Project story

Burns Institute: Unbalanced Juvenile Justice

More youth are incarcerated in the US than anywhere in the world and there's room for improvement for how fairly youth of color are treated by the juvenile justice system. The Burns Institute strives to improve the lives of youth of color and poor youth by promoting fairness in this system. Webitects worked closely with them to create Unbalanced Juvenile Justice (UJJ)—a rich, interactive data visualization that illustrates the racial and ethnic disparities that exist today.

Built for both researchers and the general public, UJJ allows visitors to explore racial and ethnic disparities at national and state levels. Highly customizable options provide answers to questions like:

The data

One-day count of detention rates for all youth of color in California

Annual decision points for California in 2011

Comprising 40,000+ rows, the data comes from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). The Burns Institute already had a basic site for exploring this data but Webitects helped redesign it with a focus on clarity, usability, and flexibility. The first step was to explore and understand it.

UJJ focuses on two main areas of the juvenile justice system to paint a picture of how juveniles are handled in the justice system across the country:

Control and transparency

A complex issue like juvenile justice raises plenty of questions and one of our goals was allowing visitors to access and filter the data that answers their questions.

One-day counts are shown at a national level via a shaded map, trends for each race and ethnicity, and tabular counts. Each view is customizable by type of measurement (raw numbers vs rate vs disparity gap), race or ethnicity, type of offense, and type of placement in the justice system.

Annual decision points are included on full-page profiles for each state along side one-day counts and detailed information about the law, who to contact, and any reform efforts underway. This allows visitors to not only get the current state of the issue, but also get in touch with organizations and initiatives working to address it.

Sortable and downloadable table of detention rates for all youth of color in California

With all these options, thousands of views on the same data are possible. Knowing the question beforehand is not necessary before seeing data. Five presets of the customizable options are available immediately to encourage and educate visitors to explore the data.

Below each map or chart are links to view, sort, and download the data powering it for those that want to conduct additional research on their own.

Design and technology

UJJ was designed as a companion microsite to complement the existing Burns Institute's primary website. It was built using a combination of Webitects' own custom integrated content management system and established data visualization libraries like D3.js, Highcharts, DataTables, and others.

As one of our goals always is a satisfying user experience, we placed extra emphasis on performance for this visualization project. To ensure a very quick response when visitors modify the data filters, most of the raw data is preloaded upon the first visit. This way, the advanced customization options allow fast experimentation with numerous data scenarios.

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