The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is the nation’s primary resource for advancing scientific research, development, and evaluation on crime and crime control and the administration of justice and public safety. Headed by a presidentially appointed director, it is one of the major units in the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Established by the Justice Assistance Act of 1984 and led by an assistant attorney general, OJP is responsible for the overall management, coordination, and oversight of the bureaus and offices under its control, including NIJ.
NIJ derives its principal authorities from the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, as amended (see 42 USC § 3721-3723), and Title II of the Homeland Security Act of 2002. Under this legislation, it awards grants and contracts to public agencies, private organizations, institutions of higher education, and individuals for the support of research, demonstrations, behavioral studies, program evaluation, technology research and development, and the dissemination of research findings.
In 2004, using its Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART) to assess program performance, the Office of Management and Budget concurred that NIJ should seek an independent assessment of its programs, organization, and processes. This review by the National Research Council (NRC) was requested by NIJ in response to the PART assessment. In 2006, the Committee on Assessing the Research Program of the National Institute of Justice was established by the NRC with a broad charter to review the full range of NIJ programs.
There is wide recognition that NIJ can play a critical role in efforts to better understand crime, improve abilities to prevent and control it, and to use the knowledge gained to foster a criminal justice system that better achieves principles of justice. In a survey of practitioners and researchers conducted for the committee, nearly all respondents (99 percent) stated their belief that it is important to have a government agency dedicated to funding and disseminating research on crime control and criminal justice issues, with a majority believing it has become more important in recent years. This sentiment was also reflected in statements made to the committee by former attorneys general, congressional staff, and leaders of research and professional organizations. As the primary source of federal funding in criminal justice research, NIJ has become a central element in the nation’s efforts to control crime and improve justice. The committee agrees that a robust and effective NIJ is a critical element in the federal research structure.
CHARGE TO THE COMMITTEE
The charge to the committee is as follows:
An ad hoc panel will review the programs of NIJ, DOJ. The panel will examine the full range of NIJ programs in order to assess and make recommendations for NIJ’s short- and long-term strategic planning and budgeting processes and its organizational structure. A comprehensive review of NIJ must consider NIJ’s research and dissemination priorities based on the needs of important stakeholders and the limitations imposed by budget constraints.
Such a review would address key fundamental issues:
What is the role of NIJ in supporting and sustaining the nation’s scientific infrastructure of crime and criminal justice research? How should the Institute’s work relate to the missions of DOJ and OJP? How does the DOJ utilize NIJ as a research and development resource for its assistance programs and its operational components? What questions of policy and public importance should be addressed by NIJ research? What questions should not be addressed?
What is the appropriate balance between basic and applied research in both social science and technology development? What levels and types of research are reasonable and appropriate for NIJ to support?
What is the appropriate structure and scope for NIJ’s short- and long-term planning and budgeting processes given the limits on its funds?
What metrics are appropriate for measuring the overall impact of NIJ research and dissemination programs and in what areas and on which topics does NIJ research have the most impact?
To what extent does the current federal budget for NIJ limit the agency’s ability to develop appropriate research priorities and to provide appropriate levels of funding for the success of research programs?
Is the current organization of NIJ appropriate to fulfilling its mission? Does it reflect requirements laid out in its enabling legislation? Does the current organization have the flexibility it needs to accumulate knowledge on important justice system issues and also to respond to more immediate needs?
What are the most appropriate and effective mechanisms for translating NIJ research into policy and practice on the ground? Are these mechanisms different for social science and science and technology development?
The study will be conducted over a 27-month period and will result in a published report. The committee may include budget recommendations in its report.
The committee set out to answer these questions after determining that a federal research institute on crime and justice is vital to continuing efforts to control crime and improve justice. The examples in this report, both in regard to NIJ’s successes and the country’s need, support this view of NIJ’s value. Accordingly, we then focused on examining NIJ’s efforts in the past, to consider what it has and has not been able to accomplish and to determine what will be necessary for it to reach its potential in the future.
