Observations on Crime and Justice-Former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson-DC Public Safety

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m really pleased to have back at our microphones, former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson. Let me read some background about Laurie because she is one of the most impressive people that I have ever spoken to within the criminal justice system, which is why we’re calling this program today an Observation on Crime and Justice with one of the most experienced criminal justice leaders in the country’s history, and that’s certainly no exaggeration. Laurie was sworn in as Assistant Attorney General on November 9th, 2009. She previously served as Assistant Attorney General at the Office of Justice Programs from 1993 to February 2000. During that time, she oversaw the largest increase in federal spending on criminal justice research in the nation’s history. Under her leadership, the annual appropriations for the Office of Justice Programs grew substantially – from $800 million in 1993 to over $4 billion in 2000. At the same time, she also spearheaded initiatives in areas ranging from comprehensive community-based crime control to violence against women, law enforcement technology, drug abuse, and corrections. But there is a chapter two to Ms. Robinson’s career. She served as Acting Assistant Attorney General and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Justice Programs from January 2009 until nominated by President Obama in September 2009. She oversaw the implementation of the $2.7 billion in programs for which Congress assigned responsibility to the Office of Justice Programs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; launched a new agency-wide Integration Initiative looking at evidence-based procedures and science-based approach. She has also had a series of “listening sessions” with state and local constituents to learn what the Office of Justice Programs can better do to serve the field. She is currently, currently; she transitioned out of the Department of Justice in February of 2012. As of August 2012, she is now with the George Mason University. She is a professor, the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society. She is, again, George Mason University, the website http://cls.gmu.edu or simply Google George Mason and Criminology. Laurie Robinson, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Laurie Robinson: Well thank you, Len, and I am delighted to be with you again.

Len Sipes: I am delighted to be with you because I am serious; there are very few people in my 42 years in the criminal justice system that I know who are more experienced than you, who have served at the top level of the criminal justice system. I understand the Attorney General is the top law enforcement officer but in terms of the Office of Justice Programs and the related agencies, that was basically the research and funding arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, correct?

Laurie Robinson: Yes, that is correct, and thank you for having me.

Len Sipes: Well, no, I’m very, very, very pleased that you’re by our microphones once again, and again, this is enormous. You are the longest-lasting Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, again, in charge of funding and in charge of technical assistance and in charge of research. You’ve got a longer history than anybody else, correct?

Laurie Robinson: Yes, that is correct.

Len Sipes: All right. That’s amazing. That’s truly amazing, and that’s why the program is initially called Observations on Crime and Justice from the most experienced criminal justice leader in the country. So Laurie, let’s get down to it. First of all, congratulations on all of your service to the country at the Department of Justice, and you went to George Mason University beginning in August, at the beginning of the school year – a very prestigious, Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society. Why did you leave the Department of Justice, what were your accomplishments, and what do you look forward to doing as a professor?

Laurie Robinson: Oh, well, I’m very excited about being at George Mason but just to step back, when I came to OJP in January of 2009 when Eric Holder asked me to join him in the Obama Administration, you know Len, I initially thought that it would only be for short period of time to help out in the new administration, and as it turned out, the stay was a little bit longer, about three years. And when I told Eric Holder early this calendar year that I was going to leave, the reason that I felt that I could was that I really believed that we had made substantial progress toward goals that I had set when I first came in in 2009, and there were three primary goals that I had laid out, and I will go over them very quickly. The first was restoring a respect for science. That was an area where the Attorney General and I felt it was very important to lay down some markers, and so in several areas, for example appointing leading criminologists to head the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and there as you know, John Laub and Jim Lynch had done a tremendous job at NIJ and BJS.

Len Sipes: Absolutely.

Laurie Robinson: The Attorney General appointed a Science Advisory Board for OJP. That’s something I felt was an important step and something that will outlast, I hope, this administration.

Len Sipes: Um-hum.

Laurie Robinson: We also launched, as you know, an Evidence Integration Initiative to really stress the importance of evidence-based programs. And something that I’ve felt very strongly about was setting up a What Works Clearing House or a crimesolutions.gov that I know you’ve talked about a great deal.

Len Sipes: Absolutely.

Laurie Robinson: A second goal was restoring strong and credible partnerships with the criminal and juvenile justice field, with law enforcement, with corrections, with victims with the juvenile justice and all the rest. I felt like we made tremendous in that area, though of course there’s always more to be done. And the third goal that I’ve felt very strongly about was ensuring that OJP’s grant process was a fair one, a transparent one, and that we were using federal money in a very wise and very careful way, that we were good stewards of federal funds.

Len Sipes: And that’s what was going through in my mind. The pledge was from the very beginning to be good stewards of federal money, to be sure that federal money was fairly placed, and it was a science-based initiative, an evidence-based initiative rather than a consideration of anything else.

Laurie Robinson: Yes, as an example, you mentioned in the introduction the Recovery Act which was early in the administration, of course. We were able to ensure, as an example, that 100% of OJP’s $2.7 billion under the Recovery Act was obligated in a very timely manner, and that’s really due to the work of the career staff at OJP. I would have to credit them for that. We had no new staff to get that money out, we just had to be very, very diligent and effective and efficient in the way we turned that money around very quickly to get it out. So those are the kinds of things that were top initiatives, and I have to really credit people who I miss very much, people like Mary Lou Leary who’s now the Acting Assistant Attorney General at OJP, Jim Burch who’s the Deputy Assistant Attorney General there, Thomas Abt who was my Chief of Staff. So I felt with people like that who are now running OJP, that I was leaving it in very good hands.

Len Sipes: And I just spoke to Jim and Mary Lou the other day when I was up at the Office of Justice Programs. I’m not quite sure anybody – and it sounds gratuitous and it sounds very self-serving – but I’m not quite sure that people understand how hard the people at the Office of Justice Programs work in terms of getting these grants out, doing the technical assistance. Okay, so we’ve praised OJP – very, very justifiably – and you’re at George Mason and you’re a Professor. You were a Professor in between your stints with the Department of Justice so you’re basically going back to what my guess is going to be is your first love.

Laurie Robinson: Well, actually I think most people who work in the government, I do love academia, but most people who work in the government always say that their best job is in public service, and you know, it’s hard to beat working for the Department of Justice but I do love George Mason. I have wonderful colleagues there, and one of the things that is extremely appealing about the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason and what appealed to me so much about going there, along with some of the very top people there – people like Steve Mastrofski, David Weisburd, Faye Taxman, Cynthia Lum – is their focus on just what I was working on at the Department of Justice, and that is the bridging between policy and practice on the one hand and research on the other. They have a great emphasis on the implementation of research into practice.

Len Sipes: Quite the evidence-based lab there at George Mason. I interviewed Faye Taxman who I’ve also known for years, and extraordinarily impressed with reading their materials and the dedication to using evidence to use guide us within the criminal justice system.

Laurie Robinson: Yes, yeah. Faye’s Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence is so good, and similar the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policies that David Weisburd and Cynthia Lum run, both of centers are an example of the kind of very practically- and scholarly-focused work that’s going on the Criminology Department out there that just are terribly exciting to me, and they involve their graduate students in this work as well as the professors of course, and do a lot of outreach to practitioners as well. So this is terribly important work and to me it’s exciting work as well.

Len Sipes: One of the things that fits perfectly into, that emphasis on the practitioner, is that you and I have had a series of discussions in the past about the emphasis on practitioners. The overwhelming majority of the individuals who use the research, who use the statistics, who use the technical assistance that’s coming out of the Office of Justice Programs and the related agencies – Bureau of Justice Assistance, National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office for Victims of Crime, others that just don’t come to mind at the moment – are, you know, criminal justice, well, people like me. I mean, we’re just schmucks in the Criminal Justice system. We’re just day-to-day people who take this training, and technical assistance, and research and try to put it to good use, and one of the things that emphasized to me was “Leonard, we really, really, really do need to have a greater emphasis on making things easier, better, quicker for practitioners. If we don’t get the research in their hands and if they don’t use it, then we’re really not succeeding at what we do,” correct?

