The U.S. Justice Department will offer grants next year in a new program to study the nation’s public defender system. Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor now running a Justice Department “Access to Justice” program, announced the grants in a keynote address yesterday at the National Institute of Justice’s annual conference. Tribe said the nation faces a “justice crisis” that could be helped if more good research can be done on better ways of representing the poor and middle class in criminal cases. “A great deal comes down to being smart about criminal and civil justice rather than being ‘tough’ just to prove a point,” Tribe said.
Earlier at the conference, Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson, head of the Office of Justice Programs, said that Attorney General Eric Holder would name a science advisory board for her agency. As Robinson explained it, “This body would be made up primarily of academics, but also of practitioners and other leaders outside of OJP. The board would help inform our program development activities and make sure we're adhering to the highest level of scientific rigor.” Robinson said “evidence-based programs are reflected throughout” President Obama’s budget proposal for the next federal fiscal year, including “Stopping Crime: Block by Block,” which would fund multi-site field experiments and research. Robinson also cited proposals for an online “What Works” clearinghouse and a diagnostic center – or “Help Desk” – to aid jurisdictions as they apply evidence-based approaches. The request includes a 3 percent set-aside across OJP’s budget for research, evaluation and statistics.