SUPPORT FOR FORENSIC
Improving the Scientific Role of the
National Institute of Justice
Committee on Strengthening Forensic Science at the
National Institute of Justice
Committee on Law and Justice
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
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This study was supported by Contract No. 2014-IJ-CX-0113 from the U.S. Department of Justice/National Institute of Justice. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
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Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2015). Support for Forensic Science Research: Improving the Scientific Role of the National Institute of Justice. Committee on Strengthening Forensic Science at the National Institute of Justice. Committee on Law and Justice, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
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COMMITTEE ON STRENGTHENING FORENSIC SCIENCE
AT THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF JUSTICE
ALAN I. LESHNER (National Academy of Medicine) (Chair), American Association for the Advancement of Science (ret.)
JANE E. BUIKSTRA (National Academy of Sciences), Center for Bioarchaeological Research, School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University
TODD R. CLEAR, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University
J. JEROME HOLTON, Tauri Group, Alexandria, VA
DANIEL S. ISENSCHMID, National Medical Services Labs, Willow Grove, PA
JOSEPH F. PETROSINO, Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX
ALEX R. PIQUERO, Program in Criminology, School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas
CASSIA SPOHN, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Arizona State University
DAWNIE WOLFE STEADMAN, Forensic Anthropology Center and Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
HAL STERN, Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, University of California, Irvine
JARRAD WAGNER, School of Forensic Sciences, Oklahoma State University
KELLY A. WALSH, Justice Policy Center, Urban Institute, Washington, DC
DANIEL E.J. TALMAGE, JR., Study Director
JULIE ANNE SCHUCK, Associate Program Officer
EMILY BACKES, Research Associate
LETICIA GARCILAZO GREEN, Program Assistant
KATHI GRASSO, Director, Committee on Law and Justice (from July 2015)
MALAY MAJMUNDAR, Associate Director, Committee on Law and Justice
COMMITTEE ON LAW AND JUSTICE
JEREMY TRAVIS (Chair) John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York
RUTH D. PETERSON (Vice Chair), Department of Sociology, Ohio State University
CARL C. BELL, Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine and the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, St. Bernard’s Hospital’s Inpatient Psychiatric Unit, Chicago, Jackson Park Hospital’s Family Practice Clinic, Chicago
JOHN J. DONOHUE, III, Stanford Law School, Stanford University
MINDY FULLILOVE, New York State Psychiatric Institute and Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University
MARK A.R. KLEIMAN, Marron Institute of Urban Management, New York University
GARY LAFREE, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Maryland, College Park
JANET L. LAURITSEN, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Missouri, St. Louis
GLENN LOURY, Department of Economics, Brown University
JAMES P. LYNCH, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Maryland, College Park
CHARLES F. MANSKI, Department of Economics, Northwestern University
DANIEL S. NAGIN, Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University
ANNE MORRISON PIEHL, Department of Economics and Program in Criminal Justice, Rutgers University
DANIEL B. PRIETO, Cybersecurity and Technology, U.S. Department of Defense
SUSAN B. SORENSON, School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania
DAVID WEISBURD, Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, George Mason University
CATHY SPATZ WIDOM, Psychology Department, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York
PAUL K. WORMELI, Integrated Justice Information Systems, Ashburn, VA
KATHI GRASSO, Director (from July 2015)
MALAY MAJMUNDAR, Associate Director
The ability to analyze and interpret criminal justice evidence accurately is central to the effective functioning and credibility of every democratic country’s justice system, and there is a constant need to keep improving both the accuracy and reliability of forensic analytic techniques, known as forensic science. The best way to meet that need is through bringing the full power of scientific research to bear on forensic science questions and methods. Within the federal government, a variety of agencies both conduct and support research on or related to forensic science, but there is little strategic coordination or leadership among them. The consequences include unmet needs, even in the face of at times unnecessary redundancies, and missed opportunities. This is a persistent problem, mentioned by two earlier National Research Council reports and by virtually every official who interacted with this committee. Although this issue is outside the purview of this committee’s work, we believe it urgently needs to be addressed.
This report is the third time in the past 6 years that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have been asked to examine, directly or indirectly, the quality of and ways to strengthen federal leadership of forensic science research. The first two reports that discussed forensic science research were Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward and Strengthening the National Institute of Justice. Because the three reports have different foci, their sets of recommendations differ in their details, but all three share some conclusions and recommendations. Importantly, they all agree that the National Institute of Justice should be providing greater leadership for this scientific domain but that it
cannot do so unless (1) it also has full freedom to set its research agenda and (2) its agenda accurately reflects the gaps in scientific knowledge as perceived by the researchers themselves, as well as the major problems encountered by the forensic science practice community. This report recommends specific steps that should be taken to achieve these goals. Moreover, the National Institute of Justice must have both financial and human resources that are adequate to implement the tasks with which it has been charged. Unfortunately, the recommendations of the previous reports have been only partially implemented. We hope that the recommendations in this report will be followed more closely.
I wish to express my deep appreciation to the members of the committee for their diligent and dedicated contributions to this study and to the preparation of this report within an expedited time frame. The diverse expertise and experience offered by the members of the committee were indispensable to the formulation of the conclusions and recommendations. I also wish to thank, on behalf of the entire committee, the Academies staff whose expertise and skill were absolutely essential to our meeting the charge.
Alan Leshner, Chair
Committee on Strengthening
Forensic Science at the
National Institute of Justice
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Ann W. Burgess (National Academy of Medicine), School of Nursing, Boston College; Alicia L. Carriquiry, Department of Statistics, Iowa State University; Delores M. Etter (National Academy of Engineering), Engineering Education and Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security, Southern Methodist University; Stephen Fienberg (National Academy of Sciences), Department of Statistics, Carnegie Mellon University; Janet L. Lauritsen, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Missouri-St. Louis; Charles F. Manski (National Academy of Sciences), Department of Economics, Northwestern University; Peter J. Neufeld, Innocence Project, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, New York, NY; Eric C. Person, College of Science and Mathematics, Department of Chemistry, University of California, Fresno; Tal Simmons, Department of Forensic Science, Virginia Commonwealth University; and George Tita, Criminology, Law and Society, University of California, Irvine.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by the monitor, Ron Brookmeyer (National Academy of Medicine), Department of Biostatistics, University of California, Los Angeles, and coordinator, John Rolph, Department of Statistics (emeritus), University of Southern California. Appointed by the Academies, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
The committee is grateful to the staff of the National Institute of Justice for their active participation throughout the study. The committee also applauds the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s staff members—Emily Backes, Leticia Garcilazo Green, Malay Majmundar, Julie Schuck, and Daniel Talmage—for their dedication to the study and for their great contributions to the preparation of this report. And finally, we thank the executive office reports staff of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, especially Robert Katt (consultant editor), who provided valuable help with editing the report, and Kirsten Sampson Snyder, who managed the report review process. Without the Academies’ guidance and wise counsel, the committee’s job would have been even more difficult, if not impossible.
|OIFS||Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences|
|OJP||Office of Justice Programs|
|ORE||Office of Research and Evaluation|
|OSAC||Organization of Scientific Area Committees|
|OST||Office of Science and Technology|
research and development
|RDT&E||research, development, testing, and evaluation|
Scientific Review Panel
Technology Working Group
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