the finding that arrests submitted from Cook County are representative of that county, and arrests from the central region are underrepresentative.

A third assessment method used was a ranking of each county based on the juvenile arrest and adult arrest volumes submitted to the system. While the actual number of adult arrests is always greater than the number of juvenile arrests in any county, these numbers can be compared as a relative ranking. If law enforcement agencies in a county are following similar CHRI reporting policies and procedures across the board, then the juvenile and adult arrest volume rankings will reflect that consistency. Large differences between juvenile and adult rank scores are an indicator that different CHRI reporting practices are being followed.

Cook and collar counties were observed to have nearly identical relative arrest volume rankings for juvenile and adult submissions to the CHRI System.This synchronicity of rankings signaled that law enforcement agencies in these regions were likely reporting both serious and non-serious arrests for both juvenile and adults in equal measure. Divergence in rankings in central region counties signaled that non-serious arrests for juveniles were not being reported to the CHRI System in the same measure as for adults.

Juvenile arrest types

To examine the types of juvenile arrests submitted to the CHRI System in more detail, Authority researchers developed three arrest categories based the most serious class of offense of each charge -felony, misdemeanor, and lesser offense (Class C misdemeanor, petty or local ordinance violation).

Most arrests were found to be for less serious offenses rather than for felonies. No jurisdiction submitted solely juvenile felony arrests. Of the 37,707 juvenile arrests submitted in 2013, 19 percent were for felonies, 56 percent were for Class A or B misdemeanors, and 25 percent were for lesser offenses (petty offenses or local ordinance violations). Together, arrest types not required to be reported to the CHRI System (misdemeanors and lesser offenses) accounted for 81 percent of all juvenile arrests submitted.

Variation was observed in the relative proportions of these arrest types submitted across the state, although the sheer volume of submissions from Cook County dominated every arrest type. Figure 1 depicts the regional contribution of felony, misdemeanor and lesser offense arrests to the CHRI System.

Researchers also examined the relative distributions of arrest types within each region, to determine the predominant arrest type submitted from each region. While misdemeanor arrests submissions were most common in every region, variation was observed among the regions regarding felony and lesser offense arrest types. Figure 2 depicts the breakdown of juvenile arrest types submitted from each region.

Taken together, these findings provide context for the targeted use of juvenile CHRI arrest data for research and policy. For example, those seeking to explore issues regarding serious (felony) juvenile crime may find information derived from central region CHRI data to be as useful as that from Cook County. Similarly, those seeking more information on juvenile arrests for petty and local ordinance violations could find data from the collar counties informative, as these counties reported a relatively large proportion of those arrests.

Diversion from prosecution indicators

The CHRI System was designed to capture the outcomes of arrests submitted to build a cumulative criminal history for the involved individual. The first outcome possible for juvenile arrests is diversion from prosecution through a station adjustment, probation adjustment, or release without charging. Laws governing CHRI reporting require reporting of felony-related station adjustments. Diversions for misdemeanor and lesser offense arrests may be reported, but cannot be posted to the CHRI system if the corresponding arrest was not submitted.

The CHRI System showed an indicator of diversion from prosecution in 10 percent of all juvenile arrests submitted in 2013. This includes 7 percent of felony arrests, 11 percent of misdemeanor arrests, and 10 percent of all lesser offense arrests. These percentage would be higher if 4,879 station adjustments made by the Chicago Police Department in 2013 were reported to the system. Arrests diverted by police but not indicated as such in the CHRI System are not eligible for automatic juvenile arrest expungement provisions.

Regionally, law enforcement agencies in Cook County outside of Chicago submitted the largest proportion of juvenile arrests with station adjustment indicators (32 percent). More than half (57 percent) of misdemeanor arrests submitted from these agencies had indicators of diversion, a much higher proportion than any other region. This CHRI submission practice ensures that juvenile arrests records from these agencies provide complete information on the involved youths’ contact with law enforcement.