In the course of this study, the committee determined that NIJ is funded insufficiently to carry out its research functions. As a result, we considered, particularly in regard to question 3 above, the appropriate structure and scope for NIJ’s short- and long-term planning and budgeting processes without regard for its present funding. We focused our efforts on understanding what research agendas NIJ has put forth to better understand crime and crime prevention and to develop the necessary tools and technologies; what programs NIJ has developed to cultivate the national criminal justice research infrastructure; and what activities it has undertaken to translate research knowledge to policy and practice. We also examined how NIJ currently functions to set agendas, make awards, monitor awardees, disseminate research, build knowledge, and grow the field of criminal justice research, and how these functions can be improved. In addition, we
considered whether NIJ’s current location in OJP is the most appropriate and effective place to carry out these functions.
In this report we discuss all of these issues and make recommendations to enable NIJ to better achieve the goals set for it by Congress. We have not specified a specific research agenda but instead have described a process that we think should be followed to do this. In large part, this is because we became convinced that proper governance and transparent processes should be established first within the agency in order to set the agenda and to decide the proper balance between basic and applied research. We strongly argue that NIJ should be first and foremost a research agency, and that assistance activities designed to help individual agencies without generalized benefit to the field are best managed elsewhere.
NIJ’s mission is to advance scientific research, development, and evaluation to enhance the administration of justice and public safety.1 The agency aims to provide objective, independent, evidence-based knowledge and tools to meet the challenges that crime and justice professionals face, particularly at the state and local levels.
NIJ funds research on crime control and prevention, which includes policing, drugs and crime, justice system operations, and behavioral research. NIJ also supports research and development of operational technologies such as forensic tools, protective equipment, communication and information systems, and sensor and surveillance technologies. In addition, it administers capacity-building assistance and training for forensic science practitioners and technology assistance centers for law enforcement and corrections agencies.
NIJ communicates with its constituents and the public through a broad range of conferences, interagency partnerships, and media tools. This includes sponsoring major conferences, workshops, and training programs; providing direct technology assistance to state and local criminal justice agencies; and offering a wide range of publications (hard copy and electronic) to criminal justice system executives and their employees, researchers, and the public. NIJ collaborates with a wide range of other federal agencies and private organizations in the funding of research. In the past, for example, partners have included the U.S. Departments of Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Labor.
See http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/ [accessed March 17, 2010].
NIJ is one of a number of bureaus and offices overseen by OJP, which include the following: Bureau of Justice Assistance, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Community Capacity Development Office, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office for Victims of Crime, and Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (see Figure 1-1). Through its bureaus and offices, OJP works in partnership with the state and local justice community to identify the most pressing crime-related challenges, to disseminate state-of-the-art knowledge and practices, and to provide grants for the implementation of crime-fighting strategies.
NIJ is organized into three offices: (1) Office of the Director, (2) Office of Research and Evaluation (ORE), and (3) Office of Science and Technology (OST) (see Figure 1-2). The NIJ director, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, establishes the institute’s objectives, guided by the priorities of OJP, DOJ, and the needs of the field. Within the Office of the Director is the Planning, Budget, Management, and Administration Division, which is responsible for the agencywide development of strategic
plans and budget; the Communications Division, which is responsible for all outreach and dissemination; and the International Center, which facilitates transnational crime research and strengthens the bonds of the worldwide criminal justice community. Also housed in the Office of the Director are positions for two evaluation research specialists, an executive science advisor, and a senior science advisor.2
ORE and OST are each headed by a deputy director. ORE oversees all of the institute’s social science research and evaluation studies and has three divisions: (1) Crime Control and Prevention Research, (2) Justice Systems Research, and (3) Violence and Victimization Research. OST manages science and technology research and development, the creation of technical standards, equipment testing, forensic capacity building, and technology assistance to state and local law enforcement and corrections agencies. It also has three divisions: Investigative and Forensic Sciences, Information and Sensor Technologies, and Operational Technologies.
In 2007, NIJ’s total base appropriation was $54 million.3 Of this, approximately $12 million and $35 million were allocated to ORE and OST, respectively. In addition, NIJ receives nearly $200 million in separate appropriations and outside reimbursements, which support several legislated programs. The following examples include some of these legislated programs as well as a few special initiatives for which funds are set aside each year:
The Data Resources Program, which ensures the preservation and availability of research and evaluation data collected through NIJ-funded research.
