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Courts Strategic Research Plan, 2020-2024

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court strategic research plan
Date Published
May 1, 2020

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Introduction

NIJ developed the Courts Strategic Research Plan to communicate NIJ’s research agenda and advance its courts research mission. The strategic priorities and objectives outlined in the plan are interrelated and vital to the examination of opportunities and challenges faced by court systems. In addition to judges, court administrators, and other professionals, this document should be of interest to researchers in academia, government, and industry; federal, state, local, tribal, and international government agencies; developers of training and other educational resources; and justice policymakers, practitioners, and community stakeholders. NIJ will disseminate research findings resulting from this strategic plan among these partner and constituent audiences to maximize their impact.

NIJ's courts mission:

NIJ sponsors research, development, and evaluation to identify court tools, programs, and policies that satisfy criminal justice goals, including public safety, cost-effciency, and fair and equitable treatment of victims and defendants. Together with NIJ’s Policing and Corrections Research Portfolios, the Courts Research Portfolio furthers DOJ’s mission to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior and to ensure the fair and impartial administration of justice for all. Furthermore, it aligns with DOJ’s priorities of supporting prosecutors and others in their efforts to reduce violent and other crime, and combating opioid and other drug abuse.

Research Partners and Shared Goals

NIJ envisions that meeting the court research priorities outlined in this plan will require interdisciplinary collaboration among many partners who share the goals of advancing the administration of justice and protecting public safety. These groups range widely from academic and other research organizations that conduct objective research, development, evaluation, and policy analysis studies to the myriad practitioners and other stakeholders who are research participants, users, and potential initiators.

NIJ will continue to collaborate with professional organizations and federal agencies to promote the Courts Strategic Research Plan. Partnerships may leverage funding, in-kind support, and other resources to collect, analyze, and review research applicable to court practice. Activities may include supporting translation and dissemination of research findings suitable for training and technical assistance, conferences, and other media. NIJ may also educate national, state, and local policymakers and criminal justice stakeholders on the benefits of evidence-based court practice, highlighting promising practices and opportunities for support. Finally, NIJ will solicit feedback from courts and other stakeholders on the strategic research plan and its effects to increase its potential impact.

Strategic Priority I: Promote and Support Research To Develop the Courts Workforce and Enhance Court Workgroup

The plan begins with individual staff and all phases of professional development — education, recruitment, training, mentoring, coaching, leadership, and retention. This is relevant to trial and administrative staff of the court and related agencies who contribute to the court’s performance. In various units within and across agencies, workgroups help the court meet its goals for access to justice; expedition and timeliness; equality, fairness, and integrity; independence and accountability; and public trust and confidence [1] The focus is not only on individuals, but also on interpersonal supports and organizational values that affect workgroup norms. Furthermore, we should examine these factors in the context of today’s limited budgets and advances in forensic science and technology that present both greater resources and higher demands. Access to professional development opportunities promotes innovations (e.g., learning networks) and permits evaluation of the impact of investments in training new staff, enhancing the skill sets of tenured staff, and revitalizing court workgroups and agency units.

Priority I Objectives

Objective I.A: Research strategies to develop the courts workforce.

  • Study the staffing, skills, education, and experience needed for today’s workforce.
  • Examine the challenges of and evaluate solutions for workforce recruitment and retention.
  • Study, develop, and assess the resources necessary to support workforce development.

Objective I.B: Research training and education to enhance court workgroup functions.

  • Evaluate the impact of education curricula on court workgroup functions.
  • Evaluate the impact of coaching/mentoring and training on court workgroup functions.
  • Examine the relationship between training, court culture,[2] and court workgroup functions.
  • Evaluate the impact of supervisory and leadership training on court workgroup functions.
  • Examine the relationship between training, cultural competency,[3] and court workgroup functions.
  • Study, develop, and assess training technologies that enhance court workgroup functions.

