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Primary Sources in African-American History

Tips, techniques & links to help you find answers for your research papers & projects

Government resources on crime and incarceration


  • To find key court cases involving policing, arrests, incarceration, etc., we recommend the database HeinOnline.  Click on "Law Journal Library" and search for keywords of interest.  This will lead to secondary sources (articles) which point to important court cases and put them in context.


  • The Southern Legislative Conference (SLC) publishes annual reports on corrections comparing states' incarceration rates, prison and jail capacities, budgetary issues, staffing patterns, inmate characteristics, probation and parole statistics, rehabilitation programs, prison industries, privatization status, and more.  It can offer much more detail than what is available on state government websites.  SLC reports include only the states of AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, MO, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA and WV.
  • Arrests, arrest rates and criminal offenses by race are available in Data-Planet, a subscription database available to MU affiliates through the library.
  • Criminal Justice Statistics, guides to data collection.  Links provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Data on traffic stops and police demographics might be available on municipal websites.  You may need to do a deep search into departmental reports and other documents that might be posted online.  For efficiency, consider contacting the city or the police department to find out whether the information you're looking for is in fact on their site, and if not, whether they can email it to you. 
  • The website has millions of pages obtained through Freedom of Information Act and Sunshine Law requests, and you can search it for open records requests for the police department of your choice.  It's possible to file a Sunshine request of your own.  The National Freedom of Information Center located here on the MU campus may provide helpful advice.
  • To find state prison budgets, visit the National Association of State Budget Officers Directory web page, click on the state of interest and then look for the executive budget.  In it, you should find allocations for departments of correction.  For example, by taking this path you can find Missouri's budget for corrections in 2016.  The Southern Legislative Conference also includes a section on budget for each of the states in their purview.



  • has a criminal law page that help lead to appropriate legal information on government websites.
  • The National Conference of State Legislatures has a Civil and Criminal Justice site.  It offers police body camera laws by state and discussion other current topics.
  • When researching what the law has to say on any given topic, it is generally best to start with secondary sources (articles, legal reviews, etc.) available in HeinOnline.  To find laws and regulations on policing, arrests, sentencing, juries, etc., refer to federal and state codes: the Revised Statutes of the State of Missouri and the United States Code, both of which will include constitutions as well.  For regulations, use the Missouri Code of State Regulations and the Code of Federal Regulations.  For laws and regulations in other states, you can start with the State Law Directory at
  • To trace the history of local vagrancy laws, look for city ordinances in the library collection.  We recommend using the MERLIN catalog's subject search with the phrase ordinances - municipal.  Note that they are subdivided geographically, so you can add a state name to that phrase to narrow the list.
  • Testimony given in congressional hearings can be an important part of legislative history, but they can also be a rich source for information even if Congress does not take legislative action.   Full text of congressional testimony is available on the library's database Proquest Congressional.  Deselect all document types in the left-hand navigation bar except "Hearings."  In the search box, try the word "police" for the field "witness affiliation."  Adjust the date range as needed.

Data on Crime and Incarceration