The Mapping and Analysis for Public Safety Program, which advances the spatial analysis of crime.
The President’s DNA Initiative, which ensures that forensic DNA analysis reaches its full potential to solve crimes, protect the innocent, and identify missing persons.
The National Law Enforcement Corrections Technology Center system, which supports the transfer and adoption of technology into practice, assists in developing and disseminating technology guidelines and standards, and provides technology assistance and information to law enforcement and corrections agencies, courts, and crime laboratories.
The Body Armor Safety Initiative, which addresses the reliability of body armor and examines the future of bullet-resistant technology and testing.
The Violence Against Women/Family Violence Research and Evaluation Program, which advances research and evidence-based policy and programming to protect women and children from violence and abuse.
NEED FOR ASSESSMENT
To fully understand the need for an assessment of NIJ’s programs, it is useful to look at the impact of the first assessment of the agency by the NRC. In 1976, in response to a request by the administrator of what was then the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, now OJP, the NRC undertook an evaluation of NIJ programs. The institute had been in existence for only eight years. That report, Understanding Crime: An Evaluation of the National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice
(National Research Council, 1977), resulted in major changes in the way NIJ prioritized its research areas, developed its programs, and managed its research award and dissemination processes. These changes in turn made possible, in part, the broad array of research programs and partnerships supported today.
Today NIJ is faced with increasing demands for research findings to support the ever-growing needs of criminal justice agencies and other stakeholders, yet its discretionary budget has been reduced. The balance between investments in social science research and investments in technology has shifted dramatically in favor of technology, but unencumbered resources are too limited to support either research enterprise commensurate with need.
Major changes in the crime and justice environment since the 1977 NRC evaluation of NIJ make the demand for research greater now than it was in the 1970s. Some examples follow:
During the 1990s, the crime rate dropped dramatically in all major crime categories from homicides to auto thefts, producing the longest and deepest crime decline in the United States since World War II (Zimring, 2007). The number of homicides, the most accurate barometer of serious crime, remains at levels below those experienced in the early 1970s. The homicide rate in 2005 was half of what it was in 1980 and the same as it was in 1966 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007).
The country has more than twice as many full-time police and correctional personnel as it did in 1980 (a period in which population grew by 33 percent).
The rate of incarceration has increased from 139 per 100,000 in 1980 to a rate of 509 per 100,000 in 2008.4
Between 1982 and 2003, expenditures for operating the nation’s justice system increased from almost $36 to $185 billion, an increase of 418 percent. These expenditures continue to rise.
In 1977, there were very few empirical studies of crime, and virtually no cohesive research community that studied crime. Between 1977 and 2006, the research on crime and justice issues has grown more sophisticated yet remains quite limited. There are some very strong empirical studies on policing and on criminal behavior. A smaller but still significant body of empirical research exists on corrections. There is still very little research on prosecution and courts.
See http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/glance/tables/incrttab.cfm [accessed March 23, 2010].
The movement to improve the role and treatment of victims of crime in the criminal justice system began to receive federal support in the 1980s and has grown into a major separate stakeholder in the criminal justice system. Research on crime victims is fragmented and strong empirical studies are sparse.
The upsurge in rates of incarceration has led to a new phenomenon—the release back into mostly urban communities of approximately 650,000 former prisoners each year and an estimated 12 million releases from jails representing 9 million individuals annually.
In 1977, little was known about the link between illegal drug use and crime. The nation now spends approximately $50 billion a year in the war on drugs, a substantial portion in criminal justice system costs.
Since 1977, the trends in drug use among the general population age 12 and older declined sharply initially but have slowly increased in the last decade (Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2002; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2007).
Transnational organized crime and terrorism have grown exponentially since the 1970s.
Advances in science and technology have created new tools with the potential to revolutionize the crime and justice environment. These include advances in body armor, automated fingerprint information systems, DNA analysis, and other forensic automated tools.
Computer technology, including large criminal justice database systems, in-car technologies, and computerized fingerprint databases have revolutionized the identification and investigative capacities of law enforcement and security agencies in the United States and abroad.
Other technologies, such as less lethal weapons, biometrics, video and other surveillance technologies, and digital communications, may be emerging into practice without sufficient research and development to ensure that they work as needed and are safe.
