President Joe Biden has named criminologist Nancy La Vigne to head the National Institute of Justice, the arm of the U.S. Department of Justice that conducts research, development and evaluation, overseeing a wide array of social science research projects, technology initiatives, and forensic activities.
Before her appointment, which took effect on May 9, La Vigne was a senior fellow on the Council on Criminal Justice, where she directed the council’s Task Force on Policing. She takes over the leadership post from sociologist Jennifer Scherer, who has served as the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) acting director since January 2021. Scherer will resume her role as the office’s principal deputy director.
La Vigne’s expertise ranges from policing and corrections reform to reentry, criminal justice technologies and evidence-based criminal justice practices. Before joining the Council on Criminal Justice, she was vice president of justice policy at the Urban Institute and directed the institute’s Justice Policy Center. From 2014 to 2016, she also served as executive director of the bipartisan Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections Reform. La Vigne has served at NIJ before, having been the founding director of the Crime Mapping Research Center at the institute. She was on the boards of the Consortium of Social Science Associations and the Pretrial Justice Institute.
She earned a Ph.D. in criminal justice from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, a master’s degree in public affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School at the University of Texas-Austin, and a bachelor’s degree in government and economics from Smith College.
NIJ is one of the programs administered by the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (the bureau of Justice Statistics is another). That office last month launched a new podcast series, Justice Today, which covers issues such as preventing crime, assisting victims of crime, and disseminating criminal justice research and data. The debut episode, which first aired on April 22, features Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Amy L. Solomon detailing how the Office of Justice Programs is focused on “advancing strong communities, equal justice, and sound science.”