Regina B. Schofield, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
Sixth Annual Jerry Lee Crime Prevention Symposium
May 2, 2006
Good afternoon. I'm happy that Laurie Robinson invited me to stop by today as you close out what I'm sure has been an interesting conference.
I know that you've spent the last two days discussing the role of a scientific approach in developing evidence, as well as how science can assess strategies for combating crime, drugs, and terrorism. And I trust the sessions have been informative!
Instead of summarizing your discussions, I'd like to take a few minutes and highlight some of what we're doing at the Office of Justice Programs that may be of interest to you.
In a time of tighter budgets, it's important that we design and use tools to measure the effectiveness of the programs that all of us — taxpayers and criminal justice leaders — rely on to keep us safe.
And, there is an increasing recognition that evidence-based approaches have an important role to play in criminal justice.
The ability of federal, state, and local efforts to effectively prevent crime depends on whether we have scientifically valid knowledge that tells us which strategies and interventions work and which don't. It also depends on whether we use that knowledge effectively to guide policy and practice.
Our partnership with the Jerry Lee Foundation and the work of the Campbell Collaboration are helping us achieve these two goals.
An exciting area is the role that DNA evidence plays in today's criminal justice system. Under the initiative, the President has committed $1 billion over five years to enhance the use of DNA technology. Our National Institute of Justice is the primary player in this effort.
With advances in the use of DNA, we've crossed a major threshold in our ability to solve crime and to bring answers to victims and their families.
The tragic implications are huge, as we've witnessed in the efforts to identify victims of Hurricane Katrina and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. While the work that each of you does necessarily involves a clinical or scientific approach to human tragedy, it has a very personal impact on victims and their families.
Research and DNA don't just help solve an old rape or murder case, they bring answers to victims and families whose lives have been altered forever.
Because of what people know, or think they know, about DNA, expectations are higher than ever for identifying criminal suspects and for establishing guilt or innocence.
Certainty is an exacting standard when it comes to solving crime. Yet it is the standard in criminal trials. And even before the advent of DNA technology, investigators and prosecutors were expected to meet that standard.
With DNA technology, we've made a quantum leap in bridging the distance between the standards of criminal evidence and our ability to achieve those standards.
If you've read the report from the NIJ, you know that more than half-a-million cases involving crime scene samples either have yet to be sent to labs, or they are at labs, but still awaiting analysis. About 52,000 are homicide cases. Some 170,000 are rape cases. These are serious crimes that have, in many cases, gone unsolved for years.
Virtually every law enforcement agency in the country has unsolved cases that could be solved through advances in DNA technology. But simply having the technology is not enough. In an area as specialized and technical as forensic science, the skills and know-how to apply that technology are just as important.
Last September, we awarded more than $14 million to 38 state and local agencies to help them solve cold cases. These agencies are using funds to buy equipment, enhance software applications, hire staff, and improve storage capability, among other things. The goal of the program is to help these agencies expand their capacity to test DNA evidence from violent crime cold cases.
The cold case program is part of President Bush's DNA initiative.
NIJ has awarded more than $200 million to states and localities to expand the application of forensic science through DNA. These funds have gone toward eliminating the case backlogs I mentioned earlier. They've also gone toward lab enhancements, research and development, finding missing persons, and, of course, helping to solve cold cases.
Another major element of the DNA initiative is training.
We offer both classroom and online training to law enforcement officers and investigators, prosecutors, medical professionals, and forensic scientists.
I can't emphasize enough the importance of the training component. Much of the information imparted by the trainings comes from experienced law enforcement professionals, so it's practical, it's timely, and it's field-tested.
The FBI's National Crime Information Center has a database of more than 100,000 missing persons cases. It also has listed some 5,800 sets of remains that have yet to be identified.
The problem is that no uniform system exists for checking information from different databases against one another. So, investigators are unable to make important connections that will solve cases.
Therefore, we've established a national task force to review how the Department of Justice can improve the use of federal databases to solve missing persons cases.
We're also looking at ways to standardize reporting and allow access to a centralized database, as well as ways to improve information sharing across jurisdictions. In addition, we've developed model state legislation for improving the reporting of missing persons and of unidentified remains.
In closing, I want to let you know that our 2006 national report about juvenile offenders and victims has been released. Since 1995, the reports that comprise the Juvenile Offenders and Victims report series have been among the most referenced documents in the juvenile justice field. There are several reasons for this success.
First, the reports pull together the field's most requested and needed empirical information. Much of this information comes from published sources, often outside the access of the media, the general public, and most juvenile justice professionals.
Second, the reports present this empirical information in a style that enables non-technical audiences to understand its meaning and significance. The presentations are relatively short, the writing is clear, and the information is presented in a way that is easily understood.
Over the years, the juvenile justice field, the media, and the general public have come to trust and turn to the Juvenile Offenders and Victims series when they need information on juvenile crime, victimization and the juvenile justice system. This is the third comprehensive report in the series — with the prior one being published in 1999.
Old friends of the series will find updates of previous information, as well as many new and updated empirical findings that they can use in their work. The report is available through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention link on OJP's homepage at www.ojp.usdoj.gov
These are just a few of the programs that we have going on at OJP that are related to your discussions and research.
Again, I'd like to thank Laurie for asking me to join you all today. I look forward to staying informed about your research.