Crime involving technology (such as identity theft and online fraud), child exploitation, and the use of computers to conduct illegal transactions and facilitate violent or organized crime (including terrorism), has grown exponentially and become a critical challenge for law enforcement.
A more effective and efficient research response is required to meet the challenges posed by these problems in the coming decades.
The committee reviewed multiple sources of information in order to understand the various programs and operations of NIJ and to evaluate them with respect to quality, limitations, and impact on the criminal justice field (both research and practice). The availability of information necessarily focused this assessment primarily on the period from 1995 to 2007. When more recent data are available, the report does note figures and statistics from 2008 and 2009.
The committee held several public information-gathering meetings, heard presentations, and engaged in discussions with current NIJ staff, including the director, deputy directors, and program chiefs. We were also briefed by leading researchers to gain a better understanding of the current context and nature of social science research in the criminal justice area and of technology development for law enforcement and related purposes. We were also briefed by commissioners, district attorneys, and judges as well as representatives of criminal justice professional associations to gain an appreciation of the effect of NIJ’s research and programs on the criminal justice community. We also heard from former attorneys general and former assistant attorneys general who headed OJP.
In an effort to explore the larger question of how federal research agencies operate, the committee received briefings from agency directors and program division directors of several federal research agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Institute of Education Sciences (U.S. Department of Education), the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research. We heard detailed information on how advisory boards are used, how priorities are set, and how research portfolios and grants are planned, selected, and assessed. The committee also compiled comparative information on these agencies from their websites.
The committee reviewed public documents related to NIJ, such as authorizing and appropriations legislation, annual reports to Congress, its online award archive, final grant reports, and related articles and reports. The committee also examined a report on NIJ’s Data Resources Program at the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD). A provision of NIJ awards requires researchers to submit the data collected in their projects to this archive, and NIJ also solicits proposals to use or reanalyze the data archived there. The NACJD report provided descriptions of the history and growth of the archive, its oversight activities, efforts to encourage submis-
sion of NIJ-sponsored data, data submission requirements, and efforts to improve data quality. The report also presented statistics on use and user profiles as well as projections for future directions.
The committee requested records that would detail information on NIJ’s budgetary and organizational history, current staffing and vacancies, strategic planning activities, and composition of advisory groups. Information on peer review, grant awarding, grant monitoring, and dissemination was also solicited. We received a number of documents from NIJ with useful information—most of them currently in the public domain. In addition, we identified specific program areas that we were interested in learning more about—the program histories as well as an understanding of the scope of work that has been done. For each program area, we asked NIJ to prepare a briefing paper that would outline needs being addressed, investment strategies, portfolio description, current states of knowledge, future plans, and challenges. In all requests, we called for records from the present back 10 years or more in an effort to assess the research program since the 1977 NRC evaluation (National Research Council, 1977) and across more than one administration.
The information we received from NIJ had significant shortcomings. Often the information submitted applied only to the present. If data did extend back for a period of time, it was usually only for 3-4 years. This, the committee was told, was because the current grants management system was instituted in 2003 and because of turnover in staff. We did receive some data (such as meeting summaries, funding histories, and lists of awards and resulting publications) for a period from the early 1990s to the present for a small number of programs; this was a result primarily of the work of individual staff who had maintained their own records. Of critical importance is the fact that the committee was not allowed access to grant applications or peer-review documents. In some cases we were told the information either was proprietary and could only be provided with expressed approval was only accessible through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, was not available even under FOIA, or did not exist. In some cases, inertia was responsible for us not receiving the information. As a result of the inability to access some types of data, we were limited in our ability to analyze and assess the quality of NIJ’s grant award process, funding decisions, and award monitoring. In addition, the limitations in the data we received curtailed our ability to examine the historical trends of NIJ’s funding sources, programs, and accomplishments. See Appendix A for a listing of requested materials that were met in part or not met at all.
Because the extant literature and available programmatic information did not provide the committee with a complete understanding of NIJ’s current management mechanisms, of the criminal justice community’s use of
NIJ’s resources, or of the effect of NIJ-funded efforts on criminal justice research and practice, we turned to other sources of data.
