Concepts such as evidence-based crime policy and reliable crime data took great leaps forward in the Justice Department during the Obama administration, with the idea being that scientific evaluation of how America’s police do their jobs might actually reduce crime and improve officer safety. But a group of top criminologists from across the country is worried that science may take a backseat in the Trump administration’s Justice Department.
So 25 former presidents of the American Society of Criminology have drafted a letter to the president and the attorney general entitled “Keep Science in the Department of Justice.” The co-authors, John Laub of the University of Maryland and Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said they hoped that politics didn’t intrude on the science-based approach that the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics has fostered in recent years, while both agencies await the appointment of new directors by the president.
Laub, who headed the National Institute of Justice from 2010 to 2013, said that “as the first NIJ Director in its 40-year history that possessed a Ph.D, in criminology I wanted to write the piece to ensure that DOJ does not slip backwards and continues to use science and evidence with respect to policies regarding crime and justice.”
Rosenfeld said, “What we’re trying to do is institutionalize a scientific ethos in the Justice Department, which traditionally has been run, reasonably enough, by a lawyers’ culture. The NIJ and the Bureau of Justice Statistics are very very important agencies and we want to make sure they remain scientific agencies, not politicized.” He noted that the Justice Department created a Science Advisory Board in 2010 to assess the effectiveness of policing programs, much of which can be seen at crimesolutions.gov, and that with new Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressing concern about the uptick in violent crime in American cities, evaluating the best programs to fight crime should be a valued approach.
Here is the letter from the criminologists: