Washington, D.C. — A consortium of organizations in the academic, legal, and medical communities has been awarded a $2 million grant by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to launch and administer the NIJ National Center on Forensics (NCF). The work will be led by George Mason University (Mason), in partnership with the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), and the Forensic Science Division of the Montana Attorney General’s Office, and the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG).
The NCF will provide medico-legal learning opportunities for medical students to train as deputy medical examiners or coroners in underserved rural areas, and develop forensic science-related trainings for prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement.
- NAAG, through the NAGTRI Center for Ethics and Public Integrity, will lead efforts to develop and administer a needs assessment for the legal community, and to develop trainings for prosecutors and judges.
- ASCP will leverage its relationship with the forensic pathology community for activities relating to the grant, including activating recruitment programs to increase the number of forensic pathologists in the U.S. and enhance forensic pathology capacity.
- NIJ will provide guidance and oversee the three-year grant. The University of Washington Medical and Law Schools and the Montana County Attorneys Association are among the affiliates with whom the team expects to work.
- George Mason University’s Forensic Science experts, Joseph DiZinno, an associate professor and a former FBI forensics expert, will serve as the project’s principal investigator (PI), while Anthony Falsetti, an associate professor and forensic anthropologist, will serve as the co-PI.
“This grant is an exciting opportunity that reflects the importance of increasing forensic services across the nation,” said NAAG Executive Director Chris Toth. “NAAG welcomes the chance to work closely with partners in the academic, legal, and medical fields and to provide valuable training and resources that will benefit the criminal justice community.”
“The practice of forensic pathology in the US is underfunded and understaffed. These deficits have been amplified by the opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic. Our goal is to use multiple approaches across the career spectrum to increase forensic pathology workforce capacity to create the best medicolegal system for our members and our populations,” says Dan Milner, Chief Medical Officer for ASCP.
Mary Ellen O’Toole, the former FBI profiler who is the director of the Forensic Science Program within Mason’s College of Science, said the grant will allow her program to collaborate with partners to better make sure that every victim and their families receive justice.
“Too often victims and their families and the professionals investigating the crimes who reside in rural areas don’t have access to the same resources as those from urban, metropolitan areas,” O’Toole said. “This gap can be significant and stand between case resolution and years of never knowing what happened. This grant will allow us and our partners to work to increase the numbers of much-needed forensic experts like medical examiners and coroners and to provide state-of-the-art training for them and other professionals,” she explained.
“By increasing the number of forensic pathologists and by training the medical examiner, coroner, and legal communities,” DiZinno said, “the National Center on Forensics will directly impact the criminal justice system’s ability to determine if crimes have been committed and ensure that the guilty are held accountable and the innocent are not unfairly charged or convicted.”
“Our State Crime Lab has seen a steady influx of cases over the last several years, including a substantial increase in lethal methamphetamine intoxication cases. The ability to expand our forensics workforce and keep pace with demand will be invaluable for Montana’s law enforcement community in their work to hold criminals accountable and keep our citizens safe,” Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen said.
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The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) is the nonpartisan national forum for the 56 state and territory attorneys general and their staff. NAAG provides a community for members to collaboratively address issues important to their work and resources to support attorneys general in protecting the rule of law and the United States Constitution.
The National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute (NAGTRI), a NAAG branch, provides innovative legal trainings and comprehensive research to state and territory attorney general offices.
The College of Science at George Mason University
Located near Washington, D.C., George Mason University, Virginia’s largest public research university, enrolls more than 39,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the last half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity, and commitment to accessibility. Mason’s College of Science offers transformative academic and research opportunities including those in the nationally renowned Forensic Science Program, which features innovative undergraduate and graduate degrees, minors, and certificates. Learn more.