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

At the NIJ Conference
Monday, June 14, 2010
Arlington, VA

       Thank you so much, Kris. I'm just delighted to be here this morning to help open this important annual event.

       When I spoke here last year, I thanked Kris Rose for her leadership and for keeping the Institute on a steady course while we awaited confirmation of an NIJ Director. Little did she - or I - realize just how lengthy her "short-term" stint as Acting Director would be. But Kris has done much more than just keep the ship afloat. She's done a great job of steering us through new and challenging waters, and she's brought energy, passion, and skill to her work at the Institute. So I just want to say, "thank you again, Kris, for all that you're doing."

       And I know Kris would be the first to redirect praise to the enormously capable staff of NIJ. I'm constantly amazed at the level of professionalism and ingenuity they demonstrate every day. We are so fortunate. Let me first ask Deputy Director Ellen Scrivner to stand - I'm so thrilled we convinced Ellen to come to the Department of Justice - and then ask all the NIJ staff to stand.

       Last year at this conference - when I was awaiting my own confirmation - I told you that I had come back to OJP early last year with 10 goals for the agency. Two were directly related to the work all of you are engaged in. Following President Obama's cue, I said that I wanted to restore the integrity and respect for the science in the Department of Justice. I also said I wanted to promote data-driven, evidence-based, smart-on-crime approaches.

       So I want to talk today about the progress we've made in reaching those goals. How far have we really come in making science part of the way we're encouraging the justice system to do business? We'll call this my second "State of the Science" speech.

       Let me say, first of all, that I didn't come into this job with my eyes closed. I've spent almost my entire career in criminal justice policy - including, as Kris mentioned, my seven years as Assistant Attorney General under Janet Reno. I knew, coming back to the Department of Justice, that pulling levers from DOJ to help integrate science into practice wouldn't be a quick and easy proposition.

       But one thing I did know was that we had a President and an Attorney General now who care about science and who understand the role it can - and should - play in improving public safety and the administration of justice. I knew this was an unprecedented opportunity to help restore research and data to its proper place in the Department of Justice and leverage that to "push out" science to the field.

       One thing - just as an aside - that's been great this past year has been to see the Attorney General's personal interest in engaging with researchers. Last year, for example, Eric Holder had lunch with Tom Tyler to talk about procedural justice. He became a believer and still cites Tom's findings.

       Last fall, I brought in Rick Rosenfeld and Todd Clear to chat with him about the American Society of Criminology - and we ended up talking about Uniform Crime Report issues. Now the Attorney General is all over those issues, which is excellent. And there have been other visits, as well - certainly all of this more fun for him than many of the issues he deals with these days, I can assure you!

       Last year, I announced at this conference that I'd launched a series of internal working groups at OJP to explore how we can get information out to the field about evidence-based approaches. By now, you've probably heard that we have a full-blown, agency-wide Evidence Integration Initiative - or E2I, as we call it. The purpose of E2I is to improve the quality and quantity of evidence we generate and to make sure it informs program and policy decisions - and also, to make sure it gets translated into practice.

       There are a few things I think are really important about this initiative. First, we're putting an emphasis on rigorous research designs. So, we're encouraging randomized experiments when appropriate. But we also recognize that selecting the best research method depends on the nature of the problem. So while we're emphasizing rigorous testing standards, we also want to take into account other methods that may not have the same high scientific threshold but that can still help practitioners meet critical needs.

       The second point I want to make is that all parts of OJP are engaged in this initiative. NIJ plays a strong and vital role, but one of the reasons we're undertaking this effort is to broaden our base of understanding and to expand the field's ability to comprehend and use evidence.

       We're beginning inside OJP, but one of my goals for the near term that I want to share with you - which Eric Holder strongly supports - is establishment, for the first time ever, of an OJP Science Advisory Board appointed by the Attorney General. This body would be made up primarily of academics, but also of practitioners and other leaders outside of OJP. The board would help inform our program development activities and make sure we're adhering to the highest level of scientific rigor. More on that in the near future.

       Third - and this is really important - our focus is on improving decision-making and practice. Using evidence is not about picking winners and losers. It's about improving performance in criminal and juvenile justice practice.

       It's also critical that we bear in mind who the consumers are here - law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, juvenile justice professionals, and victim service providers. If we're not reaching them and helping them do their jobs better, then I think we've failed in our mission. To put it another way, restoring respect for science can't happen unless we respect the needs of those who apply it. That's at the core of E2I.

       Another sign of progress is the level of commitment reflected in the President's budget request for next year. Evidence-based programs are reflected throughout - and I'm really excited about that. Programs like "Stopping Crime: Block by Block" in NIJ, which would fund multi-site field experiments and action research. Proposals for an online What Works clearinghouse and a diagnostic center - or "Help Desk" - to provide direct support to jurisdictions as they apply evidence-based approaches.

       The budget request also includes - very significantly - a three-percent set-aside across OJP's budget for research, evaluation, and statistical purposes.

       No Administration in the nation's history has ever advocated for that kind of set-aside for the Justice Department before or provided anything approaching that level of funding for research and statistics on crime. I'm proud that Eric Holder's Department of Justice is making this request.

       You can also see the Administration's commitment in the caliber of people President Obama has named to lead NIJ and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Of course, all of you know we're still waiting for the Senate on their confirmation. But the fact that the President has named these two highly respected researchers to those posts - John Laub and Jim Lynch -is further evidence that he understands and appreciates the value of science.

       And we're not discouraged about having to wait for their confirmations. We're moving ahead. With NIJ leading the way, we're supporting cutting-edge research and some exciting advances in public safety technology. And we're also working hard to keep the practitioner field abreast of the latest developments.

       This is a time like no other. We have a President and an Administration committed to science - and an Attorney General who, beyond any other in history, understands what research can mean to public safety. I hope you all share my enthusiasm about the moment we're in, and my hope for a day when criminal and juvenile justice researchers and practitioners will be working hand in hand in communities across the country.

       I look forward to continuing our work together, and I thank you all for your commitment to the safety of America's communities.


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