An expert panel today called for “fundamental reforms” at the National Institute of Justice, the Justice Department’s research arm on crime and related issues. The committee of the National Research Council, part of the National Academy of Science, said the agency “lacks essential tools: a strong management structure, a scientific staff, a budget to support long- and short-term goals, and protections from political shifts.” The research agency has been swamped by congressional mandates on forensic laboratory capacity-building and training that are “at best minimally related to research,” the committee said.
The report said that NIJ is faced with increasing demands for research findings to support growing needs of criminal justice agencies, yet its discretionary budget–particularly the funding available for social-science research on crime and crime control– has been reduced. To bolster the institute’s independence, the committee called for the NIJ director to be appointed for a “fixed, renewable six-year term.” The review committee is chaired by criminologist Charles Wellford of the University of Marland; the vice chair is George Sensabaugh of the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health. Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General for Justice Programs, responded that “with this Justice Department’s strong commitment to science, we welcome the National Academy’s report. It lays out recommendations that provide helpful guidance and a blueprint for NIJ moving forward — particularly as our newly confirmed director, Dr. John Laub, comes on board.” Unlike recent NIJ directors, Laub, who was confirmed by the Senate last week, is a distinguished academic criminologist.