Laurie Robinson: Yes, that is terribly important, and one of the things that I’m very impressed with in the work for example that Cynthia Lum and Chris Koper at the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, what they’re doing in the area of law enforcement, policing, is focusing in, as an example, really at the nuts-and-bolts level. How do we, for example, in their words, change the habits of policing? This is getting down to really the on-the-ground level to how do we get evidence-based practices into field training? How do we get it into the police academies? How do we get it into roll-call training? This is very exciting to me because it’s a way of really translating from the research papers down the work of the patrol officer. It’s not simply talking to police chiefs and the IACP, International Association of Chiefs of Police meeting. It’s really getting it down to what’s happening on the streets of Arlington, Virginia, or Dallas, Texas, or wherever.

Len Sipes: Well, that gets me back to the discussions in the past – to do that, whatever it is that the Office of Justice Programs and related agencies creates needs to be in plain English, needs to be very quick, needs to be very simple, and I would imagine George Mason is taking the same approach. You know, I praise the Urban Institute all the time in terms of the clarity of their research and the simplicity of their research. It takes probably five minutes to read and you get a pretty good sense of what the policy implications are, so part of this is packaging, is it now?

Laurie Robinson: Yes, very definitely, and whether it’s in short training films or in the kind of concise, distilled information that at OJP we were doing in crimesolutions.gov, it’s got to be distilled and clear, very clear information whether it is for practitioners or for very busy policy-makers in state legislatures or on Capitol Hill.

Len Sipes: And that’s a perfect transition, and before we get too deep, we’re halfway through the program, very quickly, ladies and gentlemen, we are talking to Laurie Robinson, the former Assistant Attorney General for the United States currently at George Mason University at the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society – http://cls.gmu.edu or simply search in your search engine of preference – before I said Google, I guess I shouldn’t do that – your search engine of preference, George Mason and Criminology. Laurie, one of the things that I really am very impressed with is crimesolutions.gov and the other data bases that you’ve put together to take research and break it down to its simplest possible forms, even to the point of a color-coded system – green for it works, yellow for promising, and red, no it didn’t work – and you provide the summations thereby anybody can go to crimesolutions.gov and related clearing houses and get a very quick summation of what research works and what research doesn’t, and it’s taken us decades to do it and you did it. Talk to me about it.

Laurie Robinson: Well, this is something that I had had in mind way back to the time when I was in academia up at the University of Pennsylvania after I’d left the Justice Department the first time, and sometimes when you leave a job, you kind of kick yourself, “Why didn’t I do such-and-such when I was in that position?” – And rarely do we have the time to kind of go back and have a second chance to do something. Here I did have that second chance so really from the first day or two I was back in the Justice Department, I pulled the staff together and I said, “We’re going to set up this what-works clearing house,” and you know, I’d been thinking about it throughout the time I was at Penn and so I had a pretty clear vision of what the goal would be but I did not have the details about exactly what it would look like. And I have to credit Phelan Wyrick and Brett Donahue and others on the OJP career staff for putting that together, and they worked with a number of well-known criminologists as the experts on how to define which studies would qualify as being the kind of determiners of what would go into which category, so they turned to real experts in the field as to how to make those determinations. But I’m very happy with the result, and it’s something that will be a continually evolving library of resources. It’s not a finite, closed kind of catalogue, and it’s something on which OJP wants to have continuing feedback, so if there are ways to improve it, I know that Mary Lou and others at OJP would welcome that kind of feedback from the field.

Len Sipes: Well crimesolutions.gov, it’s something everybody should go to. Again, it is simplicity. It is taking extraordinarily, extraordinarily complex research and breaking it down to its simplest forms. If you want to go ahead and read the full-blown research, if you’re interested in methodology, if you’re interested in terms of how the research was put together, that is made available to you, but the summation in terms of what works and what doesn’t, and what the properties are, are neatly summarized in crimesolutions.gov.

Laurie Robinson: Yes. Oh, absolutely.

Len Sipes: Yeah, okay. That was my point, and it gets over to all of the issues that we’re going to be talking about because, you know, you and I in the past have talked about, again, reaching out to the practitioner, making it easy, providing the technical assistance, looking at training, looking at the effectiveness of training – all the things that the Department of Justice has done. So I mean the funding part of it, the summation of the research, looking at new ways to make complex research simpler, how do we do training, is it effective, how does the criminal justice system do training, is it effective – what’s the lessons from all of that? What are the lessons learned because in terms of law enforcement, you know, one time you and I talked about, hey, there’s a focus on people and places. It’s not necessarily mass arrests, it’s not necessarily arrest for the sake of arrest, it’s a focus on people and places, and that’s what the research has to say, and that’s one of the lessons through technical assistance and training that OJP transmits to the field, correct?

Laurie Robinson: Yes, that is correct, and I have often felt, and I’ve probably shared this with you in the past, Len, that the technical assistance money is the best-spent federal money over the some forty years of the LEAA and OJP Program. But one of the things is, you and I as we’ve spoken prior to this radio show have spoken about kind of the breadth of my experience and such, and one of the things that I have been contemplating is that if I were to think about the kind of programs over time, you know, one of the things, if I could wave a wand on something that I wish I had done more of when I was at OJP – and by the way, I told Eric Holder I’m never coming back for a round three. I think I’ve done [PH 0:20:32] enough in my two stints at the Justice Department.

Len Sipes: Never say never, Laurie.

Laurie Robinson: But if I could wave a wand, I think that, you know, I would have liked to have funded more evaluative research, more evaluation of the effectiveness more broadly of training and technical assistance. I think that it would be beneficial to have more rigorous evaluation of their effectiveness. I think we have a very good anecdotal sense and some research on this but not enough, not enough research particularly probably on technical assistance.

Len Sipes: Right.

Laurie Robinson: We have a very good sense about it and we have some kind of narrow research results on that but I think that could be an effective thing.

Len Sipes: The other thing is that, you know, there was at one time an awful lot of conferences where you brought leaders in the criminal justice system together. I went to a gathering of directors of public information for correctional agencies in Aurora, Colorado, under the auspices of the National Institute of Corrections, where I spent three days teaching public relations and social media, and you know, interacting with these 50 individuals and more from the territories, the richness of that interaction, the richness of the group, the discussions, the friendships that you make, and the information exchanges that continues afterwards to me is enormously important. I learned so much from them and hopefully they learned a little bit from me. But the budget for or the circumstances within the Department of Justice in terms of the conferences seems to have taken a step back.

Laurie Robinson: Yes, I agree with you on that. As we reflect back in fact, again, on the kind of four decades of the LEAA and OJP program, I think we could agree that subtle leadership on training through these kinds of conferences, these national or regional conferences, has been just an important part of the mission of the Federal Criminal Justice Assistance Program over that entire 40-year span, and having been around for a good part of that period, I think that federal leadership in bringing people together as you’re referencing, Len, has just been vital in the growing professionalism of the criminal justice field and the growth of the criminal justice field in areas like turning much more to science. When we compare the state of the policing profession, for example, to where it was 20 or 30 years ago, it is night and day, and part of that is of course because of the growth of kind of this national profession, and federal leadership has been a key role in that. So it does trouble me, it troubles me a great deal, when the federal support for national conferences is diminished, and one example too is to see the National Institute of Justice, NIJ, decide not to hold their national science conference, their NIJ conference this coming summer. This is an institute and for once, for the first time in many, many years, NIJ, because of these cutbacks, is not going to be holding it. I think that’s a very unfortunate, unfortunate decision.

Len Sipes: The bottom line in terms of listeners is that there has been an enormous change in the criminal justice system. I started out a long time ago when I left the police department and got my variety of college degrees, ending up at the Department of Justice’s Clearing Counsel as a Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention, so I’ve been an observer/participant of the federal criminal justice system for 30, 40 years – there’s been enormous C-change in terms of the effectiveness of criminal justice agencies around the agency, how community corrections operates, how parole and probation operates, how law enforcement operates, how the courts operate, how juvenile justice systems operate, and that efficiency which I think has significantly contributed to an historic 20 years almost continual decline in crime is due to the quality of the criminal justice system, and I think you can say it’s due to the quality of agencies like the Office of Justice Programs and the related programs. I think you guys have led the technical assistance, research, and funding to try new techniques within the criminal justice system. I think you guys can take a bow from the standpoint that you’ve led dramatic changes in how we police and how we correct people, how we incarcerate. You all have led that charge which is I think correlated to some degree with that almost continuous 20-year reduction in crime.

