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A Message from the Director: Translational Criminology

This is the third in a series of conversations with John Laub, Ph.D., Director of the National Institute of Justice.

Fusing NIJ's Dual Mission Through Translational Criminology

John Laub When I came to NIJ 18 months ago I believed that NIJ had a unique mission. On the one hand it was to produce rigorous scientific research. And on the other hand it was to produce research that is relevant to local and state practitioners and policymakers.

The way in my mind that I was able to fuse these two poles, if you will, was this idea of translational criminology. I felt that this concept of translational criminology which comes out of translational medicine really was quite direct as to what NIJ was all about in its past, and I saw this is a stepping stone to what NIJ could be in the future.

So we have begun now to look at this concept of translational criminology. People are talking about it within NIJ both in conversations with me as well as in conversations amongst themselves. And what I'm hearing is people are talking about translational criminology in different ways. For some it's a matter of communicating research results in a more effective way; reducing jargon, which academics are prone to use, which is a lot of our research community. It's also about how we're able to actually integrate the various different kinds of studies into one place so that they're easily accessible for practitioners and policymakers.

And for some, translational criminology is really much deeper in that it's getting at the very research enterprise. It's using what we do at NIJ—action research programs. It's talking about researcher-practitioner partnerships, which I believe are very important. And so there's lots of activities going on.

Questions That Guide NIJ's Approach to Translational Criminology

And by coming together, what I hope is that we'll be able to articulate a set of questions that will help us not only do research better but ensure that that research evidence is being brought to the field of practice and policy that we care so deeply about.

So, for instance, these are fundamental questions that are being asked now within this group: Who, in fact, are the users of NIJ research? Can we articulate who those individuals are? Can we figure out how it is that people find out about NIJ research?

The W.T. Grant Foundation has had a whole portfolio of research looking at programs regarding youth in the educational realm. I feel there are lots of parallels from that research program that we could bring to NIJ. For instance, one of the things that that research has demonstrated is the importance of social networks. How people find out about research is often due to how their social networks are constructed. So we need to better understand how it is that practitioners and criminal justice hear about NIJ research, how they use NIJ research in their day-to-day work. And so I think that, I believe, that by pushing these questions and by beginning to articulate a set of hypotheses that we could research, but also just by communicating amongst the disparate parts, we'll be able to put some teeth in this concept of translational criminology and in fact ensure that this concept gets institutionalized in the day-to-day operation of NIJ as a research enterprise.

The Role of 'Trust' in Translational Criminology

The important thing of translational criminology to understand is the dynamic interface. So not only are we trying to bring research evidence to the field, but in addition we are looking to the field of practice to bring novel observations from the street back to research. To have that kind of exchange assumes a great deal of trust. There's skepticism amongst practitioners about researchers, and researchers do not often trust the insights, the observations of practitioners as being meaningful and important. And so, underlying this notion of translational criminology assumes trust between the research community and trust between the practitioner community to work together in ways that heretofore they have not worked together.

Translational Criminology: The Time Is Now

These kinds of questions are being asked in a variety of domains. They're being asked in medicine. They're being asked in education. And I think it's time to bring those to the criminal justice and criminology world. I think the timing is absolutely right for this. I think there's excitement about this, and I think that as we come together as a community within NIJ we could really move forward on this idea of translational criminology and make our research results much more effective in terms of reducing crime, enhancing public safety, and bringing justice forward.

[End of video clip]

This is the third in a series of conversations with John Laub, Ph.D., Director of the National Institute of Justice.

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Dr. Laub discusses fusing NIJ's dual mission through translational criminology, questions that guide NIJ's approach to translational criminology and the role of 'trust' in translational criminology.

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Date modified: March 9, 2012