NIJ Journal 279: NIJ Bulletin

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Publications in Brief

National Best Practices for Sexual Assault Kits: A Multidisciplinary Approach

Behind every sexual assault case is a person whose life has been irrevocably altered. To support victim-centered approaches for responding to sexual assault cases, NIJ recently released a report on best practices for handling sexual assault kits. In the report, NIJ’s expert working group puts forward 35 recommendations for better supporting sexual assault victims throughout the criminal justice process.

The report’s best practices offer multidisciplinary guidelines that emphasize inclusion and collaboration for all those involved in responding to sexual assault cases, from medical personnel and forensic laboratories to law enforcement and policymakers. Practitioners can apply these approaches to avoid re-traumatization and serve victims more effectively at all stages of the process.

Read “National Best Practices for Sexual Assault Kits: A Multidisciplinary Approach.”

School Safety: By the Numbers

Students who are victimized at school are prone to truancy, poor academic performance, dropping out of school, and violent behaviors. Although schools can be safe havens relative to the communities in which they are located, school safety and security remain pressing issues. The good news is that theft, violent crime, and student homicides in American schools have declined over the past decade.

Drawing on data from the Department of Education, Department of Justice, and other agencies, the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative (CSSI) examines statistics about school safety and violence. A recent NIJ flier offers a quick look at six of these school safety statistics, showing that school crime rates are falling, although traumatic events remain common in schools. Social media remains a relative blind spot in understanding school bullying and harassment.

Read the flier.

From Evidence-Based Practices to a Comprehensive Intervention Model for High-Risk Young Men: The Story of Roca

Since 1988, the Massachusetts organization Roca has worked with thousands of high-risk young people, including young parents, immigrants, and youth involved in gangs. In the mid-2000s, Roca embraced an evidence-based, data-driven approach to reducing recidivism. The result, Roca’s High-Risk Young Men Intervention Model, is a program dedicated to serving 17- to 24-year-old men at the highest risk of future incarceration. Relying on rigorous analysis and proven practices, Roca’s model has brought marked improvements to participants. In Massachusetts overall, 76 percent of the 18- to 24-year-olds released from Houses of Corrections are re-arraigned within three years. After completing two years of the Roca program, however, just 7 percent of participants are rearrested.

In a recent paper co-sponsored by NIJ and the Harvard Kennedy School, authors Molly Baldwin and Yotam Zeira examine how Roca has bridged the gap between theoretical best practices and practicable intervention models. The paper traces how Roca integrated eight evidence-based practices in community corrections, offering solutions for other community corrections organizations to apply these practices in their own work.

Read “From Evidence-Based Practices to a Comprehensive Intervention Model for High-Risk Young Men: The Story of Roca.”

News & Events

Sentinel Events Initiative All-Stakeholder Forum

When errors, unethical behavior, or unexpected outcomes occur in criminal justice, the most common response is to assign blame. In June 2017, nearly 100 federal, state, and local criminal justice practitioners, researchers and academics, policymakers, crime survivors, community representatives, and federal partners convened to discuss how to shift that response. Their discussion focused on mechanisms for learning from errors to improve the system rather than simply blaming bad actors. These stakeholders explored the potential benefits of developing the capacity for state- and local-level sentinel event reviews (SERs), along with the barriers to establishing SERs within criminal justice.

Learn more about the meeting’s guiding principles, questions, and conclusions.

The Evolution of SNPs as a Forensic Marker

Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are small DNA sequence variations observable across groups and individuals. In November 2017, NIJ’s Forensic Technology Center of Excellence hosted a webinar on SNPs in which Kenneth Kidd discussed their history as forensic markers and highlighted some of the resources that are available to practitioners. Christopher Phillips and Thomas Parsons discussed the design and development of large SNP multiplexes for forensic and missing person identification, and Daniele Podini discussed assays on simulated forensic samples for individual identification and ancestry prediction.

Learn more about the webinar.

Winners of the Crime Forecasting Challenge

How can the location of crime be predicted in advance? The Real-Time Crime Forecasting Challenge sought to harness advances in data science to address this challenge. It encouraged data scientists across all scientific disciplines to foster innovation in forecasting methods. The goal was to develop algorithms that advance place-based crime forecasting through the use of data from one police jurisdiction. Specifically, the Challenge tested how effectively and efficiently contestants’ crime forecasting algorithms could forecast police calls for service in four crime categories in Portland, Oregon, for five forecast periods.

In August 2017, winners were selected from submissions by five students, 42 small teams/businesses, and 15 large businesses. Learn more and read the winning submissions.


Why Is There an Evidence Backlog?

Forensic evidence is collected from crime scenes, victims, and suspects in criminal cases and then submitted to a laboratory. Processing this evidence is time-consuming because it must first be screened to determine whether any biological material is present and, if so, what kind of biological material it is. Only then can DNA testing begin. The demand on crime laboratories is often higher than their capacity, causing a backlog of unprocessed, untested evidence.

Several federal grant programs have made a significant contribution to clearing backlogs of forensic DNA evidence in crime laboratories. Between 2004 and 2011, NIJ awarded approximately $542 million to state and local DNA laboratories. Federal funding helped these laboratories increase capacity almost fourfold between 2005 and 2010. At the same time, most jurisdictions remain hard-pressed to keep up with the demand. To illustrate the problem of evidence backlogs, NIJ released a short video explaining where the backlog comes from and what NIJ is doing to address it.

Watch “Why Is There an Evidence Backlog?”

Impact of Research and Development on Lab Efficiency and Operations

How does research affect evidence processing and analysis within crime laboratories? With an understanding of the barriers to meeting caseload demands faced by forensic scientists, NIJ supports research and development that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the nation’s crime laboratories. In a new video, NIJ highlights the connection between forensic science research, improved processes, and better justice outcomes.