Strategic Priority II: Promote and Support Research To Advance Court Practice

This section addresses the basic concerns of courts and related agencies: operations (e.g., dockets, security), case management (e.g., diversion, failure to appear), hearings (e.g., jury trials), procedures (e.g., rules of evidence, court rules), and policies (e.g., vertical/horizontal prosecution, competency determinations, plea bargaining). These concerns 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.

Priority II Objectives

Objective II.A: Research strategies to advance court operations.

  • Study, develop, and assess information sharing that enhances court operations.
  • Evaluate the impact of forensic evidence [4] on court operations.
  • Evaluate the impact of victim, witness, or juror support and management strategies on court operations.
  • Evaluate the impact of facilities management — including computer security and other safety protections —on court operations.
  • Evaluate the impact of staffing, budget, and other resource allocations on court operations.
  • Study the effects of interpreter service policies and procedures on court operations.
  • Study, develop, and assess technologies [5] that enhance court operations.

Objective II.B: Research strategies to advance case management.

  • Examine the effects of evidence (such as forensic analysis, delays, and management) on case management.
  • Evaluate the impact of legal and other court procedures on case management.
  • Evaluate the impact of changes in court policies and practices on case management.
  • Evaluate the impact of pretrial processes on case management.
  • Evaluate the impact of information sharing on case management.
  • Evaluate the impact of specialized prosecution and defense units on case management.
  • Evaluate the impact of specialized court dockets on case management.
  • Study, develop, and assess technologies that enhance case management.

Objective II.C: Research strategies to advance case outcomes.[6]

  • Study the effects of court workgroup characteristics and dynamics on case outcomes.
  • Evaluate the impact of information sharing on case outcomes.
  • Examine the relationship between court decision-making [7] and case dispositions.
  • Evaluate the impact of legal defense programs [8] on case outcomes.
  • Examine factors that influence criminal and other court fling decisions and their effects on case outcomes.
  • Evaluate the impact of diversion and other prosecutor programs on case outcomes.
  • Evaluate the impact of specialized or problem-solving courts on case outcomes.
  • Study the effects of investigative and trial applications of forensic evidence on case outcomes.
  • Evaluate the impact of victim services on case outcomes.

Objective II.D: Research strategies to advance court policies and procedures.

  • Evaluate the impact of court policies and procedures on the use of forensic and other evidence.
  • Examine the relationship between testimony (from victims, witnesses, and experts) and the actions of prosecutors, defense counsel, judges, or juries.
  • Evaluate the impact of court policies and procedures on expert witness testimony, including testimony for forensic evidence examinations.
  • Evaluate the impact of bail and other pretrial legislation on court policies and decision-making.
  • Evaluate the impact of case law, sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimums, and other postconviction legislation on court policies and decision-making.
  • Study the effects of court policies and procedures on the implementation of technology.
  • Evaluate the impact of court policies and procedures on competency determinations.

Strategic Priority III: Promote and Support Research on the Fair and Impartial Administration of Justice

The court and its related agencies have long served multiple functions in the administration of justice and protection of public safety. This includes monitoring cases to prevent wrongful conviction, providing appropriate counsel, ensuring that victims’ voices are heard, and preserving the perceived legitimacy of the judicial system. More recent examples include leading crime prevention initiatives, supervising pretrial programming, and overseeing reentry programs.

Courts are not alone in having multiple and evolving roles. The role of prosecutors is not only to prosecute individual cases brought by law enforcement, but also to identify and address the legal and safety concerns of their jurisdictions. The role of defense counsel is not only to advocate for defendants, but also to improve the legal system and help communities through education and service. Judges have a duty to promote public confidence in the courts. While courts may lead such efforts, they cannot do so without the guidance and resources contributed by community stakeholders, including providers of mental health, alcohol, and drug treatment and other services.

Priority III Objectives

Objective III.A: Research the dynamics of community and criminal justice stakeholders and their influence on the court.