Delinquency petition filing decisions

Prosecutors must submit their filing decisions to the CHRI System within 30 days of the decision, including the decision not to file charges in felony arrests. For the purposes of this analysis, arrests records without diversion indicators were treated as if those arrests led to prosecution. As noted, deficiencies in reporting diversion information likely created overestimates in the number of cases moving to prosecution.

Of the 34,016 juvenile arrests submitted to the CHRI System without a diversion indicator, 92 percent did not have expected state’s attorney information. Even assuming that the more than 4,800 arrests submitted from CPD were diverted, as indicated by CPD internal records, this leaves missing filing decisions for approximately 75 percent of juvenile arrests submitted in 2013.

What little state’s attorney’s information was submitted to the CHRI System was more prevalent for felony arrests, as would be expected in light of the juvenile CHRI reporting requirements. Thirteen percent of non-diverted felony arrests were found to have a corresponding state’s attorney filing decision, including 3 percent of arrests where the decision was to not file charges, as did 8 percent of misdemeanor arrests and 4 percent of lesser offense arrests.

Regionally, juvenile arrests submitted from the central region were found to have the most corresponding state’s attorney information, including over half (53 percent) of felony arrests, 45 percent of misdemeanor arrests, and 41 percent of lesser offense arrests. At the other end of the spectrum, Cook County juvenile arrests were found to have virtually no state’s attorney information posted for any type of arrest.

The volume of state’s attorney information found in the CHRI System was benchmarked against data annually published by the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC) to assess the magnitude of deficiency of this information in CHRI.

A total of 1,776 state’s attorney filing decisions were found in the CHRI System in 2013. In sharp contrast, AOIC reported 17,312 petitions were filed that year. By region, Cook County arrest records were missing the most filing decisions in CHRI (7,101). An unexpected finding was that the central and southern regions each showed about 500 fewer arrests submitted to the CHRI System than the number of petition filings reported by AOIC. The “missing” arrests were likely for misdemeanors and lesser offenses not mandated to be reported, again supporting the conclusion that juvenile CHRI data from those regions underrepresent overall arrest activity and are more appropriate for research on serious (felony) juvenile crime.

Final court disposition

The last required information on a juvenile record in the CHRI System is the final court disposition. State law requires CHRI submission of final juvenile felony case dispositions within 30 days of final decision. For the purpose of this analysis, it was assumed that arrest records without diversion indicators or decisions to not file charges would have a court decision to be submitted to the CHRI System. Final court disposition information was anticipated for 91 percent of felony arrest records and 88 percent of misdemeanor and lesser offense arrest records.

Court disposition information was found for only 12 percent of all juvenile arrest records submitted in 2013. Slightly more felony arrests statewide had court disposition information (13 percent) compared to misdemeanor arrests (8 percent) and lesser offense arrests (5 perent).

Cook County had the lowest rate of submitted court disposition information for every type of arrest (4 percent), while the highest rate observed was for felony arrests submitted from the central region (37 percent).

Known outcomes

A final analysis was conducted to determine the proportion of juvenile arrests submitted to the CHRI System for which the outcome could be known, whether through a diversion indicator or final court disposition. Of the total 37,707 juvenile arrests submitted to the CHRI System in 2013, the outcome for 19 percent could be ascertained, compared to 12 percent when considering court disposition information alone. Although the reporting mandates for juvenile CHRI records are for felony arrests, the proportion of juvenile CHRI records with known case outcomes were found evenly distributed by arrest type: 21 percent of felonies, 20 percent of misdemeanors, and 16 percent of lesser offenses.

Figure 3 shows that the distribution of juvenile arrest records with known outcomes varied by region and arrest type.

Juvenile felony arrests submitted from Cook County had the fewest known outcomes (8 percent), compared to an average of 44 percent for arrests from the other four regions. The majority of Cook County arrests with known outcomes were submitted from law enforcement agencies outside of Chicago, and the majority of those outcomes were diversion from prosecution and not court dispositions.

