Roles for Psychologists in Federal Violence Research Initiatives Explored

Public Policy Office (PPO) staff are pursuing two lines of federal funding for research on effective interventions for violence. The first involves recent shifts in federal policy toward violence that have resulted in several initiatives for broad, multi-disciplinary approaches to research and intervention. In particular, the emphasis of Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, MD, and Attorney General Janet Reno on understanding violence as a public health problem has resulted in greater opportunities for behavioral scientists to play a key role in setting a research agenda and pursuing key research questions.

The question of what kinds of approaches work best to reduce the risks for violence in diverse communities will fuel research strategies carried out by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Following passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, NIJ and the Department of Justice reorganized several of the Institute's agencies, creating new agencies with the charge of evaluating primary and secondary prevention programs authorized in the Act.

Such programs as alternative sentencing, community-oriented policing, boot camps, and drug courts will be evaluated, according to Jeremy Travis, newly appointed Director of NIJ. Behavioral scientists can play a role in determining what the correct research questions and methodologies are in each of these program areas, Travis stated in a recent meeting with APA staff. School-based violence and domestic violence prevention programs will also be evaluated by NIJ, in cooperation with the Departments of Health and Human Services and Education.

Funds for prevention programs authorized under the new crime law, however, have not been appropriated, leaving many in the research and prevention communities nervous about the prospects for funding the noncriminal provisions of the Act in the more conservative 104th Congress. Many Republican leaders have vowed to oppose funding for prevention and research programs authorized under the Act.

In contrast, the second line PPO staff are pursuing involves the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is moving ahead with plans to establish a center/consortium for violence research that will integrate social, behavioral, and biological science approaches. In particular, NSF seeks to ensure the involvement of minority scholars in research and training activities. Congress has already appropriated $2 million in FY 1995 to establish the center, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development is contributing an additional $2 million for basic research on violence and public hous

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