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Remarks of Mary Lou Leary, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs

Illinois Criminal Justice Planning Summit
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Chicago, IL

        Thank you, Jack [Cutrone]. I really appreciate you inviting me to speak here today. At the Department of Justice, we say all the time how lucky we are to have strong criminal justice partners at the state and local levels, and it's always a pleasure to get to spend some time with you.

        State Administering Agencies, in particular, are so important in our efforts to develop comprehensive solutions for public safety. SAAs, as we call them, are responsible for administering much of the criminal justice funding provided by the federal government. They are truly critical partners, and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority really is one of our best SAAs.

        From my vantage point, this planning summit is simply remarkable. Here's a room full of my favorite people - law enforcement officers, victim service providers, public safety professionals, criminal justice policymakers, and all the folks who make our criminal justice system work. And, you're gathered to collaborate on a statewide, long-range strategic plan for criminal justice - a plan that will focus on incorporating evidence-based practices. That is nothing short of inspiring.

        Finally - after so many years of hard work by so many of you - we are seeing a real momentum in the areas of strategic planning and evidence-based approaches. These efforts - this summit - are major steps forward. They are also, for the first time in years, supported at every level of the Department of Justice.

        Attorney General Eric Holder frequently talks about his commitment to restoring science to its rightful place in the Justice Department. His support for careful study, reliable research, and practical applications has permeated this Department. My agency, the Office of Justice Programs, or OJP, has taken a leadership role in our efforts to put knowledge at the center of everything we do.

        Through partnerships with the field, we are dedicated to enhancing the role of science in criminal justice. Whether you're a cop on the street or a professor studying policing outcomes, research and evaluation matter, and I see it as one of our primary jobs to spread that message.

        I think the importance of that message was crystallized, for me, during a meeting with experts on children exposed to violence earlier this year. We were joined by both researchers and practitioners, and the Attorney General spoke to the group. While we were discussing the need for evidence-based practices, a service provider - a woman who works directly with abused kids and is herself a survivor of violence - spoke up. "I draw my evidence from the community - from the people - from the ground up," she said. "When I hear about research and evidence, I think that's something for the university professors - something done by OUTSIDERS who don't understand our field."

        Everyone heard her. And, she makes a critically important point. Research can seem far removed from the real world. Even if it directly addresses an issue, it can be inaccessible or seemingly impossible to implement. If the people on the frontlines of our criminal justice system don't believe in evidence - don't see it's utility - it really has none.

        Of course, as you all know, we can't base policy on anecdotes or gut feelings, either. So, we must strike the right balance. That means making the research and science that informs our policies and practices more accessible, more applicable, more real. That's certainly no easy task, but the fact that you - policymakers and practitioners - are trying is exciting.

        As you work to prepare your strategic plan, you will face a lot of tough choices. And, as you've already seen during the day and a half you've been here, there is a lot to choose from. You've heard about options for addressing drug abuse and mental illness and strategies for encouraging community participation in public safety initiatives. And, Michael Thompson from the Council of State Governments - one of our most important national partners - talked about the incredible potential that Justice Reinvestment has shown in other states. ICJIA has certainly been careful to provide lots of viable alternatives. In fact, looking at this agenda, I was impressed that they had put together a sort-of criminal justice superstore.

        In many ways, I think this superstore - "Options R Us" - as I'll call it, is representative of the entire field of criminal justice. There are so many options available in our field - so many programs, approaches, evaluations, and results - that it is sometimes hard to know where to turn. As with any other shopping experience, there are always shiny, new programs and reliable, old programs - and how do you choose? Then there's the real danger of one size fits all - of assuming that because a program works in Chicago it will work in Peoria. It might, indeed, but that just can't be assumed. Finally, there's the issue of knowing how to apply the results of program evaluations - how to modify, or maybe even exchange, existing programs.

        So, to continue the analogy just one step further, our goal at the federal level is to help make your "shopping" experience easier and more productive. Through several initiatives, we are working to help professionals throughout the fields of criminal and juvenile justice become better consumers of research and better patrons of evidence-based practices.

        We don't want anyone in the field to feel like they have to blindly pay lip service to the importance of evidence-based practices without fully understanding them. The only way this movement can really be successful is if we all believe in evidence-based programs and, far more importantly, understand what that means and how to act on it. It is, I think, a uniquely federal role to guide the institution of smart-on-crime approaches by supporting a robust research program and providing tools to implement that research.