Laurie Robinson: Well, I think that the leadership from career staff, and I hope throughout the time from the political leadership as well, has been a big contributor. – And by the way, I am, as I said earlier, I’m quite a budget hawk and wanting to see very careful stewardship of federal dollars, so federal money around conferences has to be very scrupulously managed but it is important to bring people together for training. It’s an important part of the federal leadership function, in my view.

Len Sipes: Well, I’m not going to disagree with you at all. It is also interesting that the Bureau of Justice Statistics put out a report recently about an 18% uptick increase in violent crime – I just wanted to ask you about that before we close the program – 11% increase in property crime. Does that create any concern because I know in the past, just because it goes up one particular year does not mean it’s a trend?

Laurie Robinson: Yeah, I’ve certainly noted that. Because it was not across the board and because – as Rick Rosenfeld, the noted the criminologist, commented – that you’re dealing with relatively small numbers which can translate into larger percentages, I’m not sure for one year that we should be greatly alarmed but we should follow it closely and see what next year brings.

Len Sipes: Sure. It was principally assaults and not robberies and not rapes.

Laurie Robinson: Correct, absolutely correct, that it’s not in all categories but we should be, as they say, watching it like a hawk and see what comes in the coming year.

Len Sipes: Final words, Laurie. We have one more minute to go. I mean, I think we’ve talked about just about everything we wanted to do. Every state out there, every jurisdiction out there is complaining bitterly about the lack of money coming into the criminal justice system. Your focus on what works, what is evidence-based, is what allows them to get the biggest possible bang out of their scarce criminal justice dollars, so that the last question.

Laurie Robinson: Yes. What I want to do, though, is turn to this: when I see the kinds of students that are not coming, in my case at George Mason, to want to study in this area, and the students I’m working with are ones who want to go into the practice and policy side, it gives me great optimism, Len. These are students who are of course very interested in the evidence-based approaches but it gives me optimism – optimism about the future and our ability to deal even in tough-budge times with what’s coming down the road.

Len Sipes: Okay, Laurie, and you’ve got the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, today we’ve been talking to former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson of the Office of Justice Programs, currently a Professor of the Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the world-famous George Mason University. You can look at the website there – http://cls.gmu.edu – or you can use your favorite search engine and search George Mason and Criminology. Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments. We even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Interview With Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary-Office of Justice Programs-DC Public Safety Radio

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2012/06/interview-with-acting-assistant-attorney-general-mary-lou-leary-office-of-justice-programs-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  Today’s interview is with acting Assistant Attorney General, Mary Lou Leary of the Office of Justice Program’s U.S. Department of Justice.  Miss Leary has 30 years of criminal justice experience at the federal, state and local levels, with an extensive background in criminal prosecution, government leadership and victim advocacy.  Before joining the Office of Justice Programs in 2009, she was Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.  She also served in leadership roles at the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.  From 1999 to 2001, she held several executive positions at the Department of Justice including the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, Deputy Associate Attorney General, and Acting Director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Programs. For the sake of brevity, the Office of Justice Programs oversees the work of the federal effort to evaluate fund and provide technical assistance to the country’s criminal justice system.  Before getting into the bulk of the interview, I want to provide just some of the examples of the Office of Justice Programs in terms of what they do.  Just some of the topics, bullying, DNA backlogs, domestic violence, elder abuse and mistreatment, faith-based programs, hate crimes, human trafficking, identity theft, indigent defense, mentoring of offenders, juvenile justice law enforcement tactics, prisoner reentry, victim assistance, and a database as to what works.  Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Mary Lou Leary:  Well thank you, Len.  It’s a pleasure to be here.

Len Sipes:  I’m really happy for you to be here.  Then we had Laurie Robinson on before she left.

Mary Lou Leary:  I know.

Len Sipes:  And we had a real exciting interview, I think, and a very popular interview.  How does it feel going … and Mary Lou has left, she was the Assistant Attorney General, and now you’re in the Acting position.  That’s a lot of responsibility thrust on your shoulders.  But you’ve been in this position before.

Mary Lou Leary:  I have, Len.  It actually is quite a natural transition for me.  I was serving as the Principle Deputy Assistant General to Laurie Robinson at OJP for the three years of this administration.  And then when Laurie moved on, I stepped into the role of the Acting Assistant Attorney General.  And for me it feels just right.  I did this before during the Clinton Administration.  And it’s kind of funny, we’re into repeat performances.

Len Sipes:  Yes, we are.

Mary Lou Leary:  Because Laurie was the Assistant Attorney General during that administration.  And I came in when she left and served as the acting for the rest of the term.

Len Sipes:  But it’s such a broad, big organization.  Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, National Institute of Justice, the National Criminal Justice Reference Service that I worked for for five years early on in my career.  I mean, it just goes on and on and on in terms of the agencies.  Office for Victims of Crime, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Community-Oriented Policing, you have such an amazing amount of organizations under you.

Mary Lou Leary: Yeah.  Well that’s what makes this job so exciting, and really, so much fun.  There is this incredibly broad spectrum of issues.  We are the only federal agency that is dedicated to serving state, local and tribal public safety entities.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Mary Lou Leary:  And so public safety includes every piece that you could possibly find in the criminal justice puzzle.  All the systems, all the programs, it’s quite an extraordinary range.

Len Sipes:  Well one of the things that I brought up in Laurie’s interview was the fact that you get all these technical reports on CSI, Crime Scene Investigation.  All the fallacies and the fact that you watch these programs on television and most of what you see is not how it’s ordinarily done. But all these technical documents that develop all that expertise come from your shop.  You are Madam CSI.

Mary Lou Leary:  Yeah.  Well, in a way.

Len Sipes:  You are.  You’re Madam everything.  You’re Madam offenders leaving the prison system, you’re Madam corrections, you’re Madam law enforcement, you are the very epitome of the criminal justice system at the federal level.

Mary Lou Leary:  Well that’s exactly what OJP does.  We cover every single issue in the criminal justice system.  And it’s wonderful that we do that and that we have that broad scope.  Because we know that the best approach to take, and the one that really works, is a comprehensive approach.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Mary Lou Leary:  You can’t deal with one aspect of the criminal justice system without paying attention to the whole of it.  So for instance, if you increase the number of arrests that you’re making, that’s going to have an impact.  It’s like a domino effect all the way through the system.  The pre-trial, the prosecutor’s office, the court system, the prison system, probation, parole, reentry, it all is impacted, each piece by what happens in the other.

Len Sipes:  Yeah.  Nobody’s in isolation.  Everybody’s dependent on everybody else.

Mary Lou Leary:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  So what one part of the criminal justice system does affects the other parts of the criminal justice system.

Mary Lou Leary:  Exactly.  And that is, in fact, one of the primary messages that OJP delivers to the criminal justice field.  We are all in this together and the only way we can attack these problems and have success is by working together and by being conscious of the impact that one individual agency’s actions have on the rest of the system.

Len Sipes:  There are three things I want to get to pretty quickly in the interview.  Number one, a practitioner focus.  I’ve spoken to you in the past and one of the things that you’ve been adamant about is this idea of serving the practitioner, serving the people who actually run the criminal justice system, being sure that they have the research and the facts and the technical assistance to make sense of their day-to-day lives.

Mary Lou Leary:  Yes.  That is one of my primary goals at OJP.  I, myself, as a practitioner for 30 years, I was a local prosecutor, I was a federal prosecutor, I ran a national victim’s advocacy organization.  So I know how difficult it is for practitioners who are incredibly busy, to learn about what’s actually being researched in their field, and what works, what doesn’t work, what are the latest trends.  You are putting out fires all day, every day and you don’t really have the time to dig up the evidence and maybe base what you do on what is known to be effective.  And so that’s our job. We’ve got to figure that out.  We have to do the research.  We have to do the statistical analysis.  We have to read all the literature and understand the evidence about what does work in the criminal justice.  And then one of our most important jobs is translating that.  You have to make that understandable and accessible to practitioners in the field.  A mayor should be able to just go to a website or make a phone call and communicate that, “Hey, you know what we’re having a big problem with youth gangs in our city.  Do you know if anybody out there is doing something that’s been effective?  Do you know if there are any researchers who are really looking at this problem?  Help me out here.”  That’s our job.

