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A Post-NIJ Conference Recap...and Moving Forward


Dr. John H. Laub, Director

Greetings from the midst of "Redbook" season. Redbook is a hold-over term from the days when NIJ staff pushed around carts laden with red, three-ring binders as we reviewed grant applications and made decisions about funding research projects. Now, of course, the review and approval process involves routing electrons — but the phrase to describe this busy time at NIJ seems to have outlived the binders.

As I write this column, I am still feeling some of the intellectual afterglow generated from our NIJ Conference in June. If you were not among the 1,200 criminal justice researchers and practitioners, policymakers and students who were able to attend, you can see some highlights on NIJ.gov.

I think nearly everyone agrees — and evaluations by Conference attendees bore this out! — that the keynote address by Joan Petersilia was one of the highpoints. You can watch and listen to her engaging and thought-provoking speech on the NIJ Conference Web page.

The NIJ Conference offered a marvelous venue for staff to "walk the talk" of translational criminology and to explore — face-to-face with some of our stakeholders — ever more innovative ways that we can continue to lead the nation in criminal-justice research, both basic and applied.

At the Conference, I talked a bit about how NIJ can continue to fund social science research in the face of budget challenges that loom large. For example, Congress appropriated a 2-percent budget "set aside" for research and statistical purposes for fiscal year 2012 — and this is allowing NIJ to pursue a number of new projects with our sister agency, the Bureau of Justice Statistics. I look forward to telling you about these over the coming months.

Speaking of partnerships, I also want to reiterate how excited I am about NIJ's partnership with the MacArthur Foundation to study mass incarceration. We have engaged the National Research Council and a special panel of experts — from the fields of criminology, law, sociology, and public policy, among others — to examine scientific evidence on the causes and consequences of incarceration in the U.S. In mid-July, I attended a meeting of the panel at which Drs. Al Blumstein and Dr. Allen Beck, two eminent authorities, presented some recent findings on the trends and patterns of incarceration in the U.S. The NIJ/MacArthur-funded panel will also examine the costs and benefits of the nation's current incarceration policies and explore whether there is evidence that alternative punishments might achieve similar public safety benefits at lower financial and social costs. We also anticipate that the panel will propose a research agenda to address gaps in our current knowledge and areas where policy is not currently supported by rigorous research and evaluation.

And finally, I am delighted that Dr. Greg Ridgeway has joined NIJ to fill the position of deputy director. Greg applied for the job during a nationwide outreach effort — and he joined NIJ in early July. He will oversee our social, forensic, and physical science offices.