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NIJ's Sentinel Events Initiative: Looking Back to Look Forward

NCJ Number
National Institute of Justice Journal Issue: 273 Dated: March 2014 Pages: 11-14
Date Published
November 2013
4 pages
Publication Series
This article reviews the rationale for and first steps in the promotion of the National Institute of Justice's (NIJ's) concept of the Sentinel Events Initiative (SEI), which refers to efforts to conduct constructive analyses of "sentinel" events in criminal justice processing, which refers to a "significant, unexpected negative outcome," such as a wrongful conviction.
NIJ envisions that the SEI will be for the criminal justice system what crash investigations and medical investigations have done in advancing the safety of those who use airline and medical services. SEI involves criminal justice stakeholders' commitment to regular, routine, risk-oriented reviews of known errors and near misses conducted by experienced criminal justice professionals. In order to discuss the applicability of such an approach, NIJ convened a roundtable of experts in May 2013. It included nationally known experts from law enforcement, prosecution, defense, courts, crime laboratories, victim services, risk management, and the research community. This was the first step in exploring the concept of using a sentinel events review process in the criminal justice system. The group identified many challenges to a sentinel events approach, including inertia, unfamiliarity, and the adversarial basis of American jurisprudence. Other challenges identified were the balance between incident liability and risk management, the role of internal disciplinary processes, and the current state of confidentiality protections. There was a prevalent conviction among roundtable participants, however, that these and other challenges are not insurmountable, but must be resolved by each jurisdiction. Subject to congressional appropriations, NIJ hopes to fund research in fiscal year 2014 to explore a sentinel events review process of criminal justice system errors. Grant proposals were due May 22, 2014. 6 notes

Date Published: November 1, 2013