control by developing a wide range of techniques for dealing with individual offenders, identifying injustices and biases in the administration of justice, and supporting more basic and operational research on crime and the criminal justice system and the involvement of the community in crime control efforts. As the embodiment of that vision, NIJ has accomplished a great deal. It has succeeded in developing a body of knowledge on such important topics as hot spots policing, violence against women, the role of firearms and drugs in crime, drug courts, and forensic DNA analysis. It has helped build the crime and justice research infrastructure. It has also widely disseminated the results of its research programs to help guide practice and policy. But its efforts have been severely hampered by a lack of independence, authority, and discretionary resources to carry out its mission.
The committee considered two basic approaches for how best to achieve the appropriate level of independence for NIJ: (1) moving NIJ out of OJP and (2) retaining NIJ in OJP and giving it a level of independence similar to other federal research agencies. In considering these options, the committee reviewed other federal research agencies, consulted with former directors of NIJ and OJP, and raised the issue with many others who offered guidance to the committee.1 In its deliberations, the committee considered the recommendations of two other NRC committees that issued reports on related topics: the report on the needs of the forensic science community (National Research Council, 2009c) and the report on the Bureau of Justice Statistics (National Research Council, 2009a). After careful consideration of the evidence, the committee concludes that keeping NIJ in OJP but with substantially increased levels of independence secured by Congress and greater involvement of the research and practitioner communities has a better chance to result in an agency that can gain the trust and confidence of Congress, the administration, and the criminal justice community.
Increased independence is essential if NIJ is to function as a viable federal research agency with full responsibility for the quality of its research. Only Congress can provide the requisites of increased independence and the necessary oversight to ensure that specific authorities cannot be easily retracted or eroded. Without the independence, opportunities may arise for others to inappropriately influence NIJ’s programs. If the changes we recommend in this report to improve NIJ’s independence and authority are not implemented within 5 years, or if they are and the problems we have identified persist, then we recommend carefully revisiting the idea of moving this research function.2