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

American Society of Criminology Conference
Panel Titled
"Science, Policy And Practice: The Federal Role"

Friday, November 19, 2010
San Francisco, CA

       Good afternoon. I want to welcome all of you to this panel on science, policy, and practice - and the federal role. I'm pleased to see everybody! My name is Laurie Robinson, and I'm Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs in the Department of Justice.

       I'm here with my colleagues, Jim Lynch, John Laub, and Phelan Wyrick. I'm going to do very brief introductions since most of you already know at least Jim and John!

       Jim is Director of our Bureau of Justice Statistics and has a distinguished career focused on measurement issues in criminal justice data and statistics. He comes to us from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

       John is Director of our National Institute of Justice, and he, of course, is a highly credentialed and widely published authority on the life course of crime. He was with the University of Maryland's Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice before he was appointed by President Obama.

       And Phelan is a social scientist who is a Senior Advisor in my office. Phelan formerly served in both NIJ and our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

       I'm glad they're all here today - and I'm even more pleased to have Jim and John confirmed and with us at OJP!

       I'm going to open our panel with a few words about the Obama Administration, Justice Department, and OJP's commitment to science, then I'll turn it over to Phelan, John, and Jim to talk about their roles and their perspectives.

       As many of you know, this is not my first stint as OJP's Assistant Attorney General. I served under Janet Reno for seven years. During the years I spent at Penn - after leaving government - I did a lot of thinking about how to better translate science for practitioners and policymakers.

       I reflect back - critically - on my role at OJP in the '90s. I thought in retrospect I hadn't done a good enough job on the task of distilling research findings for the busy police executive and the Capitol Hill staffer who don't have time to read academic journal articles.

       In 2007, I testified before Congress and proposed that OJP set up a "What Works Clearinghouse" to help translate research for policymakers and practitioners. When I came back to OJP in 2009 - for what I initially thought was a short stay to help with the transition! - I had the chance to start developing that idea and make it a reality.

       Shortly after my return, I launched something we call the Evidence Integration Initiative at OJP - which we refer to as E2I for short. Phelan's heading up this effort, and he'll get into the specifics on that in a few minutes.

       The two pieces of E2I that I DO want to mention, however, are, first, my old idea of a "What Works Clearinghouse" - that we're now calling the "Crime Solutions Resource Center," which we'll be launching in June; and, second, something we're calling a Diagnostic Center or "Help Desk," that will be available to assist jurisdictions in adapting evidence-based approaches to their own needs. And again, Phelan will be talking a little more about these.

       We won support from OMB and the White House for both concepts in the President's budget for FY 2011 - and I'm optimistic about Congressional backing for both of these initiatives.

       E2I is part of a broader strategic commitment to science that we're seeing across this Administration - and certainly at the top of the Department of Justice. It's great to have an Attorney General as committed to science as Eric Holder. He regularly has me bringing in researchers, for example, to meet with him, and he's eager to learn about new reports emerging from NIJ and BJS.

       But evidence of commitment shows up in budgets - the old "show me the money." And the President's 2011 budget does this in the increases in funding for (a) evidence-based programs; (b) the science agencies in Justice; and (c) especially the 3% set-aside we were able to secure support for from DOJ, OMB - and the Senate appropriators. (We don't yet know the House "mark" on this.) That 3% funding would yield over $50 million for social science research, evaluation, and statistics. It would be unprecedented.

       Let me also mention that we're making progress toward establishment of an OJP Science Advisory Board. I made this proposal to the Attorney General last spring and we announced its formation in June - before the recommendations came out from the National Research Council to create such a board solely for NIJ. But Eric Holder and I felt it was critical to have science imbued into the program side of our work, as well. Isn't that what this is all about?

       The Board will be appointed by the Attorney General and comprised mainly of academics, but also of some practitioners. Its role will be similar to that of advisory boards for other federal agencies - to provide counsel on program development and guidance on long-term plans. And in fact, I'm pleased to announce that my good friend, Al Blumstein, has been asked to chair the Board.

       I do think we're at a watershed moment in the criminal justice field. We at the federal level - I hope - can play an important role in helping to institutionalize the role of science and embed it in how practitioners and policymakers do business.

       But - as Justice Vanderbilt said over a half-century ago about judicial reform - this is no sport for the short-winded. This takes commitment and follow through - and leadership. And probably some stubborn persistence. That's why I'm so happy to be back in an Administration and a Justice Department that's:

  • Committed to science;
  • Putting its money behind that commitment;
  • Willing to appoint high caliber scientists to lead NIJ and BJS; and
  • Lead by an Attorney General who embraces evidence-based approaches, talks about them a lot, and listens to the President of ASC.

       This is what I'm working on every day - why I came back to the Department - and why I look forward to working with all of you to take advantage of this opportunity moving forward.

       Let me now turn to my very able Senior Advisor, Dr. Phelan Wyrick. As I mentioned earlier, Phelan is leading the charge on E2I. He's really responsible for giving shape to my vision for this project.

       I'll let Phelan talk about what he and his colleagues are doing on E2I, then ask Jim to share his thoughts, followed by John.

       At that point, we'll have time at the end for your questions. Phelan. . . .


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