David Muhlhausen of the Heritage Foundation has been named director of the National Institute of Justice, the U.S. Justice Department’s research arm, the White House announced. He succeeds Nancy Rodriguez of Arizona State University, who had been NIJ director since early 2015.
Muhlhausen, a research fellow in empirical policy analysis at Heritage, has “championed using rigorous, empirical research to formulate and evaluate government policies,” the White House said.
Muhlhausen has testified frequently before Congress on the efficiency and effectiveness of various federal programs.He has been called most often by the House and Senate Committees on the Judiciary to discuss how to improve policing strategies, prisoner reentry programs, and other criminal justice programs.
In a 2015 report, Muhlhausen said that, “Since the 1990s, the Justice Department has poured significant funding resources into prisoner reentry programs. To date, however, we do not know enough about what works in helping former inmates safely and successfully reintegrate into society.”
He criticized one study that declared reentry programs effective because it “compares offenders volunteering for services with less motivated offenders not volunteering for services. For the Boston Reentry Initiative, program administrators carefully selected inmates for participation, and the evaluation compared these preferred inmates with inmates not selected for participation.”
Muhlhausen favors studies based on the technique of randomly assigning participants in programs being compared. In the case of prisoner reentry, he said, failure to use random assignment did not “account for individual differences that affect program outcomes. This failure leaves open the possibility that the underlying differences between the groups of former inmates receiving and not receiving reentry services, not the program, caused the observed impact.”
He wrote in the Washington Times that his “review of evaluations of prisoner re-entry programs that use random assignment — the gold standard of evaluation designs — shows that the programs tend to produce, at best, mixed results.”
An advocate of the death penalty, Muhlhausen contends that capital punishment deters criminals. He also has been critical of the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services program (COPS), writing in 2013 that “the COPS program has an extensive track record of poor performance and should be eliminated,” adding that its grants “unnecessarily perform functions that are the responsibility of state and local governments.”
He holds a doctorate in public policy from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a bachelor’s degree in political science and justice studies from Frostburg State University. At George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, Muhlhausen has taught program evaluation and statistical methods to graduate students for 11 years.
The NIJ directorship formerly required confirmation by the Senate but the job now can be filled by the White House without a Senate vote.
This report was prepared by Ted Gest, Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments welcome.