Reflecting on Winnie Reed's Time at NIJ

by Betty Chemers

Sidebar to the article Winnie Reed: More Than 40 Years of Contributions to NIJ by Nancy Ritter

Betty Chemers arrived at NIJ within a few months of Winnie Reed in 1972, and she worked with Winnie in several capacities over the years: as special assistant to the NIJ Director, as Director of NIJ's Evaluation Division, and during a stint at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. After her retirement from the Department of Justice, Chemers joined the National Academies, where she worked until her recent second (and final) retirement.

It's hard to paint the picture of how different NIJ was when Winnie and I were hired in the early 1970s. For one thing, the technology program consisted of three people who met periodically with the Director, who demanded that they come up with innovative ideas. Of course, there were no computers — only electric typewriters — so, needless to say, we used a lot of whiteout in those days. And whoever controlled the Xerox machine basically controlled the world!

Smoking was allowed everywhere in 1972, and some folks had ashtrays the size of dinner plates. The dress code had only recently been changed to allow women to wear pantsuits.

In the beginning, Winnie and I were both program people without specific training in criminology. But the fact is that, in the '70s, few people knew much about criminal behavior or the criminal justice system. There were maybe a handful of criminology programs in universities. But none of that stopped Winnie. She kept expanding her substantive knowledge by taking courses and moved beyond her formal education by simply talking to people who were trying to ask the right questions and determine how best to arrive at the answers.

I read recently in The New York Times that "science" was selected as Merriam-Webster's 2013 Word of the Year. Usually, the Word of the Year is some trendy new term, but I think it's fitting that "science" won this year, because Winnie Reed has spent her entire career trying to improve the science of crime and justice. To that mission, she brought her intelligence, her humanity, her loyalty to friends and family, and something that anyone who has worked with Winnie over the past four decades would note: her objectivity and calmness.

Those traits were no small thing in the burgeoning field of criminal justice research. People feel utterly comfortable talking with Winnie, asking questions, exploring ideas, voicing opinions. In fact, Winnie, always so modest and unassuming, has been slow to understand the influence she has on people. She has always been hugely approachable, nonjudgmental and fair-minded. If you wanted to get a fair assessment of an idea, Winnie was the one to go talk to. That is her legacy at NIJ — and I have no doubt that those attributes will serve her well as she leaves NIJ to embark on the next leg of her journey.

Back to: Winnie Reed: More Than 40 Years of Contributions to NIJ

Date Created: March 4, 2014