Watch “Impact of Research and Development on Lab Efficiency and Operations.”

Recent Research Findings

Assessing and Responding to the Recent Homicide Rise in the United States

U.S. homicide rates rose substantially in 2015 and 2016. In big cities, homicides increased by 15.2 percent between 2014 and 2015, and by 10.8 percent between 2015 and 2016. These increases are much larger than has been typical of yearly homicide fluctuations over the past several decades, so they merit close attention.

A new publication from NIJ considers two explanations for the homicide rise: expansion in illicit drug markets brought about by the heroin and synthetic opioid epidemic, and “Ferguson effects” resulting in de-policing and compromised police legitimacy. After analyzing these two phenomena, the paper concludes with recommendations for future research.

Read “Assessing and Responding to the Recent Homicide Rise in the United States.”

Pathways Between Child Maltreatment and Adult Criminal Involvement

Child abuse and neglect have been shown to increase the risk of later forms of antisocial behavior, including violence perpetration and crime in adulthood. However, the processes through which child abuse leads to subsequent antisocial and criminal behavior are not well understood.

A recent NIJ-funded study suggests that interventions aimed at reducing negative consequences of child abuse on adult criminal behavior should be tailored to the developmental timing of the antisocial behavior. Tailoring intervention efforts to address different factors in the pathways linking child abuse and adult crime may more effectively promote desistance from antisocial behavior associated with childhood abuse.

Learn more about the research and read the report.

Computers Learn to Detect Financial Abuse of the Elderly

A recent NIJ-funded study found that machine learning may provide a new avenue for creating tools to identify financial exploitation among elderly adults. Carmel Dyer, Jason Burnett, and their team used a Texas adult protective services, administrative, statewide data set with 8,800 confirmed cases of elder abuse. The data were randomly split 80/20. The larger data set was used to train the computer to detect patterns of financial exploitation; the smaller data set was used to test the computer models on accuracy in classifying the financial exploitation cases.

The study demonstrated an innovative way to leverage administrative data to understand patterns of financial exploitation. The computer was able to learn how to distinguish financial exploitation from other types of elder abuse and further learn patterns of pure financial exploitation versus hybrid financial exploitation.

Learn more about the study and read the researchers’ final report.

New Pages

Linking Suspects to Crime Scenes with Particle Populations

David and Paul Stoney, two brothers who operate Stoney Forensic in Chantilly, Virginia, have long believed that the innumerable very small particles (VSP) in the environment can be used to solve crimes. Their earlier research established the viability of using such particles for two important forensic purposes: matching an object found at a crime scene to a suspect’s vehicle or residence, and tracing the recent history of where an object has been. In a new NIJ-funded study, the researchers sought to determine the evidential value of VSP profiles found on handguns, cell phones, drug packaging, and ski masks. The samples tested were actual evidence held by the San Diego Sheriff’s Office. Overall, 82 percent of the VSP specimens recovered showed “sufficient variety and complexity in their VSP profiles to allow meaningful classification.”

Read an article about the study.

Fast and Versatile Forensic Analysis of Ink and Paper with an Easily Operated Laser

Information from the forensic examination of inks and paper can be critical to investigations involving financial crimes, counterfeiting, terrorism, and anonymous letters used for threatening correspondences, ransom notes, and kidnappings. Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) instruments, which can detect practically the entire periodic table of elements very quickly and without the complexity of other systems, are an economic choice for forensic analysis of this ink-and-paper evidence.

In an NIJ-supported project, researchers at Florida International University compared LIBS systems to a more complex and costly mass spectrometry system. More than 97 percent of writing inks and up to 100 percent of printing inks were correctly discriminated by the LIBS system. The researchers concluded that LIBS, while less mature, offers improved speed, versatility, ease of operation, affordability, and portability.

Read an article about the project.

Establishing Scientific Criteria for 3D Analysis of Cartridges

Recent NIJ-funded research has established best practices for using the TopMatch system, an advanced 3D imaging and analysis system for firearm forensics. The research demonstrated excellent repeatability and precision in the scans produced by the technology for analyzing cartridges. Ryan Lilien, the scientist and developer of TopMatch whose work was supported by NIJ, says that the work “sets a solid foundation on which our scanning methodology and comparison algorithms can build.”

Read an article about the system.

Sharing Data to Improve Science

Data Resources Program

Secondary data analysis allows researchers to build on existing findings, replicate results, and conduct new analyses. Through NIJ’s Data Resources Program, data collected as part of NIJ research are archived in the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data and made available to support new research aimed at reproducing original findings, replicating results, and testing new hypotheses.

Recent data sets updated or added to the National Archive include the following:

  • An Examination of Child Support, Debt and Prisoner Reentry Using the SVORI Adult Male Dataset, 2004-2007
  • Assessing the Influence of Home Visit Themes and Temporal Ordering On High-Risk Parolee Outcomes, Georgia, 2011-2015
  • Elder Abuse in the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS)
  • Evaluation of a Novel Fluorescent Dye to Detect Anogenital Injury, Virginia, 2015-2016
  • Examining the Effects of the TASER on Cognitive Functioning, Arizona, 2012-2013
  • Identification of Risk and Preventive Factors for Elder Financial Exploitation, Los Angeles, 2014-2015
  • Police Practitioner-Researcher Partnerships: Survey of Law Enforcement Executives, United States, 2010
  • Research on the Impact of Technology on Policing Strategy, 2012-2014
  • Secondary Analysis of Survey of Youth in Residential Placement (SYRP), 2003
  • The Long-Term Effects of Civil Legal Services on Battered Women, Iowa, 2012-2015

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Date Created: April 16, 2018