Since the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) system has represented a large portion of the budget of the Office of Science and Technology for the past 20 years or more, the committee was interested in learning more about this system and in particular the 2007 awards to establish four new centers of excellence. To become better acquainted with the system, several committee members and staff conducted a number of site visits, which included
the four centers of excellence: (1) the Communications Technologies Center of Excellence in Camden, New Jersey; (2) the Forensic Science Center of Excellence in Largo, Florida; (3) the Weapons and Protective Systems Technologies Center of Excellence in State College, Pennsylvania; and (4) the Sensors, Surveillance, and Biometric Technologies Center of Excellence in New York City;
one regional center (NLECTC–Rocky Mountain in Denver); and
one specialty center (the Border Research and Technology Center in Austin, Texas).
The NLECTC system administers advisory councils, which funnel the needs of law enforcement and corrections to both NIJ and the technology center system. These consist of (1) a national council, (2) regional advisory councils, and (3) technical working groups that represent special technology areas. Committee staff attended a meeting of the national council and a few technical working group meetings to gather information. The site visits provided an opportunity to gain practical information that was otherwise lacking from solicitations, program descriptions, meeting summaries, and final reports. They also gave the committee a better understanding of how this major effort is managed as part of the overall portfolio.
Committee staff also conducted interviews of 26 current and former NIJ staff to learn more about the processes used to plan, research, select, and monitor grantees, and to assess performance. The interviews provided perspectives on major changes that occurred throughout NIJ history, its mission, and its impact on the criminal justice community, as well as consideration of its potential in the future. In attending meetings and conducting interviews, the staff was bound by privacy certificate and institutional research board guidelines to protect personal information. Reports prepared for the committee contained only information already available to the public, generalized descriptions, and comments and findings summarized in the aggregate.
The committee hired a marketing research firm to survey criminal justice researchers and practitioners in an effort to assess the broader
awareness and image of the work of NIJ. A summary of the survey findings appears in Appendix B. The web-based survey was designed to find out how familiar researchers and practitioners are with NIJ, what services they have used, what they think about the quality of its research, and what impact its programs have had on research and practice.
The committee also reviewed a report prepared on NIJ’s graduate research and W.E.B. Du Bois fellowship programs. From information provided by NIJ on fellowship recipients and descriptions that included goals, selection criteria, and management of the programs over the years, the report summarized demographic characteristics of both sets of fellows as well as the works published postfellowship and examined the degree to which these publications were related to their fellowship projects.5
Following this introduction, Chapter 2 contains important background information on the history of NIJ, as well as trends in budget, organization, authority, and operations. Chapter 3 introduces ORE and OST and describes the character and accomplishments of each office’s research portfolio as well as the recent decline in their research programs. Chapter 4 examines how NIJ administers and manages its research portfolio and other activities and provides an overview of its staffing resources over time. Chapter 5 examines to what extent NIJ has enhanced research use through its efforts to build research capacities, use research to guide policy and practice, and disseminate research findings to the research and practitioner communities and to what extent these activities have dominated NIJ’s research mission. In Chapters 3-5, as NIJ’s programs and processes are described, the committee critiques NIJ’s practices for monitoring and assessing its own efforts. Chapter 6 examines the value of systematic assessment and provides initial guidance on improving practices for self-assessment. Chapter 7 makes recommendations for improving the federal criminal justice research enterprise.
In addition to the main chapters on the committee’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations, six appendixes supply background information on this study and NIJ’s programs. Appendix A outlines some of the documents and records the committee requested but was unable to get from NIJ. This allows the reader to understand the limitations on the committee’s analyses. Appendix B summarizes the results and demographics of respondents from a November 2008 survey of criminal justice researchers and practitioners conducted for the committee. Appendix C identifies key legis-
lation and summarizes their impact on NIJ’s programs and operations and documents changes in its mission statements over time. Appendix D identifies the types of materials NIJ publishes. Appendix E provides a summary of relevant recommendations from previous NRC reports. This is provided to offer NIJ and others ripe areas of needed research on criminal justice issues that have been previously vetted by experts in the field. Appendix F presents biographical sketches of committee members and staff. A list of acronyms used in this report is presented in the front matter.