Laurie O. Robinson, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs
NIJ Conference 2010
Laurie Robinson: Good morning, and I am really delighted to be here to, again, open this important annual event. Now, when I was here last year, I did thank Kris for keeping NIJ on a steady course while we awaited confirmation of the director, and little did we know that this short-term stint would turn out to be quite a lengthy one.
But Kris has done so much more than keep the ship afloat. She has just done a terrific job of steering NIJ through what I would call challenging waters. She has brought energy, she has brought passion and she has brought skill to this work. So, Kris, I want to say thank you so much for the terrific job you have done.
Come on, stand up. Come on.
Robinson: She never thought when I asked her to do this, when the administration asked her to do this, that there would be so much. But I know that Kris would also be the first to redirect praise to the enormously capable staff to NIJ, and I would join Kris in saying that I am constantly amazed at their professionalism and their ingenuity in tackling the enormous job that they have taken on.
And I am also going to join Kris in asking, again, Ellen Scrivner to stand up. Ellen, I am so thrilled that we were able to convince you to come back to the Department of Justice.
Robinson: And I also want to ask everyone on the NIJ staff to stand. Let's give them a round of applause, please.
Robinson: We are very fortunate to have such committed professionals at the National Institute of Justice. They serve not only the department and the field but the country so very well.
Last year at this conference, I told you that I'd come back to OJP with 10 goals for the agency. Two of them are directly related to science in NIJ. Following the President's cue, I said I wanted to restore the integrity and respect for science in the department, and I also wanted to promote data driven, evidence based smart-on-crime approaches.
So I want to talk today about the progress we have made in reaching those goals. How far have we come in making science part of the way we are encouraging the justice system to do business? Perhaps we should consider this my second state of the science speech.
Let me say first that I didn't come back into this job with my eyes closed. I have spent my career in criminal justice policy, including, as Kris mentioned, my prior stint as Assistant Attorney General under Janet Reno. I knew coming back to the department that pulling levers from NIJ to help integrate science into practice wouldn't be a quick or easy proposition. But one thing I did know was that we had a President and an Attorney General now who care about science and understand the role that it can and should play in improving public safety in the administration of justice.
This was an unprecedented opportunity, I knew, to help restore research to its proper place in the Department of Justice and leverage that to push out science to the field. One thing, just as an aside, that has been great this past year has been to see Eric Holder's personal interest in engaging with researchers. I know, Kris, you have seen that as well.
For example, last summer I brought in Tom Tyler to have lunch with him to talk about procedural justice, and now the AG has become a real believer in that — Ellen's worked with him on that issue. And Eric Holder is still citing Tom's findings.
Last fall I brought in Rick Rosenfeld and Todd Clear to chat with him about ASC, and we ended up talking about the Uniform Crime Reports, and now the Attorney General is all over those issues, which is really excellent, and there have been other visits as well. And I would tell you that, certainly, those issues on research are a lot more fun for him than a lot of the issues he has to tackle these days. I can assure you of that.
Now, last year when I spoke, I announced that I'd launched a series of internal working groups at OJP to explore how we can get information out to the field about evidence based approaches. By now, you've probably heard that we have an agency wide Evidence Integration Initiative, or "E2I" as we call it.
The purpose of E2I is to improve the quality and quantity of evidence we generate and to make sure it informs program and policy decisions and also to make sure that it gets translated into practice. There are a few things, I think, that are really significant about this initiative.
First, we are putting an emphasis on rigorous research designs, so we're encouraging randomized experiments when appropriate. But we also recognize that selecting the best research method depends on the nature of the problem. So, while we are emphasizing rigorous testing standards, we also are taking into account other methods that may not have the same high threshold but can still help practitioners meet critical needs.
The second point I want to make about E2I is that all parts of OJP are engaged here. NIJ certainly has a strong role, but one of the reasons we are undertaking this effort is to broaden our base of understanding and to expand the field's ability to comprehend and use evidence. We are beginning inside OJP, but one step I am taking with Eric Holder's support is establishment, for the first time ever, of an OJP science advisory board. It will be appointed by the Attorney General. This body would be made up primarily of academics but also include practitioners and other leaders. The board would help inform our program development activities and make sure we are adhering to the highest level of scientific rigor — more on this in the near future.
Third, our focus in our Evidence Integration Initiative is on improving decision making and practice. Using evidence is about improving performance in criminal and juvenile justice practice. So it's critical that we bear in mind who the consumers are here — law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, juvenile justice practitioners and so on. If we are not reaching them and helping them do their jobs better, then I think we failed in our mission. Restoring respect for science can't happen, I think, unless we respect the needs of those who apply it. That's really at the core of E2I.
Now, I want to make a point here about another sign of progress in this state of the science review, and that is the level of commitment that is reflected in the President's budget request for next year. Evidence based programs are reflected throughout that budget; as an example, programs like NIJ's Stopping Crime: Block by Block, that would fund multi site field experiments, proposals for an online What Works Clearinghouse and a help desk to support jurisdictions applying evidence based approaches.
The budget request also includes, significantly, a 3 percent set aside across OJP's budget for research and statistics. No administration in the nation's history has ever advocated for that kind of set aside for crime related research funding. I am proud that Eric Holder's Department of Justice is making this request.
You can also see the administration's commitment in the caliber of people the President has named to lead NIJ and BJS, as Kris alluded to. Of course, we know they're still awaiting Senate confirmation, but the fact that the President has named highly respected researchers, John Laub and Jim Lynch, is further evidence that he appreciates the value of science.
In fact, I think this is a time like no other. We have an administration committed to science and an Attorney General who beyond any other in history, I think, understands what research can mean to public safety.
I hope you share my enthusiasm about the moment we are in and my hope for a day when researchers and practitioners will work hand-in-hand in communities across the country.
So I look forward to your participation in the conference over the next several days, and I thank all of you for your commitment to this work. Thanks so much.
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Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs
Date created: June 30, 2010