For 35 years, Americans have recognized March as Women’s History Month – a time to celebrate the contributions women make to our society, along with their changing role in it.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) is eager, and proud, to join in this occasion. At BJA, the contributions of talented and skilled professional women are crucial to our success every day.
Through the grants that it awards and the innovations that it supports, BJA profoundly influences the fields of criminal justice and law enforcement across America. Both these professions historically have been dominated by men. BJA is not. Most members of the BJA workforce – and of senior management -- are women.
The numbers are striking – and to some, perhaps, surprising. Overall, American law enforcement remains overwhelmingly male. A 2019 report by the National Institute of Justice found that women make up only 13 percent of all uniformed officers and a much smaller percentage of senior managers.
At BJA, almost 70 percent of employees – and almost 60 percent of senior staff -- are women.
The women of BJA bring a rich variety of professional experiences to the agency. They have backgrounds in law enforcement, the judiciary, academe and other fields. This range of knowledge contributes significantly to BJA’s effectiveness.
As part of BJA’s effort to spotlight all its capable women, two senior staff members agreed to discuss what they do at BJA and why they do it. Brenda Worthington, Associate Deputy Director of BJA’s Programs Office, and Heather Tubman-Carbone, a BJA Senior Policy Advisor, came to BJA because they care deeply about law enforcement and criminal justice issues. And both agree that BJA’s programs can achieve meaningful, large-scale results.
Worthington came to the Justice Department almost 18 years ago, directly out of college. She now oversees a broad portfolio of programs that help states and localities address the opioid crisis and other substance abuse issues; forensic science capability enhancement; law enforcement officer safety; and many other issues.
“Initially, I wanted to be a law enforcement officer,” Worthington said. “I applied for a federal law enforcement position, but this job landed with me in the meantime. When I received an offer for the law enforcement position, I stayed.”
Throughout her career at BJA, she has been personally involved in efforts to protect the lives of law enforcement officers by making body armor safe and widely available. In her first job at the National Institute of Justice, she was part of an initiative that identified serious flaws in one type of bulletproof vest and took it off the market. She now manages a program that helps law enforcement agencies across the country obtain vests that are safe and effective.
Probably the most rewarding thing for me has been seeing my work on body armor go full circle. At the beginning of my career at the National Institute of Justice, we found that companies were selling vests that were defective. Fast-forward nearly 15 years, funds from settlements with companies that produced the vests were set aside to help purchase approximately 26,000 additional bullet-resistant vests through the Bulletproof Vest Partnership program at BJA.
Tubman-Carbone, who holds a doctorate in criminal justice from Rutgers University, oversees BJA’s justice reform efforts, including the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, and its Second Chance Act programs, which focus on reentry from incarceration.
Prior to joining BJA, Tubman-Carbone managed efforts to evaluate criminal justice programs. “I thought I wanted to be in criminal justice research,” Carbone said. But she quickly learned that research alone could not achieve practical, real-world results. Subsequent experience at the Council of State Governments Justice Center crystalized that for her.
“The corrections ‘system’ is actually one federal, 50 state and 3,000-plus local systems with individual histories and complex political landscapes,” Carbone said.
So, BJA became the goal – to sit at the intersection of research, policy and practice. BJA translates what we know from the research, and what we hear from people working in and experiencing the justice system, into opportunities for those systems and the communities they serve.