Evidence-based anticrime policy is gaining, but it still faces hurdles to win wide acceptance in Congress, Washington insiders said at yesterday’s annual Jerry Lee Crime Prevention Symposium at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. Criminologist Peter Greenwood said there has been a “dramatic sea change” toward discussion of anticrime measures based on scientific principles. Bobby Vassar, chief counsel of the U.S. House subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security, credited evidence-based policymaking for the absence of new mandatory minimum prison sentences.
Still, Howard Silver of the Consortium of Social Science Associations cited skepticism among some members of Congress and their staffers about embracing evidence-based policymaking. “Our work is cut out for us,” he said. Vassar said that some legislators may not believe their constituents support proved programs and would rather run on slogans like “three strikes and you’re out.” Darek Newby, a House Appropriations Committee staff member handling Justice Department funding, noted that many lawmakers want immediate anticrime measures and are not willing to wait for research. Newby said that in today’s budget climate, it is difficult for new anticrime programs to gain a budget foothold and replace current programs that have political support even if they aren’t backed by research results. Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson said evidence-based anticrime projects have bipartisan support, citing the backing of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Al.), top minority Judiciary Committee member.