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Remarks of Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

American Correctional Association
Executive Committee Meeting
January 23, 2010
Washington, DC

       It's great to be back at ACA. As I said at the luncheon, I came back because of my interest in promoting evidence-based approaches to crime and corrections.

       At the University of Pennsylvania, I observed corrections leaders around the country - like Jeff Beard - who were in the vanguard of developing and promoting evidence-based approaches.

       I mentioned in my luncheon remarks some of the issues bearing on health and mental health - substance abuse treatment, mentally ill offenders, reentry, justice reinvestment, sexual violence. An overall theme is the important role that data and research play in informing corrections policy.

       For example, NIJ funded what we call the "redemption study" led by Al Blumstein. The study is looking at developing an actuarial model to determine when an offender's risk of committing another crime declines to the level of the general population. One finding thus far is that first-time arrestees who remained arrest-free for three to eight years were no more likely to commit another crime than those who had never been arrested. This could change the way society views ex-offenders and their potential to reintegrate, particularly in terms of employment.

       Another area is the notion of procedural justice - that is, the role that the perceived legitimacy of justice institutions plays in bringing compliance with the law. Tom Tyler - who is a Professor of Psychology at NYU - is doing important work in this area. Professor Tyler has done a lot of work in the area of law enforcement, and he and others are now turning their attention to the issue of procedural justice in corrections.

       Basically, the idea behind procedural justice is this - and this is putting it very simply: people are willing to give deference and respect to justice system officials if they believe those officials act with fairness. If they do, the notion is that the public is more willing to cooperate, i.e., obey the law and other rules.

       The latest issue of the journal Criminology and Public Policy publishes results of a study suggesting that corrections facilities can substantially improve inmates' perceptions of justice system legitimacy. Professor Tyler also wrote an article exploring how procedural justice can be applied in corrections. This is an interesting area for further exploration and research.

       These are examples of things we are looking at to integrate smart-on-crime-and-corrections approaches. I mentioned our Evidence Integration Initiative. Let me give you a little more information on that. It has three aims:

  • First, to improve the quantity and quality of evidence that we generate through our research, evaluation, and statistical functions.
  • Second, to better integrate evidence in program and policy decisions.
  • Third, to improve the translation of evidence into practice.

       This is an OJP-wide effort, and our goal is to help the field better understand what has been shown to work, based on accepted scientific principles. There are several objectives:

  • We're working towards establishing common expectations and definitions for credible evidence across OJP programs.
  • We're determining how we can generate more useful evidence from the programs we fund.
  • We're expanding efforts to launch randomized field experiments.
  • We're establishing Evidence Integration Teams within OJP. These teams will synthesize evidence on specific justice topics and develop principles for practice that can be communicated to the field. We'll start with a small number of topic areas and increase the number as we move forward.
  • Finally, we'll develop an evidence-based Web site - a Crime Solutions Resource Center - and a diagnostic center - or "help desk" - that will provide direct support to jurisdictions.

       Along those lines, I want to mention that we now have a National Reentry Resource Center, which is managed by the Council of State Governments Justice Center. The purpose of the resource center is to provide up-to-date information about promising practices and research. It also will make training and technical assistance available to states, localities, and tribes to help develop evidence-based reentry programs.

       I'm interested in finding out from this committee how we can improve evidence-based approaches in corrections. I'd also like to hear your feedback on the issues I discussed in my luncheon remarks.

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