While exhibiting the highest rates in the state, the proportion of juvenile arrest records with know outcomes in the central region did not exceed much over 50 percent. Arrests for lesser offenses submitted from that region were observed to have the highest rate of known outcomes of any arrest type, at 53 percent. The completeness of those records will reduce some of administrative burdens associated with the juvenile record expungement process for those involved youth.

Implications for policy and practice

This assessment provided evidence that the majority of the juvenile arrests submitted to the CHRI System are representative of juvenile arrest activity in Cook and the collar counties. Therefore, researchers and policy makers should be cognizant that any juvenile CHRI arrest statistics derived from these data will be mostly Cook and northern Illinois-centric.

Although the arrest data, particularly juvenile felony arrest data, appear to be submitted to CHRI as required by law, little information about the outcomes of these arrests could be ascertained, as scant diversion and court disposition information was found in the system. All mandated reporters of juvenile justice information, from law enforcement agencies to county state’s attorneys offices and circuit court clerks are strongly encouraged to recognize the importance of compliance with state laws that govern CHRI reporting practices, and to resolve any policy or technical issues that bar full reporting compliance.

At a practical level, compliance with CHRI reporting mandates facilitates the juvenile record expungement process. For example, only records with complete dispositions are eligible for the new automatic juvenile CHRI record expungement process authorized under the Clean Slate Act [705 ILCS 405/5-915(1.5)]. Since juvenile records eligible for automatic expungement are those where delinquency petitions were not filed, the submission of diversion decisions (station adjustments, probation adjustments and decisions to not file charges) gained new importance with the enactment of this legislation. This assessment found submission of station adjustment information by the largest police agency, Chicago Police Department, to be a rare occurrence. Successful submission of diversion information by that one agency alone could more than double the yearly number of juvenile arrests with complete diversion information. State’s attorney decisions to not file cases is similarly important to the juvenile expungement process. Further research into local state’s attorney reporting practices may reveal additional improvements that could be made in the submission of this information.

Finally, policymakers should consider advocating for other statewide data collection mechanisms that were specifically designed to accomplish the goal of documenting the prevalence of juvenile contact with police and outcomes of juvenile arrests. The CHRI System was built to support decision-making by authorized personnel regarding individual justice-involved youth rather than to further research or inform policy. Further, improvements to CHRI reporting practices that lead to greater numbers of arrests being eligible for automatic expungement will inevitably erode the usefulness of the system for meaningful juvenile arrest statistics. Lastly, a record created by this system, regardless of the offense, can have lasting consequences for the involved youth both within and outside of the juvenile justice system. 1

One promising data collection system that is not subject to these limitations is the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). While the official crime statistics program in Illinois, the UCR program, requires law enforcement agencies to collect aggregate arrest statistics for certain few violent, property and drug offenses, the NIBRS system is designed to capture information on arrest incidents and apprehended individuals in great detail. 2 The FBI plans to institute this system nationally within the next several years, and adoption of this statistical reporting program on a wide scale by Illinois law enforcement agencies will provide more information on juvenile arrest events than what the CHRI System can offer. A future aspirational goal could be the additional linkage of court outcome information to this system to create robust case-level information for policy uses without additional negative consequences for involved youth.


  1. Frazier, C.E. (2015) The Illinois juvenile collateral consequences checklist: A guide for understanding the consequences of juvenile court involvement. Evanston, IL: Children and Family Justice Center, Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern School of Law.
  2. Federal Bureau of Identification (no date). National Incident-Based Reporting System. Retrieved from: (https://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/faqs.htm)

Christine Devitt Westley

Christine Devitt Westley manages Authority criminal justice data holdings for public dissemination. She also manages analysis of these data to inform practitioner and policy maker decisions. Her research interests include the use of criminal justice administrative data for research purposes, collateral consequences of criminal records, homicide studies, and sentencing reform. Her work has been recognized by the Justice Research and Statistics Association through several Statistical Analysis Center Website and Technical Innovation awards. She earned her master’s degree in Applied Social Psychology from Loyola University Chicago.

Assessing the quality of Illinois Criminal History Record Information (CHRI) System data on juveniles