Len Sipes:  Right.  You have said that they need to get answers.  They don’t need to get a telephone-sized book of research.  They don’t need to be given an esoteric overview, they need answers.

Mary Lou Leary:  Exactly.  But those answers better be good ones and they better be based on real evidence.

Len Sipes:  Right.  And I wanted to start the interview off with that background.  Because you are Madam criminal justice, you have served in the criminal justice system, you’ve been a practitioner.  So you’re just not a policy wonk that hangs out in DC.  You have actually served in the bowels of the criminal justice system and you know what it’s like, how difficult it is to get ahold of research and make sense of research.

Mary Lou Leary:  Yeah.  Exactly.  And I think that that is one of the things that I bring to the job that, frankly, makes me effective in that position.  Because I really understand, I get it.  I know what’s happening on the streets.  I learned everything … I know about that from working with local police departments.  I ran the cops office for a while which provides police to communities across this country.  And I think it’s important to have real respect for research and science, but also to have that practical, pragmatic approach to problems.

Len Sipes:  Absolutely.  You’ve been there.  So that’s the message I wanted to get out.  But having said that, research is an extraordinarily important part of what it is that you do.  Which we say we can substitute best practices for that word research.  Research, that word is a little scary to a lot of the people in the field. What you’re trying to do is establish best practices.  Because states and localities, they’re running out of money.  The budget issue is such a huge issue throughout the country for criminal justice organizations.  They’re basically saying, “Fine, if we’ve got to deal with a 15% reduction in our budget, we’ll do what we have to do.”  But what’s the way … what does the research say … or what are the best practices to maximize what it is we do?  Is there technology; is there new ways of doing things?  What can we do to maximize what it is that we do on a day-to-day basis?  And that’s what you’re emphasizing.

Mary Lou Leary:  Right.  Well you hit the nail right on the head, Len.  It’s true that resources are really tight.  And looking ahead, we can only presume that they will be getting tighter.  And so in that climate, it’s more important than ever that you base your strategy on what is the best practice, what we know works.  And it’s just as important not to waste any time, not to waste any resources human or financial, on things that don’t work.  Because we do know a lot about what doesn’t work as well and we want to discourage the use of those approaches that don’t work.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Mary Lou Leary:  We’re trying to make that approach easy and accessible, understandable.  In fact, just last year, we launched something called crimesolutions.gov.

Len Sipes:  Yeah.  Good.  Thank you.

Mary Lou Leary:  That’s a website.  Yeah.  It’s a great tool.

Len Sipes:  Crimesolutions.gov.

Mary Lou Leary:  It is a wonderful tool.  We’ve gotten great feedback from people.  And here’s how it works.  We have a group of researchers who scour the literature and look at all the practices, and rate programs that have been used across this country to address different crime problems.  So they rate them and we put it up on the website.  So you can see what’s effective, what’s working, and what’s not.  And you can search it every which way with all kinds of different search terms.  So say you’re the chief of police, or you’re running the youth program in your community, and you want to know is there anything out there that is evidence based that has worked on this issue.  You can go to crimesolutions.gov and search.  And you will see what programs have been used in that context, and which ones have been proven effective, and which ones have not really had an effect, and which ones are still kind of in the proving stage.  And this website now has over 200 programs on it.  And if you don’t find what you’re looking for the first time, go back for sure, because we are adding new programs every single week.

Len Sipes:  And the thing I want to emphasize about the website is that again, it’s not this esoteric, oh my God I’ve to spend five years reading this stuff.  It gives you a very quick chart in terms of what works and what doesn’t.

Mary Lou Leary:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  And then once you’ve figured out what works, what doesn’t, then you can research it from there.  So people should not be afraid, “Oh my God, not another esoteric website or piece of research.”  It’s easy to read.

Mary Lou Leary:  Exactly.  It’s not wonky in any respect.

Len Sipes:  There you go.

Mary Lou Leary:  And if you are more interested in reading the study itself, the methodology, and so on, you can do that.  You can just go deeper into the website and really get that kind of a nuanced understanding of it. But if you want something that’s quick and dirty and practical, that is your tool.

Len Sipes:  There you go.  Now you’re also talking about opening some sort of technical assistance outreach program, right.  So once they say, “Oh, geezies, peezy” this particular thing works in terms of what you said, in terms of gangs.  Here are the research in terms of where it works.  I wonder what funding technical assistance other research is available.  And so you’re now instituting a help desk, if you will.  Once they’re moving in that right direction they can talk to somebody who knows the subject well.

Mary Lou Leary:  Well, in fact, we have several ways of getting at that.  You can go on the website, ojp.gov and you can look under funding opportunities.  And then you also look at our science agency’s National Institute of Justice, and Bureau of Justice statistics to see what research reports are coming out, what statistical reports are coming out.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Mary Lou Leary:  But if you have a problem that you don’t really quite understand in your community and you need some expert help in assessing the problem, trying to figure out what is really going on here.  We are working on the development right now of something called the Diagnostic Center which would be kind of a companion piece to crimesolutions.gov.  Crimesolutions.gov will tell you about the programs that already exist and whether they work or don’t.  The Diagnostic Center will bring in some expert technical assistance to help you get a handle on what is my problem in my community.  And then we’ll match you will technical assistance and experts who can help you marshal the evidence-based practices to address that.

Len Sipes:  So we’re talking about a one-stop shop.

Mary Lou Leary:  Yeah.  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  That’s amazing.

Mary Lou Leary:  Yeah.  It’s very exciting.

Len Sipes:  I’ve been in the criminal justice system for 42 years.  Why did it take us so long to do that?

Mary Lou Leary:  I know.  It is quite remarkable.

Len Sipes:  It is quite remarkable.  What you have done is significant.  It is one of the very few times in my 42 years in the criminal justice system that I’ve said that I can go to one spot, get a quick summation of the research, talk to somebody, get quick answers, that is just incredible.

Mary Lou Leary:  It’s very exciting.  And it really is the embodiment of what we have been encouraging for years.  Which is you know what criminal justice practitioners, there’s some sound research out there that could actually help you get your job done every day.  These researchers, they’re not a bunch of egg heads who don’t know how to talk to cops and other folks.  They do know and they want to talk, because they figured out all this cool stuff that you could be using to do a better job every day.

Len Sipes:  Right.  And again, with the budget situation people are looking for answers. I want to re-introduce Mary Lou Leary, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.  Giving out the website, it is www.ojp.gov, www.ojp.gov.   You did a heck of a YouTube video a couple years ago when you were Director of the Office a Center for Victims of Crime.  So obviously, you’re interested in new ways of bringing material, fresh ways of bringing material to the criminal justice system.

Mary Lou Leary:  Yeah.  Very interested in making all of our information easily available, quickly available.  You got to meet people where they are.  And we know from research that actually in a … not very long, most people will be accessing internet, for instance, from their mobile devices as opposed to a desktop. So if you can’t get to where the people are, your message will not be heard.  So we’re very interested in exploring the full gambit of social media, Twitter, You Tube and all kinds of things that my teenage daughter could probably tell you more about than I could. But we know that that’s the way that you got to go if you want to be helpful to people.

Len Sipes:  Your background, former prosecutor, former Executive Director for the National Center for Victims of Crime.  A lot of people are going to take — they’re going to like that.  I’ve heard people throughout the decades saying, “Too many policy wonks at OJP, not enough real people who have been in the criminal justice system.”  You’re a former prosecutor; you’re a staunch advocate of victims of crime. That brings … I’m not going to say a new perspective to the Office of Justice Programs, but it brings … in the minds of a lot of people … a refreshing perspective.  You understand how this system works, you understand criminal victimization.

