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NIJ’s Intramural Research Initiative

A strong, active science staff is the foundation of a federal science agency, and NIJ is home to a well-trained, multidisciplinary science staff with background and advanced training in numerous fields relevant to the criminal justice system. Such expertise can be useful in many powerful ways. It is essential, for example, in guiding NIJ’s research portfolios; developing new programs of research that capture the lessons learned from previous research; laying out a path for future research, especially research addressing the most critical issues facing the justice system; and disseminating scientific advances to further the translation of science into practice.

A robust intramural research (IR) program supplementing NIJ’s extramural research program helps to ensure the continuous and efficient fulfillment of NIJ’s statutory mission: advancing scientific knowledge to improve the functioning of the criminal justice system. It also complements, advances and informs extramural research efforts and helps improve criminal justice policy and practice. Identifying potential research and technology gaps, for example, can help direct future research resources to ensure they have maximum impact on improving the criminal justice system and public safety.

The NIJ science staff is uniquely situated and trained to access federal laboratories, restricted data and security-sensitive environments that could provide important opportunities for informing research in the broader criminal justice community. Where appropriate, they may access these resources in collaboration with scientists at other federal, state, or local research agencies.

What NIJ Intramural Research Looks Like

In cases where particular expertise and initiative reside within the agency, NIJ science staff may work independently or in collaboration with other NIJ scientists or with experts from other organizations. This work can result in materials for scientific audiences (such as peer-reviewed journal articles or presentations at scientific meetings), materials for practitioners and policymakers (such as those produced by NIJ or trade associations), and materials to inform the general public about NIJ’s work and the science behind advancing criminal justice practice.

NIJ science staff members also collaborate with experts in other organizations, such as universities, nonprofit institutions and other federal agencies. Where feasible, extramural projects, particularly those awarded as cooperative agreements, serve as important platforms for research collaboration between NIJ science staff and other researchers. Leveraging other federal efforts can realize tremendous benefit and efficiencies for the agency and taxpayers. IR work may take several forms, including the following:

1. Program Development and Evaluation: NIJ science staff members develop information about criminal justice research needs and NIJ and other research efforts — ongoing or planned — that may address those needs, pointing the way for future research. Based on this analysis, they formulate a strategy for the next steps in research, development, testing and evaluation, articulating a strategic multi-year research plan for the program.

  • Example: Conducting a meta-analysis of all research activities in an area, reporting on the research findings acquired, and assessing the impact of the program on the field.
  • Example: Collecting and analyzing information on other federal agencies’ research priorities and activities to identify potential collaboration opportunities.
  • Example: Convening a group of external experts to systematically gather information about the state of science in a given program area to help inform NIJ’s next steps in building knowledge through research.

2. Exploratory Research: This type of IR involves NIJ science staff in the creation and testing of innovative developments in criminal justice, usually in collaboration with other researchers. That collaboration may be supported through cooperative or interagency agreements or other vehicles. NIJ science staff members are particularly well positioned to pick up on important innovations in criminal justice and develop them into evidence-building programs.

NIJ provides a unique platform for its science staff to learn from other agencies, both within DOJ and in other departments, that identify and develop innovative solutions to address criminal justice challenges.

NIJ’s science staff can be involved in the early stages of an idea, provide formative tests of an emerging innovation, and leverage agency resources to shape the innovation based on the needs of practitioners and policymakers. NIJ’s science staff members are especially qualified to promote establishment of a rigorous line of research and evaluation (through, for instance, extramural grants) to help discern, refine and maximize the value of the innovation to the field. 

  • Example: Conducting a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to explore the efficacy of different, novel approaches to improving crime laboratory efficiency.
  • Example: Conducting an “innovation assessment” of a new Bureau of Justice Assistance-funded pretrial release program, and designing a multisite field test to conduct a rigorous RCT evaluation, ensuring fidelity to the original model.
  • Example: Conducting a pilot evaluation of an innovative police vehicle accident avoidance program or technology.

3. Scholarship: IR requires the same high standards of research that NIJ expects in its extramural programs. This means that NIJ science staff work with the basic intellectual independence that all researchers should have and that they are trained and equipped to make scholarly contributions to the larger body of research. The forms that scholarly IR may take vary widely, as does the level of effort for an IR project. NIJ science staff members might work independently or in teams on IR scholarship projects. Research teams could include researchers from other agencies or researchers outside of government, including grantees.

  • Example: Conducting secondary analysis on crime data and publishing the findings in a scholarly peer-reviewed journal.
  • Example: Synthesizing the existing evidence concerning a criminal justice challenge and publishing the findings in an influential practitioner journal to guide policy and practice.
  • Example: Temporary assignment of an NIJ scientist to a federal laboratory where a staff member serves as a co-principal investigator on a forensic science research project, publishing the results in a journal article.
  • Example: Co-authoring a scientific article with an NIJ grantee and submitting to a peer-reviewed journal for publication.
  • Example: Working with a nongovernmental standards development organization to develop an equipment performance standard.

NIJ leadership is fully committed to strengthening its IR program and supporting its science staff members as they carry out innovative and creative new projects. Enhancing staff members’ scientific capabilities will directly translate to an increased impact on the field of criminal justice research.

Date Published: August 5, 2019