About the Priority Criminal Justice Needs Initiative

The fundamental goal of the high priority needs initiative is to enable innovation in the U.S. criminal justice enterprise—including law enforcement, corrections, and the courts. What innovation means for organizations falls across a wide spectrum, from incremental changes that enable agencies to do tasks they now do better, to become more efficient, and to solve current problems, up to transformational changes that make it possible to do entirely new things or accomplish objectives in new ways.

Innovation often is triggered by technological changes. However, while technology often plays a part in innovation, it is not the whole story–and sometimes not even part of the story. Organizational innovation can involve

  • new or better technologies
  • changes in personnel training that transform the way individuals use technologies or carry out their duties, and
  • changes in organizational policies and practices that shape not just how tasks are done but that can either enable or hinder innovation by how the agency is positioned to respond to new challenges or opportunities.

Though sometimes one of these is enough, innovation can (and often does) require a combination of all three. To innovate effectively today, criminal justice agencies need to know what options are available to them now to solve current problems or improve on current practices. To innovate effectively in the future, a broader community—including not just practitioner agencies but the federal government and technology providers—needs sufficient foresight to identify emerging problems and opportunities; to identify combinations of technology, training, and policy that can address them; and to identify which of those options we should pursue now so the tools the criminal justice community will need to be effective in the future will be available. The goal of this research effort is to provide this foresight for the criminal justice enterprise.

Current Initiative Efforts

The Initiative works toward this goal by facilitating engagements with practitioners and other experts to gather their input on technology and policy needs on pressing issues for their communities of practice. The initiative convenes expert panels and workshops to elicit the highest-priority problems, opportunities, and associated solutions from practitioners on the topic of the workshop. The prioritized needs and context from participant discussions are then crafted into publicly-available reports meant to inform the research agenda of NIJ and apprise other criminal justice practitioners, administrators, researchers, and technology providers of the most pressing technology and policy needs.

  • Examining the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across the criminal justice system. RAND, the University of Denver, RTI International, and PERF collaborated to hold a seven-panel virtual workshop in September 2020 on COVID-19 and the criminal justice system. The workshop addressed challenges, adaptations, and assessment of future needs related to the pandemic in panels focused on law enforcement services and operations, law enforcement agency management, institutional corrections, community corrections, court services and operations, victim services, and communities.
  • Examining the law enforcement response to homelessness. RAND and PERF convened a panel of law enforcement practitioners, academics, and other experts in Washington, D.C. in February 2020. The panel assessed the role of law enforcement in addressing homelessness and identified high-priority needs on promising practices and policy, partnerships with service providers and communities, issues related to data collection, integration, and evaluation, and basic research and public education.
  • Risk and needs assessments in prisons. . RAND and the University of Denver convened a panel with institutional corrections practitioners in Washington, D.C. in August 2019. The panel identified and prioritized needs related to the selection, implementation, and administration of risk and needs assessment tools in institutional correctional settings.
  • Countering technology-facilitated abuse. RAND and RTI International convened a panel in Washington, D.C. in July 2019. The panel was a diverse group consisting of law enforcement practitioners, cyber civil rights advocates, legal professionals, and other justice system practitioners. The group identified and prioritized needs for combating nonconsensual pornography, sextortion, doxing, and swatting.