Mary Lou Leary: Well I certainly do.  And I’ll tell you, having been a prosecutor for so many years, this is my dream job.  Because all those years I saw these problems that were seemingly intractable in the criminal justice system.  And you would see the same defendants.  You’d prosecute them this month and then you’d prosecute them next month for a very similar offense.  And sometimes you just kind of felt like you were just doing a clean-up operation and not really solving the problem.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Mary Lou Leary:  And you could see that the problems that played out in the courtroom were so related to many, many other public safety issues that never came into the courthouse. So now this … OJP puts me in a position where I can actually address those issues.  And I can reach out and develop partnerships with all kinds of public safety agencies, tribal leaders, philanthropic organizations, foundations, private sector, all kinds of partners all of whom really see that this issue matters, it’s so fundamental to the way we live in this country.

Len Sipes:  One of the things that you said to me is the idea of bringing everybody to this table to maximize our impact on the criminal justice system, so whether it’s foundations, whether it’s private organizations, to take all these dollars, all that expertise, and marshal it to have the greatest impact.  And I find that interesting.

Mary Lou Leary:  Oh, it is fascinating.  And we’re really just scratching the surface.  We had a meeting at OJP with foundations, a number of foundations about 60 of them, all of whom have interest in various aspects of criminal justice.  A number of them, for instance, are really interested in kids who get involved in the criminal justice system.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Mary Lou Leary:  Many of them are interested in preventing kids from getting involved in that system.

Len Sipes:  Sure.

Mary Lou Leary:  There’s a whole domestic violence community out there with interest in the philanthropic sector.  And we have been partnering with a number of those kinds of philanthropic groups projects that we are doing at the Office of Justice Programs.

Len Sipes:  So nobody’s out there in isolation.  It is not [PH] PIU versus the Office of Justice Programs of the Department of Justice.  It’s PIU in concert with the Office of Justice Programs.

Mary Lou Leary:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  And that applies to the Urban Institute, that applies to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Correctional Association.  It doesn’t matter, the whole idea is let’s all work in lockstep because state and locales are hurting from a budget point of view.

Mary Lou Leary:  That’s right.  And if you … what we try to do is we try to seed innovative projects around the country, new approaches to problems.  But after a certain period of time, the program has to move forward on its own and we try to seed other places.  So in order to plan for sustainability of those innovative approaches, you have to look to other places in the community, other places in the philanthropic world, and so on.  So we work with our grantees to try to educate them about that.  And we are able to facilitate communication between the philanthropic sector and grantees.

Len Sipes:  But I don’t want to get too far away from that answer, the question I had a couple minutes ago.  Your role as a prosecutor has been firmly established.  And a lot of people feel very comfortable about that.  But you’ve seen victims, talked to victims of crime, you’ve represented the National Center for Victims of Crime.  You understand the nature of criminal victimization on a very personal level.

Mary Lou Leary:  I certainly do.  This actually is a real passion of mine.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Mary Lou Leary:  And it has been ever since I started as a baby prosecutor decades ago.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Mary Lou Leary:  I worked in the Middlesex County DA’s Office.  We had one of the very first victim/witness assistance units in the country.  And in fact, it was established by Senator John Kerry when he was the DA in Middlesex County.  And I learned from those advocates, how critically important the way you treat victims can be to their ability to recover. They need to be treated with respect and dignity.  And you need to make a victim feel safe.  And you need to make sure that a victim is heard.  That’s the most important thing.  So much more important than winning your case.  And I really feel that.  And I have really supported victims throughout my career.  And at OJP is a great opportunity to continue that. I am really excited because part of what we do, a big part of what we do at OJP, is working on victim issues through our office on victims of crime.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Mary Lou Leary:  And we have spent the last two years talking to folks who work with victims of crime all over this country.  We’re talking to practitioners, we’re talking to researchers, we’re talking to advocates, we’re talking to cops, you name it.  Anybody who has an interest in victim issues. What’s happening in this field, what are the unmet needs?  Crime has changed so much over the years.  Now we have all these financial frauds –

Len Sipes:  Yes, we do.

Mary Lou Leary:  – and internet perpetrated crime, and stalking through the internet, through devices you place on people’s cars, and so on.  There’s just a whole new world out there.  And it will continue to evolve. So the Office of Victims of Crime is looking at that and talking with people in the field saying, “Okay, we have a lot of these needs that have been with us forever that we haven’t met yet.  How do we meet those needs better, and at the same time, deal with these emerging crime issues and these emerging needs of victims?”

Len Sipes:  And I just wanted to point out there’s a lot of people out there who will be applauding as they listen to this.  Because, again, they have this image of people at the top of the Office of Justice Programs as being stoic policy wonks.  You’re not.  You’re a real live human being who’s suffered through this issue personally, directly, and you know, you’ve tasted it, smelled it, felt it, you know what’s going on out there.

Mary Lou Leary:  That’s exactly right.  And that’s why it’s so important to get out in the field and talk to people.  You have to see it, you have to talk, you have to hear it, you have to walk the walk. What we will see coming out of this big effort with Victims of Crime this summer, I believe, at the end of the summer is a report called Vision 21.  And that is to shape the path forward for the victim services field, into the 21st century and beyond.

Len Sipes:  That’s great.

Mary Lou Leary:  Yeah.  The Victims of Crime Act was passed in 1984.

Len Sipes:  Yes.  A long time ago.

Mary Lou Leary:  Things have changed a lot since then.

Len Sipes:  Yeah.  They have.

Mary Lou Leary:  And it’s time to revision the way we serve victims.  So I am just so excited.  I can’t wait to see that report and to most importantly, act on the recommendations.

Len Sipes:  In the final minutes of the program, one of the things I suppose that we want to do, is to assure that regardless of whether it’s law enforcement, corrections, parole and probation, the judicial system, the juvenile justice system which Attorney General Eric Holder is certainly a huge proponent in terms of this issue of tremendous violence being directed towards children.  It doesn’t matter what the issue is, your job is to be sure that the best research is being done, answering questions on the part of people at the county and state and local level, giving them access, quick access to this information via the new databases that you’re putting out.  So that’s the bottom line.  If there are questions, or if there are issues, they can come to the Office of Justice Programs for answers.

Mary Lou Leary:  Absolutely.  And they’ll find real people, and people who care very, very much about their work and about public safety in this country.

Len Sipes:  In the sense of being evidence based, we … I don’t want to get into a methodological discussion but it’s a matter of taking a look at the better research.  The research that’s fairly well done.  And trying to draw conclusions from that research.  And that’s essentially what you guys have done, in terms of crimesolutions.gov and in terms of the Diagnostic Center. Take a look at Project Hope, which is a wonderful program in Hawaii which has dramatically reduced recidivism as a parole and probation program, a substance abuse treatment program.  And what you’re doing is funding its replication in other areas throughout the country to see if the success that they had in Hawaii, which was considerable, can be replicated in Baltimore and in Des Moines, and in San Antonio.

Mary Lou Leary:  That’s exactly right.  In fact, we do that a lot with different kinds of projects.  Project Hope, this probation program was developed by Steve Alm, who was a former U.S. Attorney in Hawaii.  And right away we could see that his approach was different and that it was really interesting and promising. So we worked to support that program from the get go and then we sent in a team to research and evaluate it.  Those evaluations would knock your socks off, it just made such a big and positive difference.

Len Sipes:  It does.

Mary Lou Leary:  Exactly.  So now that’s just kind of like the business of OJP.  You get good programs started, you evaluate them, if the evidence shows, ‘whoa, this really works’, then you want to get it out to as many communities as possible and tweak it to apply to the needs of that particular individual community.

Len Sipes:  And getting that information out to those communities in the right way.  That you don’t have to struggle.  It’s like, oh my God, I remember when I worked for the Maryland Department of Public Safety, this is decades ago.  The Public Safety Secretary would bring this document from NIJ, telephone-size book, plop it on my desk and go, “Sipes, I don’t have time to read this.  Give me a one-page summation.”

Mary Lou Leary:  Right.

Len Sipes:  “Just tell me if it works, doesn’t work, and why it works and doesn’t work.” Because he knew that I used to work for the National Criminal Justice Reference Service.  So he sort of figured I would know how to read this big, long, esoteric document. What you’re trying to do is to take this research and make it come alive.