        One of our major efforts in this area is the Evidence Integration Initiative. E2I, as we call it, was launched last year and it has three goals:

  • 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.
  • And third, to improve the translation of evidence into practice.
This is an OJP-wide effort, and we're taking several steps:
  • First, we're working to move the field toward common expectations and definitions for credible evidence. As we've established, the world of research is broad and diverse. This includes randomized controlled trials ??? what some refer to as the "gold standard" of evidence. Randomized controlled trials assign participants to either a treatment or a control group at random to determine if a given intervention really works. This is an extremely reliable research method. It is also difficult, time consuming, and costly to implement. Therefore, we have to recognize the much larger universe of research designs. Some of these may not rise to the same level of scientific rigor, but they are nonetheless valuable because they are more feasible and can still build our confidence about a program.
  • Second, we've established Evidence Integration Teams within OJP to synthesize evidence on specific justice topics and develop principles for practice that can be communicated to the field. We've started this effort with teams on children exposed to violence and gangs. The teams are in the process of assembling evidence that will inform decision making regarding strategies, programs, and practices. After these teams share their findings, we will launch two new teams covering other important justice topics.
  • Third, we're working toward developing a Web site on evidence-based programs that will include the full spectrum of topics addressed by OJP. We are going to call this the Crime Solutions Resource Center. I think this will be a really exciting resource for all of you. This truly gets to the heart of what E2I is about: integration ??? how to completely incorporate evidence into the way we all do business. To supplement the Web site, we also hope to create a diagnostic center that will provide direct assistance to jurisdictions as they apply evidence-based approaches.
  • Finally, we're establishing, for the first time ever, an OJP Science Advisory Board. The board will help inform our program development activities and make sure we're staying true to the best scientific information available. Its members will be made up of academics, practitioners, and policy leaders - all appointed by the Attorney General.

        I'd also like to add, on a more personal note, that E2I is not just an initiative; it is a cause. It will be, I think, an important legacy of this Department of Justice. With E2I, we are creating programs and processes that will institutionalize a respect for research. So, we're really excited about it, and we're getting support not just from the Attorney General but also from the President.

        The President's 2011 budget request strongly supports this initiative, and I'm pleased that funding was also included in the Senate's most recent version of the budget. It includes $1 million for the online clearinghouse and $3 million for the diagnostic center.

        And - for the first time - the request calls for a three-percent set-aside of OJP's total budget for research, evaluation, and statistical functions.

        Those are just a few of the ways we are working to help criminal and juvenile justice practitioners become better consumers and proponents of evidence. We are also already supporting promising practices in innovative states like Illinois across the country.

        Our Bureau of Justice Assistance, or BJA, will be awarding nearly $455 million this year to states, territories, and local governments through the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, which we call Byrne/JAG. Byrne/JAG, as you all know, is the primary provider of federal criminal justice funding, and it supports programs ranging from law enforcement to prevention and education, from community corrections to crime victim assistance. And, I'm pleased to announce that, in Illinois alone, more than $18.8 million is being awarded - with more than $11 million going to ICJIA and the remainder to 25 units of local government. These funds will give professionals like all of you the means and the flexibility to respond to diverse local needs.

        We're also supporting the National Criminal Justice Association, which is the voice of state, tribal, and local criminal and juvenile justice organizations in Washington and provides national-level leadership. NCJA will be receiving $1.5 million this year to provide training and technical assistance to help states develop strategic plans and use evidence-based practices.

        This morning, you had the opportunity to hear about some innovative criminal justice activities in Illinois, so I'd like to briefly mention a couple of exciting JAG initiatives in other states.

        In Utah, their SAA is using Byrne/JAG funds to support a program that helps rural law enforcement agencies solve cold cases. The SAA purchased state-of-the-art equipment to generate evidence, including a biological evidence detector and a Panoscan 3-D imaging system. This equipment was then loaded onto a trailer, forming a sort-of cold case mobile.

        Just a few months ago, agents met with the lead investigator in a July 1970 homicide case. The detective had established a complete timeline for the cold case and interviewed the suspect, but he had no way to present the case visually, since the crime scene had long ago disappeared.

        With the permission of the new homeowner, the detective used the Panoscan imaging system to create a virtual tour of a decades-old murder scene, including the location of the victim and her then four-year-old daughter, who witnessed the vicious attack. Without this program, small law enforcement agencies would never have access to vital tools like the Panoscan.

        Another example comes to us from Pennsylvania, where Byrne/JAG funds supported the establishment of a center for evidence-based practices. The center promotes evidence-based practices by providing practical technical assistance to local communities. It simultaneously makes implementation easier, and serves as the SAA's eyes and ears - ensuring that programs are based on evidence and carried out with fidelity.

        These programs, and the many you have heard about throughout Illinois, are why Byrne/JAG funds work. They encourage local innovation and are flexible enough to meet the very diverse needs of small towns and big cities.

        As we look to include more evidence-based practices, Byrne/JAG will only become more effective. That's why we are so dedicated to efforts like E2I. Especially in tough fiscal environments like the one we now face, using evidence-based practices is no longer just a good idea; it is imperative. Promoting evidence-based programs is not, after all, the exclusive purview of university professors, but the responsibility of us all.

        To return to our shopping analogy one last time, at OJP, we are committed to helping you become excellent shoppers - to know good criminal justice research when you see it, to choose it, and to use it. By working together and listening to each other, we can all avoid any buyer's remorse, and - in time - see big returns in the form of safer communities.

        Thank you so much for your time. I'd be happy to take any questions you may have.


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