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National Institute of Justice’s Strategic Research Plans

Global Advisory Committee

Thank you Kevin [Chair Kevin Bowling] for the introduction, and Tracy [Tracy Trautman, BJA] for your continued support of the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative.

Many of you are familiar with the National Institute of Justice, and our role as the research, development, and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. NIJ provides objective and independent knowledge and tools to inform the decision-making of the criminal justice community to reduce crime and advance justice, particularly in state, local, and tribal jurisdictions.

NIJ was invited to share information on our strategic research plans, whose objectives relate clearly to information sharing, data collection, and technology driven solutions to addressing important criminal justice system needs. We anticipate NIJ’s strategic research plans will be of great interest to the Global Advisory Committee and constituent stakeholder membership, and look forward to today’s discussion. 

NIJ recently completed FY2020 research funding decisions, and is now planning FY2021 solicitations and other research funding opportunities. 

Thus far, NIJ has issued six strategic research plans, beginning with the Safety, Health, and Wellness plan in 2016.  These are available on NIJ’s website and publicly archived. (Not yet represented are plans specific to research on the juvenile justice system and other future topics under consideration.)

Plan development is a group effort led by NIJ science staff whose research and subject matter expertise range broadly. Following several rounds of drafts and leadership review, feedback is solicited from federal colleagues, as well as from external research and practice experts. (As shown in the Courts Plan acknowledgements, the current chair of the Global Advisory Committee, Kevin Bowling, was among the contributors to NIJ’s Courts Strategic Research Plan.)

In the interests of time, I will focus on three of the more recent plans: Policing, Corrections, and Courts.

Note that all of the plans were developed prior to the current public health crisis (and other current events), yet their call for research could not be more relevant.  NIJ is sympathetic to law enforcement, corrections, and court stakeholders during these difficult times.  We encourage you to think about research partnerships and capacity building, such as to assess the innovations and other changes recently made necessary.

NIJ Policing Strategic Research Plan, 2017-2022

NIJ’s mission for policing is dedicated to the development of knowledge and tools that will advance policing operations and practices to deliver policing services to communities more effectively and efficiently.

To further this mission, NIJ released its 5-year Policing Strategic Research Plan in 2017 to describe the current and projected efforts of NIJ to advance policing practices in the United States. The strategic plan focuses on three specific priorities to promote and support policing research:

  • Optimization of the workforce development for officers and civilian personnel;
  • Policing practices; and
  • Police-community relationships

The priorities are supported by 12 distinct research objectives with 61 research topics

Finally, this plan represents a call for collaboration, and NIJ envisions that the research resulting from this agenda will require both interdisciplinary collaboration and partnerships between traditional researchers and the practitioner community.

Policing Research Strategic Plan

The purpose of NIJ’s Policing Strategic Research Plan is to advance policing operations and practices. NIJ expects that the body of research produced by the plan will provide officers and police executives with knowledge and tools to support strategies to fight crime. At the same time, NIJ expects that this body of research will address critical needs in policing including:

  • Officer recruitment, retention, training, education, and development
  • Advancing organizational leadership, operations, strategies, and partnerships.
  • Enhancing police-community engagements, and reductions in crime and violence in communities.

Policing Research at NIJ

NIJ has been successful in addressing critical needs in policing that align with the policing strategic research plan; following are a few of our notable projects:

NIJ has invested in a number of studies looking at the impact of body-worn cameras on a number of policing outcomes including police use of force and citizen cooperation with the police.  A number of these studies have also been conducted via randomized control trials.

NIJ has made a number of investments in studying police use of force.  One of those investments included an evaluation of the impact of de-escalation training with components grounded in procedural justice, trust, and legitimacy on policing outcomes. 

Given the underrepresentation of women in the policing ranks, NIJ has also invested in research to understand barriers and facilitators to increasing female representation in policing and to understand how specific recruiting content plays a role. This study includes a design that includes multiple RCTs and quasi-experiments in lab and field settings, as well as qualitative interviews of new female hires.

Another one of NIJ’s current studies on police use of force involves an examination of the impact of personality/cognitions, organizational structure, and professional experience and training on officers’ use of force decisions under stress.

NIJ has also provided funding to develop an expert system algorithm to guide homicide investigations using machine learning.  This study will also include an evaluation of the impact of this tool on homicide clearances.

Finally, one of NIJ’s ongoing studies involves an RCT evaluation of a proactive policing intervention (third-party policing with procedural justice) designed to establish partnerships between police and hotel managers and staff (hoteliers) to address the problem of drug dealing and distribution of illegal drugs from hotel rooms.

NIJ Corrections Strategic Research Plan, 2018-2023

From its inception 50 years ago, NIJ has encouraged research on issues affecting corrections systems.

Because corrections systems continue to evolve, it’s important that NIJ’s research and development in corrections be guided by a sound research agenda that takes into account critical elements of the institutional and community settings.

The corrections strategic research plan is guided by three strategic priorities:

  • Optimizing the corrections workforce,
  • Enhancing correctional practices, and
  • Examining the experience of individuals involved in the corrections system.

These priorities are central to understanding and improving correctional systems.

The plan includes 9 distinct research objectives and more than 60 research topics.

Importantly, the plan is a living document and will be amended to address the changing priorities for corrections systems across the United States.

NIJ developed the Corrections Strategic Research Plan to describe NIJ’s current and projected efforts to help corrections practitioners and policymakers enhance public safety.

And as previously mentioned, a core priority of the plan is the examination of the experience of individuals involved in the corrections system. This is key to not only public safety but to increasing the chances that individuals involved with the system desist from crime.