Mary Lou Leary:  Yes.  Make it real.  And you demonstrate that through actual programs in the communities.  Reentry is a great example of that.  We are helping communities across this country to deal with the massive return of incarcerated offenders.

Len Sipes:  Seven hundred thousand a year.

Mary Lou Leary:  Seven hundred thousand a year.  And where do they go?  They go right back to the neighborhoods that they came from.  The same environments, the same folks, the same buddies in the neighborhood. And you can’t just release people from incarceration, send them right back to that environment and expect that they are going to do just fine.  They’ve learned their lesson and now they’ll behave.

Len Sipes:  No.  It doesn’t work that way.

Mary Lou Leary:  No.  You have to provide support, and it has to start right from the moment of incarceration.

Len Sipes:  And if we did that, we could reduce the budgets of states and locals by huge amounts.  If you get just a 15% reduction in recidivism in the rate of return back to the prison system by providing programs, you’ve just saved that county, that state, tens of millions of dollars.

Mary Lou Leary:  Exactly.  And that is one of our major goals.  Not only to help them save that money, but at the same time, to improve public safety.  Because if your reentry programs really work, you will not only save money, but people in that community will be safer and you will reduce re-victimization.

Len Sipes:  And that’s the common theme throughout this entire program, reducing re-victimization.

Mary Lou Leary:  Exactly.

Len Sipes:  That is what … you’re the office of reducing re-victimization.

Mary Lou Leary:  Yes, we are.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Mary Lou Leary:  And for me, that’s a wonderful orientation because I am so passionate about crime victims.

Len Sipes:  Final seconds of the program.  The law enforcement side of things, it’s people, places, little focusing on high-risk offenders, high-risk places.

Mary Lou Leary:  Yeah.  We know a lot about hot spot policing, for instance, where you look at the hot spots through your crime mapping and so on.  And that’s where you want to target your resources.  We know that works.  We know that there are innovative approaches to dealing, for instance, with youth violence.  We know that there are ways of saving money on incarceration and then reinvesting it in things that do work.

Len Sipes:  And a beauty about all this is that if you go to www.ojp.gov and if you go to the Crime Solution’s database you can get a tremendous amount of information on all of this.  Really want to express my appreciation to Acting Assistant Attorney General, Mary Lou Leary for being with us today.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  We really appreciate all of the cards, letters, comments and criticisms at times, in terms of what it is we do.  We really appreciate your participation.  And we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Interview with Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson-Office of Justice Programs-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system. We currently average 90,000 page views a month.

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Radio program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2012/02/interview-with-assistant-attorney-general-laurie-robinson-office-of-justice-programs-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is the DC Public Safety.  I’m your host. Leonard Sipes.  Today’s interview is with Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson of the Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice.  Ms. Robinson has served in this position under two administrations, making her the longest-serving Assistant Attorney General in the history of the office of justice programs.  For the sake of brevity, the Office of Justice Programs oversees the work of federal effort to evaluate, fund, and provide technical assistance to the country’s criminal justice system.  She’s leaving this post and now’s a wonderful time to ask Laurie about lessons learned, and before getting into the bulk of the interview, what I wanted to do was to give some examples of some of the things that the office of justice programs works on.  These are just a few of the topics:  bullying, DNA backlogs, domestic violence, elder abuse and mistreatment, faith-based programs, hate crimes, human trafficking, identity theft, indigent defense, mentoring of offenders, juvenile justice, law enforcement tactics, prisoner reentry, victim assistance, and a database as to what works.  Laurie Robinson, Assistant Attorney General, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Laurie Robinson:  Well, thank you.  Thank you for having me.

Len Sipes:  I’m really pleased that you made the time to be here today.  Can I ask you why you’re going after all this time?

Laurie Robinson:  Well, I thought it was time that I be let out on parole.

Len Sipes:  Under supervision or without supervision?

Laurie Robinson:  Oh, I think probably supervision is necessary.

Len Sipes:  You’ve occupied the role longer than anybody else.  From that lofty perspective, I mean, you have.  You’ve been in charge of the federal government’s criminal justice system.  I mean, I know the attorney general is in charge, but you have headed it up under two administrations, you’ve been there for ten years, you’ve been there for longer than anybody else.  What are your observations?  What are your thoughts?  What are your lessons learned after being there for ten years?

Laurie Robinson:  Well, one thing I’d say is that the federal criminal justice system program has been around for almost 45 years, Len, and so I have been privileged to be there for almost a quarter of its history.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Laurie Robinson:  And one of the things that I’ve always said to my troops is that the best ideas in this field are not invented in federal agency conference rooms in Washington, but I think we’re very good at kind of serving what’s going on around the country and then picking up those ideas and spreading them.

Len Sipes:  The best ideas do come from state and local criminal justice organizations, and they bubble up and we evaluate them and look at them and see if they really work and if we can replicate those findings elsewhere.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, for example, with drug courts.  The first drug court was, of course, in Miami, but we were very helpful through the drug court program and through technical assistance and training and seed funding in getting that program out across the country.  At the same time, the energy for it came from the state and local level.

Len Sipes:  I just read an evaluation by the Urban Institute that you all funded where it compared drug courts to not just other offenders but other offenders of other types of treatment programs, and they had double the reduction of crime.  I mean, that is an extraordinarily important finding, and that’s the sort of stuff that you do.  You figure out what’s going on, you figure out what’s most potent, and you figure out the best way of doing it.

Laurie Robinson:  That’s right, and I think that this actually points to something very important about this program, which is not only knowledge development but then knowledge dissemination and then the technical assistance in training  I’ve often felt, Len, that the technical assistance dollars are one of the best, if not the best, federal investment in this area.  It’s change agent money, it’s leveraging change at the local and state level.

Len Sipes:  It’s guiding, it’s helping the state of Arkansas that comes up with a really interesting issue.  It helps that idea bubble up to the rest of the country, and then you all take a look at it and find out what works, what’s important, how it works, and then you disseminate those findings to everybody else.  If it wasn’t for the office of justice programs, that would not happen.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, I think that that’s correct because if you think about it, no one state or no one locality can undertake that kind of in-depth research, or it’s rare, and they certainly are not in a position to disseminate it nationally or to undertake that kind of broad, broad research.

Len Sipes:  Now one of the things that you and I have talked about in the past is this whole concept of practitioner-based, a focus on the individual, law enforcement commander, correctional commander, juvenile justice person.  Have we made progress at the federal level in terms of making research come alive for them, making research user-friendly?  We’ve discussed the fact that some of the findings in the past have been pretty difficult to read, pretty difficult to understand.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, I’ll tell you.  This has been one of my highest priorities.  In the time interval between my service under Janet Reno in the 90s and when I came back under Eric Holder in 2009, I was at the University of Pennsylvania running a Master’s program in criminology, and I kicked myself that during my time under Janet Reno, I had never set up something like a what-works clearinghouse.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laurie Robinson:  To distill research information for busy, front-line practitioners.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laurie Robinson:  Because you and I both know that a detective on the street or even a busy police chief cannot have the time to read academic journal articles or go to the American Society of Criminology meeting, and what they need is distilled information, and the same is true of busy Capitol Hill staff who are rushing to put a hearing together, for example.  So within probably a week after I came back to the office of justice programs, I pulled my staff together and I said we’re going to put together a what-works clearinghouse.

Len Sipes:  And you can find the clearinghouse at www.ojp.gov – www.ojp.gov.  That clearinghouse is a what-works clearinghouse, and it is the first time in my 42 years within the criminal justice system that you can go to one spot and take a look at a variety of topics in terms of research, in terms of what works, and it provides a summation as to what that research has to say.  It’s taken us 40 years, four decades, to finally do that, and you did it.

Laurie Robinson:  Yeah, it’s called crimesolutions.gov, so you can also find it just by Goggling crimesolutions.gov.

Len Sipes:  Okay, and why did it take us 40 years to do that?  Let me ask bluntly, has there in the past been too much of an emphasis on the research community and not enough emphasis on the cop in the street, the people who work the criminal justice system?

