NIJ Journal 274: NIJ Bulletin

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Publications in Brief

Cost-Benefit Analysis: A Guide for Drug Courts and Other Criminal Justice Programs

In this new Research in Brief, P. Mitchell Downey and John K. Roman expand on the NIJ Journal article by Roman that appeared in issue 272, "Cost-Benefit Analysis of Criminal Justice Reforms," and explain how practitioners and policymakers can use cost-benefit analysis (CBA) to make choices about limited resources. CBA can help evaluate the impact — positive or negative — that a service or program has on society.

Read the report (pdf, 32 pages) to learn how CBA can be used to estimate the impact of drug courts or other criminal justice programs.

Five Things About Deterrence

This installment of the Five Things series focuses on how policymakers and practitioners can deter would-be criminals by using scientific evidence about human behavior and perceptions about the costs, risks and rewards of crime. Based on "Deterrence in the 21st Century," an essay by Daniel Nagin in Crime and Justice: An Annual Review of Research, this flier discusses how deterrence is actually a question of perception and concludes that certainty of being caught is more powerful in discouraging crime than is severity of punishment.

Read Five Things.

Policing and Wrongful Convictions

Wrongful convictions are often the result of errors made by more than one component of the criminal justice system. In a recent NIJ-Harvard Kennedy School New Perspectives in Policing paper, "Policing and Wrongful Convictions," Antony W. Batts, Maddy deLone and Darrel W. Stephens present a dispassionate, thoughtful examination of the systemic causes of wrongful convictions and offer specific, evidence-based recommendations for reducing their likelihood. The authors suggest research-based protocols for improved eyewitness identification, interrogation, use of informants, and evidence storage and preservation. The protocols have been shown to enhance police investigations and help investigators test their initial assumptions about a suspect.

Read the paper (pdf, 32 pages).

Mending Justice: Sentinel Event Reviews

This special report draws on lessons learned in medicine, aviation and other high-risk enterprises to explore how a "sentinel event" review approach could be used to learn from errors in the criminal justice system. A sentinel event could be the exoneration of an innocent person, the release of a dangerous person from prison, or even a "near miss" in which an innocent suspect was arrested and held until the error was discovered. Mending Justice: Sentinel Event Reviews explores how these lessons might be applied to the criminal justice system to improve the administration of justice and prevent future errors. Attorney General Eric Holder offers an introductory message, and 16 nationally recognized criminal justice researchers and practitioners are featured in short commentaries.

Read the report (pdf, 68 pages).

Managing the Boundary Between Public and Private Policing

The line between public and private policing continues to blur. In a new paper for the NIJ-Harvard Kennedy School New Perspectives in Policing series, Malcom K. Sparrow offers guidance on how to handle situations that arise along the boundary between public and private policing. From private hostage rescue units and security associations to local neighborhood watch and campus police departments, Sparrow argues that public law enforcement agencies cannot ignore the private security arrangements that operate within their jurisdictions and may affect their work. He explores the benefits and risks of cooperating with private police through four hypothetical scenarios and makes recommendations on policy and operational challenges.

Read the report (pdf, 28 pages).

News & Events

Esbensen Receives 2013 James L. Maddex, Jr., Paper of the Year Award

NIJ grantee Finn-Aage Esbensen has received the 2013 James L. Maddex, Jr., Paper of the Year award. Esbensen's article "Youth Gang Desistance: An Examination of the Effect of Different Operational Definitions of Desistance on the Motivations, Methods, and Consequences Associated With Leaving the Gang," written with Dena C. Carson and Dana Peterson, was selected from among all the articles published last year in the academic journal Criminal Justice Review. The article is based on NIJ-funded research that found that regardless of demographics or gang embeddedness, youth become disillusioned with gang life and drift away from membership, typically without consequences. The authors recommend that policymakers use this knowledge to help youth choose alternatives to gang life and minimize their time as gang members.

Read about Esbensen's work at

Student Becomes Youngest Recipient of Ellis R. Kerley Award

Mariyam Isa has become the youngest-ever recipient of the Ellis R. Kerley Award, which recognizes innovative work in the field of forensic anthropology.

Isa is an anthropology student at Michigan State University (MSU) and part of a multidisciplinary research project funded by NIJ. In 2011, NIJ awarded $680,000 to MSU to lead a research effort — with experts from the university's Forensic Anthropology and Orthopaedic Biomechanics Laboratories, Sparrow Hospital Pathology, and the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences — to examine data in cranial fracture patterns. The project's ultimate goal is to compute a statistical probability that a particular impact condition caused specific fractures. Isa received the prize for a paper she produced about this ongoing research on the interpretation of skull fractures, particularly in cases where child abuse is suspected.

Learn more about the MSU research project.

