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National Institute of Justice Director David Muhlhausen Delivers Remarks on First Step Act Implementation Progress at the American Conservative Union Foundation's Event "Prison CPAC: Second Chances"


Philadelphia, PA
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good morning. My name is David Muhlhausen and I am the Director of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). NIJ is the research, development, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.

I’d like to thank the American Conservative Union Foundation, and, in particular, David Safavian, for inviting me to participate in this event. Before I joined the Trump administration, I worked at the Heritage Foundation for 18 years. So I’m very familiar with the American Conservative Union and its important mission.

Since the passage of the First Step Act (FSA), the Attorney General has consistently communicated to the public and to those within the Department his intention to faithfully implement the Act’s requirements. I enthusiastically support the Attorney General’s commitment to implementing the Act.

The Department has worked tirelessly to ensure that the Act’s many reforms are implemented in a way that reduces recidivism, provides opportunities to offenders, and protects our communities. The entire Department is in lockstep with the Attorney General’s commitment to successfully implementing the Act.

As the NIJ Director, two of my primary roles in implementing the FSA have been establishing the “host organization” for the Independent Review Committee and creating the new risk assessment tool, called Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs (PATTERN).

To assist the Department as it implements the FSA, the Act called for NIJ to establish an Independent Review Committee (IRC). The IRC is tasked with advising the Attorney General on the implementation of the FSA.

Shortly after funds were made available for the IRC’s work, the NIJ selected the Hudson Institute as the host organization for the IRC. As the host organization, the Hudson Institute acts as a project manager of the IRC.  The IRC includes members with academic expertise, correctional expertise, and those who have served in senior roles in the United States Government. 

One of the IRC members, John Wetzel, the Secretary of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, is participating in today’s event. Secretary Wetzel is an innovative corrections leader, so the Department is grateful for his participation in the IRC.

NIJ’s other important FSA role has been to work with the BOP to develop the new Risk and Needs Assessment System. On July 19, 2019, the Department met the statutory deadline to publish the Risk and Needs Assessment and announced that it would use PATTERN to classify inmates according to their risk of recidivism.

To develop PATTERN, NIJ contracted with two national experts in risk assessment systems – Drs. Grant Duwe and Zachary Hamilton. The department benefitted substantially from their knowledge and expertise. Consistent with the FSA, PATTERN incorporates dynamic risk factors – things that an inmate can change over time with appropriate programming and services. 

Announcing PATTERN was the Department’s first step in implementing the new risk assessment tool. Through a 45-day public comment period, listening sessions with criminal justice stakeholders, including Jessica, and active consultation from the IRC, we have actively sought input on how to improve PATTERN. This is an ongoing process, and we look forward to refining the risk assessment system over time.

David, thank you again for the opportunity to participate in this event.

Updated November 8, 2019