  • Examine the effects of court workgroup relationships on the administration of justice.
  • Examine the effects of court relationships with other criminal justice stakeholders on the administration of justice.
  • Examine the influence of perceived legitimacy and public trust on victim, witness, and juror participation.
  • Study the effects of stakeholder advocacy and reforms on court priorities.
  • Examine the effects of procedural and distributive justice on court relationships with the community.

Objective III.B: Research the impact of court strategies on the administration of justice and public safety.

  • Evaluate the impact of pretrial strategies on the administration of justice and public safety.
  • Evaluate the impact of community prosecution and other strategies on the administration of justice and public safety.
  • Evaluate the impact of holistic and other defense strategies on the administration of justice and public safety.
  • Evaluate the impact of specialized dockets and other judge-led strategies on the administration of justice and public safety.
  • Study the effects of conviction integrity and other case reviews on rightful/wrongful convictions and misconduct.

Strategic Priority IV: Promote Data and Research Capacity Building

External and in-house court researchers need valid and reliable data collection and analysis resources to support problem identification, performance measurement, and rigorous research and evaluation efforts. Practitioners and other stakeholders also rely on these data and research findings to make operational, programmatic, and policy decisions. Courts must navigate technical limitations, resource constraints, and other policy, legal, and ethical barriers to ensure that critical information is collected and readily accessible, data integrity and security are maintained, and necessary data sharing and collaboration can occur with stakeholders outside of the courts. We 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.

Priority IV Objectives

Objective IV.A: Research strategies to enhance the capacity of courts and related agencies to collect and analyze data.

  • Study, develop, and assess tools and procedures to improve the quality, accuracy, and completeness of court records.
  • Study, develop, and assess tools and procedures to enhance secure access to records and minimize recordkeeper burden.
  • Study, develop, and assess data scraping and other innovative techniques to leverage court information for data extraction and analysis.
  • Study, develop, and assess efforts to facilitate the data collection, information sharing, and analysis capabilities of court practitioners.
  • Study, develop, and assess efforts to facilitate research and innovation testing by court practitioners.

Objective IV.B: Research and support the use of evidence-based [9] practices by courts and related agencies.

  • Study, develop, and assess performance measures that examine policy and procedure implementation.
  • Assess the integration and long-term effects of evidence-based practices in court education and training programs.
  • Partner researchers with practitioners to develop court research-to-practice initiatives.
  • Assess the use and effects of evidence-based practices among courts.

[note 1] National Center for State Courts Performance Measurement Resource Guide

[note 2] Court culture refers to how judges, attorneys, administrators, and other staff proceed in achieving daily tasks as a function of official and unofficial policies, communication networks, and authority allocations.

[note 3] Cultural competency in research and practice denotes being respectful of and responsive to needs that vary according to race, ethnicity, language, literacy, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, income level, and other characteristics.

[note 4] Forensic evidence includes a variety of case information derived from the identification, analysis, and interpretation of physical evidence or data, such as biological (e.g., DNA) and physical traces and digital/multimedia evidence (e.g., in the case of cybercrimes). It may also include information derived from forensic psychological examinations, such as victim or defendant interviews.

[note 5] Technologies include a variety of tools, protocols, and systems ranging from text messaging to videoconferencing, computer-generated presentations, and security equipment.

[note 6] Outcomes may relate to the individual defendant/offender, the victim, or other parties affected by incarceration and the legal, financial, and other case consequences.

[note 7] Court decision-making refers to the determinations made by judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, and others regarding whether and how to proceed at each stage of the case.

[note 8] Legal defense programs vary in organization (public defender, assigned counsel, and contract attorneys, including representation for conflict cases), indigence determination, resources, and other ways.

[note 9] Evidence-based means integrating the best available research findings, practitioner expertise, and other resources with the needs, values, and preferences of those affected.

National Institute of Justice, "Courts Strategic Research Plan, 2020-2024," May 1, 2020, nij.ojp.gov:
https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/courts-strategic-research-plan-2020-2024
Date Created: April 23, 2020