Dr. John H. Laub, Director
I'm pleased to report that there were some marvelous moments at NIJ's recent annual conference (June 20-22) — and we will be featuring highlights over the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, though, I wanted to share an interesting experience I had the day after the conference: I was a guest on the Diane Rehm radio show.
It was an interesting discussion (led by the BBC's Katty Kay, who was filling in for Diane Rehm) on a provocative topic, genetics and criminal behavior.
Some of my staff told me they were particularly tickled when Ms. Kay kicked off the interview by noting Attorney General Eric Holder's words the previous day at our Conference when he said that the importance of rigorous cutting-edge research has never been more clear. How rewarding to have that affirmed by the attorney general — and to then have a nationwide radio program on the controversial issue of genetics and criminal behavior be "framed" by an emphasis on science!
My fellow discussants were Benson George Cooke, president of the Association of Black Psychologists, and John Paul Wright from the University of Cincinnati School of Criminal Justice. I was able to talk a bit about research that I did in my "former" life on how crime occurs across various phases of the life course, starting in childhood, through adolescence into the full length of adulthood. Along with my research partner, Rob Sampson, we followed 500 boys who were juvenile delinquents at age 14 until they were 70 years old. I believe it's the largest longitudinal study of offenders anywhere in the world. Basically, we found that there are multiple pathways to crime and, more importantly, that life course events — such as marriage, work, serving in the military — can influence behavior and can steer men with criminal histories away from offending.
I also made the crucial point that one of the things we've learned over the last 25 years is that crime results from a multiplicity of factors, individual characteristics that may well be linked to genetics or early childhood socialization — family socialization is very important, peer group interactions, schools, communities and, indeed, nations writ large. But, mostly, I'd like to say, here, how very rewarding it was to sit in the Diane Rehm studio, the day after NIJ's big annual conference, as it gave me another chance to state my belief: that, as the director of the research and development arm of the Justice Department, we need to focus on the best science for the field and that it's important for people like me in policy positions to speak honestly about these very important issues.