Safety, Health, and Wellness Strategic Research Plan

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NIJ has developed the Safety, Health, and Wellness Strategic Research Plan ​to describe the current and​ projected efforts of NIJ to promote the safety, health, and wellness of individuals affected by, or employed within, the criminal justice system. This document will be of interest to researchers (academic, governmental, and industry); federal, state, local, and international government partners; and justice policymakers and practitioner communities. Findings from activities that fall within this strategic research plan will be disseminated among these constituents ​and partners in ways designed to achieve the greatest impact.​

NIJ's Safety, Health, and Wellness Mission:

NIJ’s mission for safety, health, and wellness is dedicated to the development of knowledge and tools to promote safety, health, and wellness for law enforcement officers, individuals under the supervision of the criminal justice system, as well as those in contact with or affected directly or indirectly by the criminal justice system.

A Call for Collaboration

The research directions included within this strategic research plan intentionally span many scientific disciplines. The breadth of research is driven by the magnitude of questions that need to be addressed within the criminal justice system. NIJ envisions that the research resulting from this agenda will require both interdisciplinary collaboration and partnerships between traditional researchers and the practitioner community. Finally, mirroring the need for collaboration among researchers, NIJ will seek partnerships with other federal agencies and institutions that support research relevant to criminal justice applications. These partnerships should include: co-sponsoring research awards; convening meetings to bring key players together; and providing criminal justice system expertise to discussions and meetings pertaining to safety, health, and wellness.

Strategic Priority I: Promote Research to Improve Safety Within the Criminal Justice System

NIJ is committed to building a knowledge base focused on the safety of individuals employed within criminal justice occupations, as well as individuals under the supervision of the criminal justice system, and members of the public as they interact with the system.


The National Institute of Justice has played an ongoing role in the development o​f equipment, standards, technologies, and practices to improve officer safety within the criminal justice system. These investments have included the development of ballistic vests, studies of in-vehicle safety, and the evaluation of less-lethal technologies to increase police and public safety. NIJ will continue to promote research to further police and correctional officer safety in their unique work environment. Additionally, NIJ will continue its focus on examining the safety of incarcerated populations and the public as they interact with the criminal justice system.


The objectives supporting Strategic Priority I build on strengths that NIJ has developed over decades. NIJ has formed strong partnerships with research organizations throughout the United States, which support research on safety in criminal justice occupations, and for individuals who come in contact with the criminal justice system. NIJ will continue to work with partners, including other federal agencies, to develop improved technologies, standards, and practices to support safety. NIJ will continue to assess the safety needs within criminal justice settings, as well as opportunities for improvement.

Female law enforcement officer in yellow vest

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Related to individuals working in criminal justice occupations

  • Objective I.1: Promote vehicular and traffic safety for officers.
  • Objective I.2: Support development, and promote strategies, policies, practices, and technologies that enhance the safety of criminal justice personnel.

Related to criminal justice interactions with incarcerated populations

  • Objective I.3: Study the unique safety concerns presented by correctional settings.

Related to criminal justice interactions with the public

  • Objective I.4: Develop policies, strategies, and technologies to promote safety in criminal justice interactions with the public.
  • Objective I.5: Develop knowledge, systems, and technologies that increase the safety of schools.

View the action plan for Strategic Priority I​.​​​​​​​​

Strategic Priority II: Support Research of Health and Wellness of Individuals Within the Criminal Justice System​

Older man discussing health and wellness issues with a medical professional

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Spotlight on Ongoing Research Projects

  • Suicide Prevention and Intervention Strategies by Law Enforcement Agencies
  • NIJ remains focused on​ studying health and wellness for those employed within the criminal justice system, individuals under the supervision of the criminal justice system, and those affected by the system. The science and technology investments in health and wellness are divided into two areas: physical health and mental health.


    In 2014, the Taskforce on 21st Century Policing outlined a broad agenda to address a spectrum of safety and wellness needs in policing.

    The “bulletproof cop” does not exist. The officers who protect us must also be protected against incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional health problems, as well as against the hazards of their job. Their wellness and safety are crucial for them, their colleagues and their agencies, as well as the well-being of the communities.

    While this report had a specific focus on police officers and the communities they serve, the sentiment of wellness within the report is equally relevant for those who work in other parts of the criminal justice system, as well as those in custody. A comprehensive approach to health and wellness issues throughout the criminal justice system will improve the performance and wellness of each sector of justice and can provide a more coordinated response to the health risks and concerns of the communities they serve.


    The objectives supporting Strategic Priority II will build on prior research investments and collaborations and focus on health and wellness for both officers and individuals in custody. NIJ is specifically interested in understanding and improving the physical and mental health outcomes for those who are employed by, under the supervision of, or interact with the criminal justice system. Additionally, the focus on stress, trauma, and suicide and self-harm prevention cuts across demographic areas highlighting the importance of promoting research of these topics within the criminal justice system.

    Related to individuals working in criminal justice occupations

    • Objective II.1: Promote research to improve the physical and mental health of individuals working in the criminal justice system.
    • Objective II.2: Study both trauma and suicide among criminal justice employees
    • Objective II.3: Assess the impact of criminal justice work stressors on the families of individuals employed in the criminal justice system.
    • Objective II.4: Promote science-based tools and strategies to monitor physical and mental health.

    Related to individuals under the supervision of the criminal justice system

    • Objective II.5: Reduce suicide and self-harm in corrections, with a specific focus on jails.
    • Objective II.6: Assess the effect of in-custody conditions on physical and mental health and the impact of these conditions on preparing these individuals for reintegration in the community.
    • Objective II.7: Promote scientifically based tools and strategies to monitor physical and mental health of individuals under the supervision of the criminal justice system.
    A mother comforting her young child.

