This report on the needs assessment mandated by the Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2016 (JFARA), examines the workload, backlog, personnel, and equipment needs for public crime laboratories as well as medical examiner and coroner (ME/C) offices, and while the report does not make specific policy recommendations, it does provide guidance and presents evidence-based practices to address the needs expressed during the assessment.
This needs assessment report compiles demonstrative evidence of how the forensic sciences field adapts to the following: advancements in technology; changes in the volume of types of forensic evidence; and the evolving needs of the justice system, especially considering sexual assault evidence backlogs and the opioid crisis. The authors took a mixed-methods analysis approach to the needs assessment, combining available quantitative data from sources like Project FORESIGHT and various programs and projects of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Office of Justice Programs (OJP). The authors conducted targeted listening sessions to assess topics not easily captured by quantitative metrics. The report presents evidence-based practices to address the needs expressed during the assessment. Key findings of forensic community needs include: institutionalization of systems-based communications between forensic science service providers, their customers, and other stakeholders; sufficient and consistent funding and strategic planning to process increasing amounts of forensic evidence; sufficient and consistent funding and strategic planning to address the impact of the opioid crisis, ME/C workforce and workload challenges, and forensic practitioner training; improvement in the personnel pipeline from education through hiring and training; sufficient supply of graduates from academic programs who are prepared to seek and obtain employment in forensic science fields; continued efforts to strengthen quality assurance measures, limit preventable nonconformities, and maintain a healthy workforce in the forensic sciences; and efforts maintain a resilient forensic workforce. Challenges included but were not limited to interagency collaboration; increased workload; and insufficient funding.