Laurie Robinson:  Well, I think there’s been a bifurcated focus, and there’s not been enough focus on getting the two of them together, and I’ll tell you, I’m a person who is impatient and coming back, I was even more impatient, and I thought if I’m going to be here, especially just a short period of time because originally I told Eric Holder I would only stay for a year and a half, and I thought I’m not going to be here long and we’re going to get this done, and I have to tell you, initially my staff said well, I don’t know, does this make sense? I said yep, it makes sense, and we’re going to do it.

Len Sipes:  One of the experiences I had when I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety is a public safety secretary would come along, and this is a story you and I have discussed in the past, and he plopped this telephone-sized book of research on my desk and say Sipes, I don’t have time to read this.  Just give me a one-page summation as to what it has to say.  So that was the key to the whole thing, right?  Making it crystal clear, summarizing the research, and making the research come alive for the people in the field.

Laurie Robinson:  Right, that’s exactly right, and by the way, when I was teaching at Penn, I had my Master of Science students for their papers write one-page papers because I told them this would serve them better when they got out into post-graduation than the lengthy papers that they had to do in their other classes.

Len Sipes:  The hardest thing in the world is to write succinctly.  The hardest thing in the world to do is to get to the point, and a lot of people within the research community – you can blame this on me.  You don’t have to say this.  A lot of people in the research community have a very hard time doing that.

Laurie Robinson:  I do not disagree.

Len Sipes:  Okay now, evidence-based.  One thing that you really have emphasized in your time within President Obama’s administration has been evidence-based focused in criminal justice practices.  The Crimes Solutions database is one of them.  So the whole idea is that we, within the criminal justice system, have a degree of evidence that is easily readable that leads us to particular conclusions.  Evidence-based means what?

Laurie Robinson:  Well, I think that’s a very good question and when I did come back to OJP, I started something called the Evidence Integration Initiative for us to look across OJP at what we were doing in this area and in fact, even within our own agency, we had many different uses of that term in different grant solicitations, for example.

Len Sipes:  Right.

Laurie Robinson:  So what it means, of course, is something based on science, but we have to be then articulating what that is.

Len Sipes:  Well, there’s a lot of people out there who are simply – still, I say, like offender reentry, which we are very, very involved in.  It does come down to a certain degree of difficulty in terms of what practices to put in place for what kind of offender.

Laurie Robinson:  Of course.

Len Sipes:  We’re getting there.  There’s been a ton of research under your administration and previous administrations, but there’s still a sense of out in the field, well gee, what do we do?  What does this mean?  What do we mean by the high-risk offender?  What do we mean by not putting so much of an emphasis on the low-risk offender?  What is high risk?  What is low risk?  Those are just a couple of the questions that have bubbled up, so giving people clear and concise guidance is so important.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, and that’s why crimesolutions.gov, I think, is an important piece of guidance for the field and why we are also launching this spring something we call our diagnostic center or our helpdesk, which will be an additional tool for local jurisdictions to actually assist them in implementing the programs that are being recommended by crimesolutions.gov.

Len Sipes:  Okay, it’s a double-barreled approach.  It’s crimesolutions.gov in terms of what works and then there’s a technical assistance branch that helps people come to grips with the data.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, for example, if you were the mayor of Des Moines, Iowa, and you were grappling with a problem, you might even know exactly what the problem is.  Maybe it’s after-school burglaries, but you don’t know what program you need it implement it.  You could call the diagnostic center and maybe even have a team deployed to go out and assess the problem and then turn to Crime Solutions or experts to assess what kind of approach is needed and then provide technical assistance to the jurisdiction to help in implementing that.

Len Sipes:  And that’s would be a godsend.  That really would because up to a couple years ago, we knew about the Department of Justice.  We knew about office of justice programs, we knew about BJA and NIJ and all the agencies that are under the Office of Justice Programs.  We knew that there was research, but sometimes the idea of coming to a conclusion was almost impossible. What you got when you contacted the National Criminal Justice Reference Service was a bibliography, and it’s like, who has time to go through this massive bibliography and figure out what data applies to your particular situation and what the lessons are.  So you’re streamlining that whole thing.

Laurie Robinson:  Yeah, and this is something I feel very strongly about.  If it’s hard for us in Washington to weave our way through the multiple funding streams – in OJP’s case, we have more than 50 different funding streams coming into our agency and multiple programs under some of those funding streams.  How is someone out in the middle of the country supposed to understand that, much less feel their way through the different programs and research programs underneath those to figure out what’s going to work in Des Moines or Dubuque or Denver?

Len Sipes:  Well, my assessment is that up until your arrival, it’s been almost impossible for them to do that.  It is a daunting task.  I mean, criminal justice administrators, as you’ve said, do not have time to read esoteric documents.

Laurie Robinson:  Correct.

Len Sipes:  They do not have time to wade through 500 pages, 200 pages, 150 pages, they just don’t have the time.  They want to say ah, drug courts, it works.  The Urban Institute even gave recommendations in terms of what were the most powerful elements of it.  They summarized a variety of research and they nailed it in terms of what the most viable parts of that program, the most workable parts of that program were, and that’s a difference.  We didn’t get that five years ago.

Laurie Robinson:  Well, I fell very strongly about that kind of connection in that we need to connect federal agencies with people in the field who are the users.

Len Sipes:  You know, one of the biggest issues, and I read two news summaries every day about crime and criminal justice agencies, and for the last two years – actually, longer than that – the big issue has been the budget reductions on the part of state and local agencies, and one of the things that your emphasis does is to try to point out to cash-strapped agencies the best ways of doing things and the best economical ways of doing things.

Laurie Robinson:  Right, and I think that’s exactly right, and this also is where research is so critical.  I mean, let’s take one area in law enforcement.  We know that law enforcement agencies around the country are seeing reductions.  The report that came out from the cop’s office several months back documented how so many law enforcement agencies are having to reduce the number of officers and yet, you look at the research from David Weisburd of George Mason University about hot spots police, and if we know the areas where crime is occurring, it can really point to exactly where officers need to be deployed.

Len Sipes:  Yes, a focus on people, a focus on places.

Laurie Robinson:  On places, exactly, and that can make it so much smarter.  The Attorney General talks about smart on crime and smart policing, exactly where you should be focusing your officers is a good way to think about a smart deployment of scarce resources

Len Sipes:  We’re halfway through the interview.  I want to reintroduce Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson of the Office of Justice Programs, www.ojp.gov – www.ojp.gov.  One of the other things that is of immense interest to us, Laurie, is this whole concept of reducing recidivism, offenders coming out of the prison system.  There are 700,000 people released from state and federal prisons every single year, and the states are screaming bloody murder as to the fact that they can no longer afford the level of incarceration that they’ve had in the past.  Reducing the rate of return back to the prison system is just not only a public safety issue.  For them, it is an extraordinarily important way of controlling their own cost.  So you’ve put a lot of emphasis on offender reentry.  For those reasons?

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, absolutely.  It is an issue obviously about public safety, about reducing victimization in the community and as you said, it’s an issue about reducing costs.  This is a very high priority, not just for the office of justice programs but for the Attorney General, for Eric Holder.  As you probably know, Eric Holder is personally chairing a Cabinet-level reentry council, and he has more than half of the Cabinet, the domestic side of the Cabinet, personally attending these council meetings.  Len, you and I have both attended, what, thousands of meetings in our lives, in our professional lives.

Len Sipes:  Absolutely, yeah.

Laurie Robinson:  I have had the privilege of sitting at the table in Eric Holder’s conference room with this reentry council, and I will tell you that these two meetings that I have sat at have been the most exciting meetings perhaps in my entire professional career.  To sit at the table and see these Cabinet members personally engaged.  They’re not reading talking points.  They’re excited about what they can do to get involved and draw not only the resources but the engagement and energy, and the power of their Cabinet departments to address this issue.

Len Sipes:  Does the average citizen, though, understand that what we’re talking about is less victimization?  I mean, the good news is that there’s been an almost continual 20-year decrease in crime and certainly research in the office of justice programs have greatly contributed to this long-term reduction in crime, but if you go into Baltimore and Cleveland and so many other cities throughout this country, crime is just an integral part of their day-to-day lives.  It really has an impact on schools, on cities, and that’s what we’re talking about, are we not?  What we’re talking about is not only saving states money in terms of fewer people coming back into the prison system.  We’re talking about fewer victimizations and we’re talking about thousands of fewer victimizations.

