While complaints about junk on the Internet grow daily, one Web publisher consistently provides worthwhile content: the U.S. Federal Government. The Justice Information Center (JIC) is a fine example of how federal agencies can collaborate to provide quality information in an easy to use format. Maintained by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), JIC is a collection of clearinghouses from the major federal government agencies dealing with criminal justice information, such as the National Institute of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office for Victims of Crime, and Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The JIC features a number of options for those in search of criminal justice information. "New this Week" and "Current Highlights" sections draw attention to newly released reports, news releases, and grant opportunities. These sections are good starting points for tracking down reports recently discussed in the popular press. Another search option is to browse for information based on the following topics: Corrections, Courts, Crime Prevention, Criminal Justice Statistics, Drugs and Crime, International, Juvenile Justice, Law Enforcement, Research and Evaluation, and Victims. Some topics are further subdivided. Each topic or subtopic is generally broken into three categories: full-text documents, web sites, and listservs. Within each category, an extensive alphabetical list of links is provided. Though the full text document lists seem to be primarily government produced reports, the web site lists include public interest and professional organizations. Unfortunately, aside from titles, there is little other descriptive information about each link, and in some cases, indecipherable acronyms are used. Also, there is no information provided about the update cycle, although most lists do appear to have current information.
JIC also offers two search engines. The first, available under the "Keyword Search" button, uses Excite software to search the 1200 full text documents available on the NCJRS server. Of note is the help screen, which not only provides instruction in constructing searches, but also explicitly states what is being searched, so the user knows that PDF files are not included. The site also provides access to the NCJRS Abstracts Database, a collection of summaries of more than 140,000 publications on criminal justice, including government reports, books, research reports, journal articles, and unpublished research back to the mid 1970s. Search options include author, subject, document number, and a global search, which searches the abstract text. Results include bibliographic information and abstract, but no links to the online versions of the publications described. Users are instructed to order documents from NCJRS, or are referred to the main JIC web site for documents published by sponsoring agencies after 1995. A suggested
improvement would be to provide links to documents directly from the database, or to at least provide more detailed instructions on locating specific documents on the JIC web site.
Despite some minor criticisms, the JIC is clearly an essential tool for locating criminal justice information on the Web and beyond.