NIJ Welcomes New Deputy Director

In October, Howard Spivak joined NIJ as its Deputy Director and Chief of Staff. A world-class expert in violence and violence prevention, Spivak was most recently the Director of the Violence Prevention Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. He started his career as a pediatrician and was an early pioneer in recognizing the link between violence and public health. He has published two books on youth violence: Murder Is No Accident: Understanding and Preventing Youth Violence in America and Sugar & Spice and No Longer Nice: How We Can Stop Girls' Violence. As Deputy Director, Spivak will be a key leader in NIJ's scientific endeavors, and as Chief of Staff, he will guide its efficient day-to-day operations.

NIJ Partners With the FBI to Research Sexual Assault Kits

Addressing the issues surrounding the testing of sexual assault kits (SAKs) is one of the most complex challenges facing our nation's criminal justice system. The FBI and NIJ have formed a research partnership to help find the best strategies, methods and procedures for dealing with SAKs. State and local law enforcement agencies submit their eligible SAKs to the FBI for testing, and NIJ gathers data about the processing of the cases. The goal is to develop more effective tools and strategies for evaluating current methods and procedures, improve practices, and inform future policies and decisions.

Read more about the SAK partnership.


Science at NIJ

NIJ staff members describe some specific ways in which the Institute's science and innovation are improving the administration of justice. The interviews in this video highlight the long-term effects that NIJ has had on crime through forensic science research, crime mapping, policing shift research and future technologies such as matching police sketches to mug shots.

Watch the video.

Research for the Real World: Opening the Black Box of NIBIN

William King of Sam Houston State University and John Risenhoover of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) discuss the operations of the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN). NIBIN is a program through which firearms examiners at state and local crime laboratories compare tool marks on spent bullets or cartridges found at a crime scene with digitized images of ballistic evidence in a nationwide database. King headed a team of researchers that examined the value of NIBIN database "hits" in solving crimes involving firearms.

In this Research for the Real World, King discusses the team's findings and recommendations for improving NIBIN's tactical value (using a NIBIN hit to link crimes that were not previously known to be related and, in turn, identify suspects) and strategic value (helping law enforcement understand larger patterns of gun crime, including the criminal activities of street gangs and drug cartels).

Risenhoover, NIBIN's national coordinator at ATF, describes the ways in which ATF is using the research findings to improve NIBIN's efficiency and effectiveness.

Watch and listen to the seminar.

See the related article "Study Identifies Ways to Improve ATF Ballistic Evidence Program."

What We Have Learned About Unsubmitted Sexual Assault Kits

Watch and listen as several researchers explain some of the key issues related to the large number of sexual assault kits (SAKs) not sent to crime laboratories for testing. NIJ has funded multidisciplinary teams to tackle the issue in Detroit and Houston. In these expert interviews, researchers Rebecca Campbell, William Wells, Caitlin Sulley and Noël Busch-Armendariz discuss the potential risk factors for developing a large number of unsubmitted SAKs, how police departments can better work with sexual assault victims, and creating protocols to inform victims about new SAK DNA testing.

Watch the videos on NIJ's YouTube channel.

Recent Research Findings

Identifying Victims of Human Trafficking

A validated tool is now available to help identify victims of human trafficking. The tool involves a number of critical questions that victim service providers; law enforcement; and legal, health care and social service providers can ask individuals to ascertain whether they are victims of trafficking. The tool was validated using a diverse sample of potential victims and reliably predicts labor and sex trafficking victims.

With funding from NIJ, researchers at the Vera Institute of Justice developed the tool, which is intended to be part of the regular intake or enrollment process for specific programs. It comes with guidelines, frequently asked questions and a list of resources related to trafficking.

Read the full report (pdf, 455 pages).

Prosecution and Racial Justice in New York County

Prior research has not adequately examined the extent to which prosecutors' discretion to file charges, change or reduce charges, plea bargain, and make sentencing recommendations may contribute to racial and ethnic disparities. With NIJ funding, researchers at the Vera Institute of Justice found that the New York County District Attorney's Office prosecutes nearly all criminal cases brought by the police with no marked racial or ethnic differences at case screening. For subsequent decisions, disparities varied by discretionary point and offense category. For all offenses combined, black and Latino defendants — compared with similarly situated white defendants — were more likely to be detained, receive a custodial plea offer and be incarcerated; they also were more likely to benefit from case dismissals. Asian defendants appeared to have the most favorable outcomes across all discretionary points.

Read the full report (pdf, 283 pages).

License Plate Readers for Law Enforcement: Opportunities and Obstacles

License plate reader (LPR) systems give law enforcement a technology tool that can be used to investigate a variety of crimes. Portable and fixed LPR systems can capture the image of a passing vehicle and compare its license plate against official lists of open infractions.

The RAND Corporation published new NIJ-funded research on the current and potential applications of LPR systems, their benefits and limitations, and emerging practices for their use. The report makes recommendations on how to improve LPR practice and procedures, including cooperation between agencies, data storage and privacy concerns.

Read the full study (pdf, 124 pages).