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Director’s Corner: Bringing the Field to NIJ — Introducing the Practitioner-in-Residence Program


As NIJ director, one of my top priorities is to ensure that our work and organization don’t live in an ivory tower. We’re can’t make an impact if our research isn’t tied to the biggest challenges faced by those working in the criminal justice field.

At NIJ, we do everything we can to make our work responsive to the field. Through frequent site visits across the country and regular meetings we collect feedback from criminal justice leaders. We engage mid-career law enforcement officers and support agency-based research through our Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science (LEADS) initiative. We also launched the Notes from the Field publication series as a platform for leading criminal justice voices.

As a next step, I’m excited to announce our practitioner-in-residence program. Through this program, criminal justice leaders from corrections, law enforcement, and courts will join NIJ in-house, giving us a direct line of connection to the field.

These individuals will bring in-person practitioner perspective to all our day-to-day work at NIJ, from solicitation development to decisions about what we publicize, to casual conversations in the hallways and over lunches. They will be deeply involved in meetings and decisions with NIJ scientists, grant managers, and other staff. NIJ will support them as they pursue independent research and other projects over the course of their residencies.

This week, NIJ’s first practitioner-in-residence joined our team. Dr. Reena Chakraborty comes to us from the District of Columbia Department of Corrections (DOC), where she is a Supervisory Statistician and Chief of Strategic Planning and Analysis. Dr. Chakraborty joins NIJ half-time for the next two years.

During her time with the DOC, Dr. Chakraborty has helped to develop a data quality assurance framework and an operating cost model for a proposed correctional treatment facility, where inmates could connect with skills training and other opportunities. Her work was instrumental in establishing the DOC’s performance reporting system. She comes from a strong analytical background, with a doctorate in chemical engineering and master’s in mathematics from Michigan State University.

During her tenure with NIJ, Dr. Chakraborty will help us understand how to better apply research to inform corrections policy and practice, and will assist us in developing projects and programs to implement this research. To troubleshoot and improve research designs, she will work directly with both researchers conducting corrections research and the participating correctional agencies.

NIJ historically has focused our corrections research on prisons and community corrections, but I would like to expand that focus to jails. I am hopeful that Dr. Chakraborty will provide insight into these facilities and how NIJ can explore supporting increased research in jails.

Dr. Chakraborty will continue her work with the DC Department of Corrections while joining NIJ as a practitioner-in-residence, serving as a liaison with the field and helping us establish connections to enable us to engage in mutually beneficial research in the years to come. Given her impressive background, she will be a valuable addition to the NIJ team. I’m excited to bring her on board as our first NIJ practitioner-in-residence, and hope Dr. Chakraborty will be the first of many more criminal justice leaders helping NIJ improve our work and responsiveness to the field.