Laurie Robinson:  You are obviously correct on that, but you raise a very good point, that while crime, of course, is down across the country, there are many communities, particularly in urban areas, where crime remains a daunting problem.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Laurie Robinson:  And have we sufficiently educated the public in those areas about the importance of reentry and reducing recidivism? I don’t know that we have.  In fact, I think we have not sufficiently done that important public education job, and so there’s more to be done there, but it’s a very important job that we do because the costs are huge and the costs are great for those communities in a broader, non-monetary sense because it destroys those communities.

Len Sipes:  I won’t say who they are, but two people who are very close to me said Leonard, I know you’re interested in this concept of offender reentry, but look, we have the elderly to take care of, we have schools to take care of, we have kids to take care of.  I’m just not all that excited about pouring more money into people who have harmed other human beings.  I mean, I have struggled to convince people who are close to me that this is a concept worth considering, so that’s a daunting problem for those of us in the criminal justice system to convince people that this is in their best interest.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, and I think that that’s why public education is needed, and I think, for example, on the issue of employment of ex-offenders.  When there are many people out of work in this country that this is a real challenge.  One of the things that is very heartening to me is that there is strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the states.

Len Sipes:  Isn’t that interesting? We have some staunch conservatives.  I’m sorry for bringing up politics, but we have people on both sides of the aisle who are now very supportive of this concept of reentry.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes.  I think there’s a strong belief in the faith community, for example, in the notion of redemption.

Len Sipes:  Yes.

Laurie Robinson:  And I find this very heartening and that there is a strong base of support for the notion of people coming back and becoming good fathers and mothers in their families, to their children, because of course we know that the children of incarcerated persons, that there’s a great deal from the research that says there’s a strong chance that they, themselves, will follow lives of crime, as well.

Len Sipes:  Right, it’s just not that individual offender.  It’s the children.  I mean, 80% of women offenders – it’s a very large number in terms of male offenders – they have kids.  I mean, it’s just not them, it’s the kids who will benefit greatly from an employed, non-drug using person.

Laurie Robinson:  Correct, and the impact on the community around them, as well, of course

Len Sipes:  We talked about basic recommendations for law enforcement.  Did you have any more?  I mean, this is exciting.  I mean, what we’re trying to do for law enforcement is to marshal the focus on individual places, hot spots policing where the most crime occurs, marshaling resources, doing crime analysis, analyzing what’s there, predicting future behavior.  Nobody quite understands all of the technical documents that comes out of your office in terms of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, in terms of evaluating tires on police cars, in terms of the best way to collect evidence.  I mean, that all comes out of your office.

Laurie Robinson:  Right.

Len Sipes:  The public’s fascinated with CSI.  You are CSI.  You’re the real CSI.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, and I’m probably not the best.  I’m definitely not the best person to explain all of the detail on the technical side but yes, we have wonderful people working on those issues and we fund a great deal on the side of forensics and the technical – the tire analysis and all of that, and I’m proud of the work that’s done there under our National Institute of Justice.

Len Sipes:  But as a former state trooper, as a person who as gone well over 100 miles an hour responding to calls, the best possible tires were very important to me and my life and the lives of other people, and I am just not quite sure that everybody realizes the complexity of your organization in terms of how many fingers you have in so many pies within the criminal justice system.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes, and actually the first research on DNA was done in our predecessor agency, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, LEAA, so there’s great history there, as well as the invention of the bulletproof vest.

Len Sipes:  The bulletproof vest research is, again, of interest to me because I have to wear one with this agency when I’m going with the parole and probation officers out in the field.  So let me go off law enforcement for a second.  Any recommendations regarding juvenile justice?  I mean, this is a field where there’s some sort of yin and yang between putting them away and the treatment part of it, which also applies to adult offenders, as well, but it seems to have a greater emphasis in the juvenile justice field.  Is that something that you want to talk about in terms of best practices?

Laurie Robinson:  Yes.  I think that in the juvenile justice field, we have actually a combination of new material both on the hard science and the soft science.  Very interesting work, as I’m sure you know, that’s been done in what I would call the hard science side that has been greatly publicized by the Macarthur Foundation and others about the development of the adolescent mind, and I think the New York Times Magazine had an interesting piece about this not too long ago that has real consequences about the kind of lack of development of the adolescent brain and how it’s not fully developed until individuals are into their 20s, and the inability for impulse control and that kind of thing that has real implications about the transfer of adolescents into the adult system, for example, and how we really deal with children in the justice system.

Len Sipes:  One of the things I found exciting as I was reading a literature review one day, and they said that out of all the things regarding juvenile justice, the idea of sending social workers into the homes of kids who are acting out and working with the parents or working with the mother at a fairly early age – that contributed to one of the highest decreases in criminal activity when they followed these individuals over the course of 25 years.  That’s exciting.  I mean, that gives us clear guidance in terms of something that we can do early and yet bring down the crime rate even more.

Laurie Robinson:  Yes.  I think this was the nurse home visitation study, and that is some of the most rigorous research that has been done, kind of gold standard research, and it shows dramatic reductions in later delinquency and really a stark contrast at relatively low cost.  So that is an excellent example.  Something else I would point to, research by Ed Mulvey, which talks about with relatively serious juvenile offenders the kind of things that can be done there to reduce recidivism  For example, substance treatment that really can make a difference.  After care is very key, and his research also shows that longer stays in juvenile confinement do not necessarily decrease or do, rather, decrease recidivism. So his work, which has really followed juveniles over a long period of time I think is quite significant.

Len Sipes:  We have just a couple minutes left in terms of a very quick program.  So the bottom line in all of this, Madam Assistant Attorney General, Laurie, is that through the years of research, we are now coming to clear conclusions in terms of how the criminal justice system should conduct itself.  That seems to be borne out in the fact that especially within the last 10-15 years we’ve had almost continual reductions in crime.  So you know, that seems to be a message, does it not, that we really do have a pretty good sense as to where it is that we should go?  All we have to do now is to make it available to the practitioner.

Laurie Robinson:  Well, I do think that first of all, I’m not sure that we can claim that what we’ve been doing is responsible for the reductions in crime.

Len Sipes:  Agreed, agreed.

Laurie Robinson:  But I do think that we are on a good course as far as trying to unite the research findings with practitioners, and I am so optimistic about the kind of energy and quality of practitioners both in criminal and juvenile justice in this country.  I used to say to my students when I was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania – we were right across the street from the Wharton School of Business, and on the first day of classes, I would say to them, if you’re in this business to make money, you should really go across the street to Wharton.  You know, people, in other words, are in our business because they have a passion, because they care about it, and it’s true across the country that people work in this business because they care, because they have a passion, and I see this when I travel across the country that people are so engaged, even with the challenges out there.

Len Sipes:  And those challenges are many because you know, I was just reading the other day about indigent defense, public defender offices being cut.  I mean, more than ever before, I mean, some public defenders offices are basically saying that they just can’t handle it.  I mean, the budget cuts – there’s a wide variety of agencies that are really struggling.  This means the best possible research to show people how to do more with less.

Laurie Robinson:  That’s right, but I think people in our field are so innovative and they’re open to change.  This is not true in every field, but I think we have seen over the last ten years that people in the criminal and juvenile justice fields are, at least at the state and local level, open to change and they’re willing to innovate, and they have been enormously innovative.  I think we’re at a real crossroads here because of the pressures from the budget and that taking an area like justice reinvestment, that people are willing to work across the aisle, that they’re willing to look at new approaches, and that they’re seeing results from it relying on research and relying on new approaches.

Len Sipes:  This may be an opportunity.  This may be forced change, force us to change the way we do business within the criminal justice system.

Laurie Robinson:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  And we couldn’t do that without your research.

Laurie Robinson:  Well, without the research and sharing lessons learned.

Len Sipes:  We close.  Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson of the Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice, we greatly appreciate you being here, and ladies and gentlemen, as always, we appreciate your letters, we appreciate your emails, we appreciate your phone calls with criticisms and suggestions and recommendations for new shows, and I want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]