    ©Shutterstock, Stephen Coburn (see reuse policy). Image is used for illustrative purposes only and any person depicted is a model.

    Related to individuals directly and indirectly impacted by the criminal justice system

    • Objective II.8: Support research to improve health and wellness support for victims.
    • Objective II.9: Support research to understand how children and families of criminal justice-involved individuals are affected by the criminal justice system.
    • Objective II.10: Develop knowledge, systems, and technologies that improve the health and wellness outcomes of criminal justice interactions and support within schools.​

    View the action plan for Strategic Priority II.​​​​​​​​

    Spotlights on Research Projects

    School Safety and School-Based Mental Health Services in a Large Metropolitan School District

    NIJ is supporting a study to determine how expanding and enhancing school-based mental health (SBMH) programs can promote school safety and improve the wellbeing of students. Previous research has shown a reduction in behavior problems for children who received school-based mental health services and a concurrent improvement in the overall school climate for all students.

    Noting that more rigorous research is needed to build upon previous studies, the Research Triangle Institute is conducting a nearly $5 million study of the effects of three levels of SBMH in the Charlotte- Mecklenburg Schools in Charlotte, NC. The diverse school system has selected eight of its 24 middle and K-8 schools to receive different levels of SBMH programs. The schools receiving “enhanced” mental health program are providing training for mental health providers and student services staff in two evidence- based treatments – Dialectical Behavior Therapy for students exhibiting significant mental health problems, and a group therapy program called Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Chronic Stress for students with behavioral problems.

    In schools selected for and expanded services program in addition to the enhanced program, mental health programs are being made available to students who otherwise could not pay for the services. Other schools from the eight selected for the study are continuing with their standard SBMH program.

    The schools with enhanced and expanded services are expected to show improved student behaviors and school-level safety and climate improvements compared to schools with the standard SBMH program. All eight of the schools with the SBMH program are expected to show improved results over a control group of eight schools that do not provide student mental health services. At the end of the project, the researchers intend to provide a toolbox to help other schools evaluate their SBMH programs and provide evidence to policymakers for the benefits of SBMH.

    Evaluating the Efficacy of Lighting, Markings, and Paint Schemes in Reducing the Incidence of Law Enforcement Vehicle Crashes

    Traffic incidents have been the largest source of law enforcement line-of-duty injuries and deaths over the past decade. To address the issue, researchers at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, funded with a NIJ grant of nearly $1 million, are working with six law enforcement agencies to evaluate the affect on safety of alternative police vehicle lighting, marking, and painting schemes. “Visibility of police officers affects their chance of being in an accident while driving or while parked on the side of the road,” the researchers note. “Visibility treatments on police vehicles affect the extent other drivers see them, and thus can affect accident rates.”

    The researchers are positioning vehicles with different lighting, color schemes, and reflective chevrons, at several test locations and then using both video and radar units to track how quickly civilian drivers react to the vehicles. The study is examining emergency lighting and headlamp characteristics, as well as vehicle paint color and reflective materials.

    The ultimate goal of NIJ’s traffic-safety research efforts, of which this study is a part, is to introduce new tools, policies, and practices that will significantly reduce the number of officers killed or injured on the road each year.

    ​Suicide Prevention and Intervention Strategies by Law Enforcement Agencies: Utilization, Characteristics, and Costs

    There are more than a million law enforcement employees in the U.S., and recent epidemiologic data indicates that suicide deaths are more common in the field of law enforcement than any other individual American workforce.[1] Indeed, according to one study, suicide is a more common cause of death among police officers than other types of violence.[2]

    In response to growing concerns about police suicides, NIJ is funding a $500,000-study by the RAND Corporation to survey and describe the types of programs law enforcement agencies, both in the U.S. and internationally, have adopted to prevent suicides.

    The programs are being compared to evidenced-based suicide prevention practices to provide guidance for policymakers and practitioners on how to improve and adopt effective suicide reduction programs. In addition to gathering and comparing program data from law enforcement agencies around the globe, the law enforcement agencies are doing, but also what is missing from current approaches.

    The research builds upon RAND’s extensive work evaluating suicide prevention in the military, among incarcerated individuals, across the general population in California, and among U.S. veterans. The goal of the research is to produce practical research with real- world applications and offer law enforcement agencies a guide that can be used to bolster their current approaches to suicide prevention.

    Measuring the Effects of Correctional Officer Stress on the Well-Being of the Officer and the Prison Workplace and Developing a Practical Index of Officer Stress for Use by Correctional Agencies

    Researchers at Arizona State University (ASU), supported by more than $650,000 in NIJ funding, are studying job stress among correction officers, linking it to the debilitating effects it may have on job performance. In addition, the researchers are developing a “stress index” to better identify officers in need of therapeutic intervention. The first phase of the project involves developing a model to determine how stress affects attitudinal, emotional, and behavioral well-being of an officer and how those impacts affect an officer’s performance and behavior on the job.

    Correctional officers involved in the study are being interviewed to collect a “self-reported” measure of stress, and that data will be augmented with information on each surveyed officer that is available in correctional agency administrative files. The ASU researchers are working with the Massachusetts Department of Correction and Nebraska’s Department of Correctional Services. Northeastern University and the University of Nebraska at Omaha are collecting the correctional data. The final goal is to validate the stress index and determine its predictive ability.


    ​​​[note 1] Violanti, J. M., Vena, J. E., & Marshall, J. R. (1996). Suicides, homicides, and accidental deaths: A comparative risk assessment of police officers and municipal workers. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 30, 99–104.

    [note 2] Violanti, J.M., Mnatsakanova, A., & Andrew, M.E. (2013). Suicide ideation in police officers: Exploring an additional measure. Suicidology Online​, 4, 33-41.

    Date Modified: March 15, 2018​