Justice News

Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the 2011 National Institute of Justice Conference
Washington, DC
United States
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Thank you, Laurie [Robinson], for your kind words – and, especially, for your outstanding leadership of the Office of Justice Programs. 

It is a pleasure to stand with you – and with so many colleagues and critical partners.  And it is a privilege to be part of this year’s National Institute of Justice Conference. 

Director [John] Laub and his colleagues have done a great job of bringing together so many researchers, academic leaders, law enforcement officials, policy experts, front-line practitioners, attorneys, and students.  And I’m especially pleased to be joined by the distinguished members of the OJP Science Advisory Board.  Thank you all for being here.

I also want to echo the praise that Laurie – and the Queen of Sweden – have expressed in congratulating John on his latest achievement.  The groundbreaking research that he and Rob Sampson conducted – information that tells us more about how and why criminals stop offending – is an extraordinary contribution to the field.  It’s also reflective of the ambitious – and invaluable – work that characterizes NIJ.

This tradition of excellence has never been stronger.  And – in this time of limited resources and growing demands; when we have a special responsibility to make the most well-informed, cost-effective decisions possible – the importance of rigorous, cutting-edge research has never been clearer.

In many ways – when it comes to expanding and utilizing our knowledge base, especially for public safety strategies – we’ve reached a national tipping point; a moment of recognition that, to tackle our most complex and urgent challenges, we must begin with a clear picture of the task at hand, the obstacles ahead, and the odds for success.

We now find ourselves in the midst of what some are calling a “golden age of research.”  That’s certainly true in today’s Justice Department.  In fulfilling our most important responsibility – protecting the American people – we are committed to identifying and implementing evidence-based solutions; an approach that allows us to be both tough and – yes, Laurie, I’m happy to say it again – “smart on crime.”

It has been nearly two decades since Laurie and I first began discussing ways to bring more science into the Department’s decision making – and how to support more thorough assessments of public safety strategies and policies.  Since we returned to the Department two years ago, she has been persistent – some might even say, “relentless” – in shining a light on the need for more advanced research, as well as the benefits of more extensive information sharing.  I don’t need to tell anyone in this room that her tireless work – and the engagement of partners in and beyond this room – has paid dividends.

With today’s launch of the new website, CrimeSolutions.gov, we’re taking another critical step forward.  This innovative online tool will create a clearing house of information – and will allow us to more easily share the best available evidence about our most effective public safety strategies and approaches.  By continuing to find ways to tear down barriers to communication and collaboration, I am confident that we will achieve new levels of progress. 

That’s why gatherings like this one are so important. And I hope that you will continue the conversations that you’ve started this week.  Together, we can ensure that this “golden age of research” is just the beginning.  But it’s going to take a sustained effort – and the commitment of everyone here.

As you’ve discussed over the last two days, we must find ways to expand and refine our knowledge base.  And we must determine which public safety issues and challenges have not yet received sufficient attention.  This is something that single no institute, no organization, and no agency can achieve on its own.

Especially now – when state, local, tribal, and federal stakeholders are faced with increasing responsibilities and shrinking budgets – we must do everything possible to help our law enforcement partners accomplish more with less, to help policymakers understand what we’re up against, and to help practitioners apply the best and latest information that we can provide.

To put it simply: when it comes to strengthening public safety, we can’t afford to waste precious time, resources, and information.  We can’t afford not to work together.

That’s why, last November, I appointed a Science Advisory Board to guide the Justice Department’s efforts to develop evidence-based policies and programs.  I joined the Board at its inaugural meeting in January – and I’m glad to see many of its members here this afternoon.

I’m also pleased to report that OJP’s E2I Initiative, which Laurie mentioned earlier, has helped to instill a culture of informed decision-making across the Department.  It is promoting a stronger connection between research and practice in areas ranging from juvenile justice, to smart policing, to inmate reentry.  And our programs, priority areas, and plans reflect this.

Finally, I want to note – and applaud – the fact that NIJ is not just playing a convening role and continuing its crucial research efforts; its leadership is setting an example of excellence.  Through their outreach, their engagement with a variety of partners, and their commitment to independence and scientific rigor, they are paving the way to large-scale reform and improvement.  And they are ensuring that today’s breakthrough findings will not only be shared across disciplines and jurisdictions, but utilized.

Like everyone here, I, too, am determined to make certain that today’s research is valuable – in a practical sense – to policymakers, public safety officers, and practitioners.   That’s because, over the course of a career in law enforcement, I have seen the power of its application – perhaps most clearly in the pioneering work that NIJ has led in the area of sexual assault evidence. 

Since the 1970’s – when groundbreaking NIJ studies began helping to shape victim assistance programs and improve criminal justice policies – scientific advances have significantly expanded our capacity to serve victims of sexual assault.  Yet, over the years, even as progress was being made in some areas, troubling anecdotal reports – of police evidence rooms filled with hundreds of untested rape kits – raised significant concerns. 

Those concerns gave rise to a landmark NIJ survey – of more than two thousand law enforcement agencies – which suggested that, between 2002 and 2007, nearly a fifth of unsolved alleged sexual assaults contained forensic evidence that had not been submitted to a crime lab for analysis.  It found that four in ten agencies didn’t even maintain a computerized system for tracking forensic evidence.  And, most troubling of all, it revealed that some law enforcement personnel didn’t understand the potential value of this type of evidence in the first place.

These findings were alarming.  But having a clear picture of the problem – a picture that wouldn’t have been possible without practical, quantifiable research – has allowed the Department of Justice to take concrete action toward finding a solution. 

For example, in April, before an audience of victims and victim advocates, I announced two grant awards for research teams that will help further examine the question of what happens to sexual assault evidence, why it might not be analyzed, and what can be done to correct the problem.  With collaboration from NIJ researchers, local teams from across the country, and relevant stakeholders at every level of government and law enforcement – I am confident that we will be able to connect this research to policy and practice, and build on our efforts to reduce the rape kit backlog.

Another area where research-based strategies are proving critical is in our fight against childhood exposure to violence.  As many of you know, last year, the Justice Department launched its Defending Childhood Initiative.  Already, it has united a broad array of partners in advancing efforts to address the unacceptable – and unconscionable – fact that the majority of children in the country have been exposed to crime, violence, or abuse.  That’s what our research told us.  And now that we understand the size and scope of the problem, I am confident that our ongoing study and analysis will help identify the solutions we need to more effectively protect our young people.

Of course, OJP is playing a critical role in this effort: by funding eight demonstration sites, which NIJ will help to evaluate; by working to develop community-based plans to combat childhood exposure to violence; and by providing unsurpassed expertise.

I am grateful for these contributions, and I am optimistic about where they will lead us.  But I am not yet satisfied.  And none of us can become complacent.  To bring our work – and our understanding – to the next level, we must expand our circle of partners.  And we must engage more researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and other community stakeholders in these efforts.  We also must renew our commitment to supporting – and not settling for anything less than – the very best possible research and analysis.

Thanks to the dedication and expertise of everyone in this room, we’re on the right path – and already making great strides.  And while we have further to go – as I look out over this crowd – I can’t help but feel confident about our ability to move forward, and to build on the record of progress that all of you have helped to establish.

In this work, I am honored to stand with you.  I am grateful for your leadership and partnership.  And I look forward to all that we must – and will – accomplish together.