Former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said this week it is possible to have a reformed and more equitable criminal justice system that will help keep all Americans safe.
Holder, who served under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2015, spoke at George Mason University’s Mason Square in Arlington, where he was the keynote speaker during Monday’s awards luncheon at the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy’s annual symposium. The nation’s 82nd attorney general and first African American to hold the position received the 2022 Distinguished Achievement Award in Evidence-Based Crime Policy.
The award recognizes outstanding achievements and contributions by individuals in academia, practice or the policy arena who are committed to a leadership role in advancing the use of scientific research evidence in decisions about crime and justice policies. The role also includes notable efforts in connecting researchers with criminal justice institutions or advancing scientific research more generally in crime and justice.
“Criminal justice has been the centerpiece of my life’s work,” Holder told the several hundred law enforcement personnel, legal practitioners and scholars in attendance. “There’s not a tension between such reform and public safety. Reform and a more fair criminal justice system will enhance the likelihood the American people will, in fact, be more safe.”
Holder noted that by end of the Obama administration, there was a decrease in both America’s overall prison population and crime rate. It was the first such decrease in four decades, he said.
“Reform and safety can be true partners,” he said.
Holder was lauded for having been a true champion for science during his tenure at the Department of Justice (DOJ), having brought in top scientists to lead both the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, creating the department’s first Science Advisory Board and infusing evidence-based approaches in the DOJ’s state and local criminal justice grant programs.
Cynthia Lum, a professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society within Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the director of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, said she was honored to be able to present Holder with CEBCP’s highest honor.
“As attorney general, his efforts to translate, disseminate, and institutionalize science in the Department of Justice’s criminal justice programs transformed the field of criminology and helped accelerate evidence-based crime policy and practice,” Lum said.
Former two-time U.S. Assistant Attorney General and Mason Professor Emerita Laurie O. Robinson lauded her dear personal friend and former boss during her introduction for being “a committed advocate for science.”
Holder credited the evidence-based approach to the criminal justice system for making it fairer, and asked that it be better supported.
“This is not about compromising public safety,” he said. “It’s about a new approach that will keep us secure, will reduce costs and will promote fairness. All of this is possible.”
The daylong symposium also included various panels and the induction of nine new members to the Evidence-Based Policing Hall of Fame.