According to the U.S. Department of Justice, every year for the past 10 the victim costs of crime in America have exceeded $450 billion, a staggering figure that doesn’t calculate the human misery or the dollars needed to run the nation’s juvenile and adult justice systems. Each year, 600,000 prisoners are released; within three, roughly two-thirds return. Nearly 70 percent have alcohol and drug problems; about 40 percent land back behind bars.
Meanwhile, Florida State University’s Center for Criminology and Public Policy Research is leading a quiet revolution to give academic scholarship a vital role in the control of crime and put FSU at the forefront of public policy and practice.
Because when it comes to cutting crime’s terrible toll, “It’s not that nothing works. We know there are things that do,” said Thomas Blomberg, since 2004 the dean of FSU’s venerable College of Criminology and Criminal Justice and director of the burgeoning research center affiliated with it.
The center’s mission: expand the role of research to promote evidence-based — instead of emotion- and belief-based — policy-making at all levels of the criminal justice system; create a centralized data warehouse open to all and second to none; and boost the already distinguished College of Criminology to national prominence.
Florida’s Department of Education and Attorney General’s Office — and now the U.S. DOE and Congress — have taken notice. The Type II research center has garnered formidable state and federal funding to assist with issues ranging from gang-related gun violence and recidivism rates of chronic substance abusers to consumer fraud and the implementation of No Child Left Behind Act standards in juvenile justice schools throughout all 50 states.
Blomberg points to the chasm between criminology research and public policy in areas crucial to a better understanding and control of crime and delinquency. Then, there’s the void where outcome assessments of policies and practices should be. Internationally recognized for his own research and with practical experiences from over 30 years in the field, Blomberg calls the history of criminology reform to-date a “history of quackery.”
Still, he hails the last decade for bringing an unprecedented rise in the level of cooperation and information sharing between criminology scholars, policy-makers and criminal justice practitioners — after generations of criminal justice decision-making in a research vacuum.
“We mean to ride the wave,” said FSU Vice President for Research Kirby Kemper. “Along with graduate assistants and 35 staff, the center has assembled a world-class cadre of FSU experts that are known for their theory testing and rigorous empirical research. It also intends to grow additional fellowships to draw more of the top graduate students in the country to our university.”
Current and pending contracts link the research center’s acumen to initiatives such as assisting Palm Beach County with a violence reduction program in response to gang-related shootings; developing model alternative schools in Volusia County; and working alongside the Florida DOE to ensure safe and drug-free K-12 schools.
A sampling of other key projects includes:
- JJEEP — the Juvenile Justice Education Enhancement Program. It’s the Florida-born inspiration for a national program that the center will spearhead. With a U.S. Department of Education contract and Congress-approved funding, FSU will first evaluate and then aid efforts to meet federal No Child Left Behind requirements in juvenile justice schools in every state. The Florida DOE awarded JJEEP funding to the College of Criminology in 1998 and now, the center’s ongoing quality assurance reviews and technical support of the state’s nearly 200 such schools give young offenders the best tools for a better future — and continue to raise the bar for the rest of the country.
- The Consumer Fraud Institute. Funded by a gift from the Florida Attorney General’s Office, the collaboration with St. Thomas University School of Law will, among numerous activities, tackle the problem of inter-agency and inter-jurisdictional communication in the state’s investigation and prosecution of consumer fraud.
- An experimental program for the Florida Department of Corrections that studies the efficacy of substance abuse treatment in prisons. The center will cast a wider-than-normal treatment net, then track long-term differences in community re-integration and recidivism.
“Like our FSU colleagues in other centers across campus that strive to inform public policy, we’re proud to be quite literally bringing our research to life,” said Blomberg.