Welcoming Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
Monday, June 15, 2009
Thanks, Kris. It’s great to be here.
I want to thank Kris for her leadership at NIJ over these recent months. I’ve known Kris since my time at OJP back in the 90s, and I think we are fortunate to have her at the helm during this transition period – it is not an easy role to step into, but she has done it with attention to NIJ’s long-standing mission and with spirit and grace. Thank you, Kris.
I also want to acknowledge the very wonderful, very talented staff of NIJ. This is a group of people who are not only bright and competent, but also committed to the integrity of our research function and to maximizing technology in criminal and juvenile justice. Eric Holder’s Department of Justice recognizes that it is blessed to have such a fine staff of career employees helping to set the federal agenda at the National Institute of Justice.
I mentioned the integrity of research, and before we begin our plenary panel, I’d like to take just a few minutes to underscore how important that is to the Department of Justice – and to this Administration.
Four days after I arrived at OJP, I met with the entire staff in what we call the Ballroom. I enunciated 10 goals for what I thought – then – would be my short stay at the agency to help out the incoming Attorney General (who was not yet confirmed). One of those 10 was to restore the integrity and respect for the science.
I believe that one of OJP’s most important roles is to support basic criminal justice research. I believe it’s critical that we understand – on a fundamental level – what causes criminal behavior and what sets the life course of crime in motion.
I also believe it’s our role to help practitioners in the field know and understand the latest science, and then to help them apply that science to their work. The Attorney General is strongly committed to improving the application of research to practice. When he delivered the commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Criminology in May, he said, “[s]cientific research is much more than a mere collection of facts to be gathered, noted, and filed; it is a driver of progress.”
This commitment to science is shared throughout this Administration – by no less than the President himself. It was important enough to find a place in his inaugural address, and he continues to emphasize his commitment. I want us in the criminal and juvenile justice fields to take advantage of this opportunity – because it’s a great opportunity – and recent history shows that, sadly, the value of science has not always been appreciated by our nation’s leaders.
I want to re-establish the connection between research and practice, and to give the field the latest information about what works. A big part of this is returning greater independence to our science agencies, the National Institute of Justice and Bureau of Justice Statistics. The President made the point that scientific research has, for too long, been politicized to advance ideological agendas. The way to ensure that doesn’t continue to happen is simply to let our research and statistical agencies do their jobs and report their findings. Unless we do that, we can’t have an open and honest discussion about the issues.
In our case, this means clarifying the signing authority of the NIJ and BJS directors on grants – letting them have the final say about what programs to fund.
It means allowing them to issue their own publications, and not to be hamstrung by decisions on timing. Political expediency should never be a metric for publishing research.
And it means giving them control of distribution lists – not being selective about who gets information. Everyone with an interest in our work should share in this knowledge.
I also believe research should be integrated into, not separate from, our programmatic activities, and so we should be thinking about how to move our work in that direction. The President’s budget for 2010 would allow up to one percent of many of OJP’s formula funds to be used for research and statistical purposes. That’s a very healthy first step toward cementing research in OJP’s activities.
We’ve also started a series of internal working groups to figure out how we can get information out to the field about evidence - based approaches to fighting crime. In many cases, that knowledge is already out there. Our job is to facilitate the horizontal transfer of that information – to advance programs and practices that are supported by evidence of effectiveness.
Through these working groups, which are headed by Dr. Phelan Wyrick from my office, we’re coming up with a strategy for strengthening the evidence - based nature of OJP’s programs – to build a more solid research foundation for the work that we do. This is all part of the process of expanding the role of research – having an open and informed discussion with those involved in the research field. That’s what I hope to achieve at OJP.
But I want to make a pledge to you in this room: As long as Eric Holder is Attorney General, and as long as I’m at OJP, science will – once again – be respected at the United States Department of Justice.
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One of the critical issues we’re dealing with now in the criminal justice field is the rise in violent crime – in particular, homicide – in some cities. We know from the latest Uniform Crime Report data that the overall violent crime rate is on the decline, but some areas are still seeing an increase in homicides.
We’ve also heard with disturbing frequency about cases of familicide – where men have murdered their entire families. And there’s been an eagerness on the part of the media to connect this to the economy. We had a very interesting panel discussion at Main Justice two weeks ago about what could be causing or contributing to this, and we know it’s a very complex issue.
I’m very pleased today to have one of our nation’s leading criminal justice researchers and two outstanding innovators to talk about some promising approaches to dealing with these issues. I’d like to ask them to come up and take their places on stage.
Our first speaker is James Alan Fox. Professor Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice and former dean at Northeastern University in Boston – and I have to say with pride, a Ph.D. graduate of the criminology program at the University of Pennsylvania under Marvin Wolfgang. He’s written 16 books, including his most recent – The Will to Kill: Making Sense of Senseless Murder, and Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder. He’s also published countless journal and magazine articles and is a media go-to person on issues of interpersonal violence.
Our second panelist is Gary Slutkin. Doctor Slutkin is a renowned physician specializing in infectious disease control and reversing epidemics. He is also a professor of epidemiology and international health at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and a senior adviser to the World Health Organization. Since 1995, he has worked to develop and implement an extraordinarily innovative strategy to reduce violence through the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention, which was cited by President Obama in his campaign. I remember vividly meeting Gary in 1994 – he came to meet with Shay Bilchik and me in the old OJP building on Indiana Avenue – and while we never met in person again until quite recently, he made such an impression on me that I closely followed his work in the intervening years.
Finally, our third panelist is Colonel Kim Ward. Colonel Ward has headed the Baltimore County Police Department’s Operations Bureau since 2000. She’s been with the department since 1981 and has held many assignments in the precincts, in the Services Bureau, and in the Intelligence and Internal Affairs units. She has a master’s degree in applied behavioral science from Johns Hopkins University, and she’s a graduate of the FBI National Academy.
I’m delighted to have all of them here today to give their perspectives. Professor Fox, we’ll start with you.