The plan broadly defines corrections in two ways:

  • Institutional corrections, which includes jails, prisons, juvenile residential facilities, and
  • Community corrections, which includes probation, parole, and other corrections programs involving individuals under criminal and juvenile justice supervision in the community.

These settings differ in important ways — for example, structure and organization; staff working conditions, training, and other developmental support; organizational goals and strategies; availability and delivery of programming and treatment; and differences in the populations under supervision.

This plan points out these differences and highlights special considerations where appropriate.

Corrections Research at NIJ

NIJ’s research efforts are diverse. NIJ supports research in social and behavioral sciences, technology research and development, and forensics sciences. Our diversity can be seen in the research we support in corrections.

I’ll share a few notable and ongoing corrections projects.

We funded an assessment of correctional officer suicides in the Massachusetts Department of Correction. Mental health and safety and wellness are critical issues in corrections. The average rate of suicide for corrections officers in the Massachusetts Department of Correction between 2010 and 2015 was at least five times higher than the national average and almost nine times higher than the suicide rate in the state.

With this project, the research team aims to develop a nuanced understanding of the context within which correctional officer suicide occurs and to provide a comprehensive assessment of the effects of fatalities on the institutional environment and on the correctional staff working in these environments.

Findings from this research will assist other departments of corrections that are struggling with issues related to officer safety and wellness.

Restrictive Housing, the practice of removing inmates from the general population of a correctional institution and imposing restrictions on their movement, behavior, and privileges, is a practice used in both jails and prisons.

In a 2015 report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that during an average day in 2011–2012, up to 4.4 percent of State and federal prison inmates and 2.7 percent of jail inmates were held in a restrictive housing setting. Nearly 20 percent of prison inmates and 18 percent of jail inmates had spent time in restrictive housing in the past 12 months, and nearly 10 percent of prison inmates and 5 percent of jail inmates had spent at least 30 days or longer in restrictive housing.

Given the variation in how this practice is used and its potential impacts on the mental health and wellness of staff and inmates, NIJ is supporting several projects in this area.

A few areas of interest include:

  • The well-being of officers and inmates,
  • The impact of restrictive housing on offender misconduct, and
  • The use of step down programs to reintegrate offenders into the general population.

For decades, NIJ has supported the reentry of offenders back into their communities after incarceration.

While offenders receive services and programs during and after incarceration, research findings are mixed about what works in reentry. For example, what type of programming and services increase the likelihood of an offender gaining employment after incarceration? What helps an offender obtain and maintain housing? And what types of programs and services help an offender live a crime-free life?

Over the last 3 years, NIJ has invested more than $16 million to support this line of research.

And finally, NIJ recently supported a study of the use of body-worn cameras in a jail setting. I mentioned BWCs earlier when discussing NIJ’s policing portfolio. We’ve learned a lot about how this technology is used in policing and we’re excited to examine this technology in the corrections environment.

NIJ Courts Strategic Research Plan, 2020-2024

The role of courts is crucial to the fair administration of justice.

NIJ sponsors research, development, and evaluation to identify court tools, programs, and policies that satisfy criminal justice goals, including public safety, cost-efficiency, and fair and equitable treatment of victims and defendants.

The NIJ Courts Strategic Research Plan was developed to communicate our research agenda and advance the courts research mission.

NIJ identified four strategic research priorities for the plan, under which a comprehensive set of objectives and action items may be reorganized.

These priorities promote and support research:

  • To develop the courts workforce and enhance court workgroups
  • To advance court practice
  • On the fair and impartial administration of justice, and
  • To promote data and research capacity building

Courts Priority 1

All three Plans build upon lines of research supported by NIJ over the past 50 years.  Since the Courts Plan is the most recent – released just this Spring – I’m going to talk more specifically about the strategic research priorities for future research, including one that is not found in the other Plans. 

Similar to the other plans, the first priority is the courts workforce – at all phases of professional development: education, recruitment, training, mentoring, coaching, leadership, and retention.

The focus is not only on individuals, but also on interpersonal supports and organizational values that affect workgroup norms.

As this relates to Global’s interest in information sharing and technology issues, this slide provides a sample of the most relevant items that are detailed in the Court Plan:

  • Under Objective 1.A - Study, develop, and assess the resources necessary to support workforce development.
  • Under Objective 1B - Study, develop, and assess training technologies that enhance court workgroup functions.

Courts Priority 2

The second priority addresses the basic concerns of courts and related agencies, which require constant assessment and change for the court to maintain its capacity to respond to contemporary court case needs.

Topics of interest include information sharing, videoconferencing and other technologies, specialized case units or court dockets, forensic evidence, pretrial services, sentencing, victims, witnesses, and juror management.

The Courts Plan provides numerous items under each objective to inspire potential applicants to consider the possibilities.

Courts Priorities 3 and 4

The third priority of the Courts Plan focuses on the fair and impartial administration of justice, and supports the courts in learning more about their multiple and evolving roles. These roles include monitoring cases for conviction integrity, providing appropriate counsel, ensuring that victims’ voices are heard, and preserving the perceived legitimacy of the judicial system. 

The last is a departure from previous plans.  It underscores the lack of valid and reliable information necessary to support robust court research studies, as well as in-house self-monitoring and planning efforts.

The fourth priority addresses our need to identify strategies that enhance the capacity of courts and related agencies to collect, analyze, and share data to improve the quality of research and increase the use of evidence in court practice.

Enhanced data and information sharing supports problem identification, performance measurement, and rigorous research and evaluation efforts.

Closing Remarks

Thank you for this opportunity.

Please visit NIJ’s website for more information on the downloadable plans, as well as future announcements for research funding opportunities in FY2021.

We would be pleased to respond to any questions or comments.