Director's Message: Envisioning the Future

I’m glad I had time before I arrived in Washington to reflect on what I want to accomplish during my tenure, because it has been in a whirlwind of activity since I arrived. Knowing that my tenure ends in January 2017 (when the next Administration takes office) has its advantages and disadvantages. But since it is my nature to focus on the advantages, here’s the biggest one: I have a hard and fast deadline to meet my goals!

From the big-picture perspective, my goals are simple: to strengthen NIJ as an agency in ways that will benefit the public and outlast my tenure as director. More specifically, here are a few ways I hope to do that:

  1. Strengthen science and NIJ’s scientific endeavors.
    I am keenly aware of the National Academy of Science (NAS) recommendations in Strengthening the National Institute of Justice. In response to the NAS guidance, my predecessors put a number of organizational reforms in place. As I work toward other improvements, I will describe our progress in this Director’s Corner. Right now, for example, we are making changes to maximize the American people’s investment in NIJ’s internal scientific expertise. These changes will leverage the education and experience of our scientists, so they have more day-to-day involvement in the scientific enterprise of helping to improve public safety and the administration of justice.
  2. Encourage a more multidisciplinary approach to helping the nation’s criminal justice practitioners solve problems.
    During my tenure, we will be refining NIJ’s priority topic areas and taking a holistic approach that crosses disciplines. I firmly believe that criminal justice issues cross boundaries. In my work in juvenile justice and prisons, for example, I’ve witnessed how intertwined “criminal justice” issues are with other aspects of life: family relationships, mental and physical health, employment, housing and so forth. NIJ’s ability to continue to innovate will depend on maximizing the wide expertise of scientists. I will do my best to encourage boundary-crossing practices within the agency and in our research investments. I want to make sure, for example, that psychologists, sociologists and criminologists are collaborating with engineers, physicists and chemists to solve the nation’s most critical crime and justice issues. Through this strategic approach, I hope we are better able to target our fiscal resources in ways that respond to the challenges that police, crime labs, courts, corrections and victim-advocate professionals face every day.
  3. Define and quantify impact.
    For many years, NIJ has collected data about our outputs: the number of citations of NIJ products in peer-reviewed journals (485 in 2014), number of exonerations due to NIJ’s DNA post-conviction funding (28 total), visitors to NIJ.gov (5,800 per day), number of cold cases resolved due to NIJ awards (1,186), and similar metrics. However, I am interested in the picture beyond the numbers. I am interested in metrics that show how our investments in science impact criminal justice policies and practices. We know anecdotally about changes in policy and practices that have come about as a result of NIJ-supported research, but I hope to start using more systematic methods to convey the social and fiscal impact of our work.
  4. Encourage racial and ethnic diversity in our investments. We are a racially and ethnically diverse nation. Demographers tell us that by the middle of this century, people of color will become the majority population in the United States. I am mindful of our changing landscape and want to ensure that NIJ’s work is reaching and engaging scientists of all racial and ethnic groups. I will be encouraging greater diversity in a number of ways, such as in the composition of our peer-review panels, the Fellows we support, and so forth.
  5. Foster researcher-practitioner partnerships. I will continue to expand NIJ’s engagement with practitioners. You will see the spirit of partnership be a consistent element in our solicitations and in the work we support. Even within NIJ, where partnerships with practitioners are common, I will be asking staff to reach even further and wider to make sure our links to expert practitioners and decision-makers in the field are a common and routine practice for all of us.

We are off to a great start, and I am looking forward to reporting to you regularly on the progress I am making.

Date Created: July 6, 2015