Advancing the field of forensic pathology

Nancy Rodriguez

Professor Nancy Rodríguez serves on national committee

As a member of a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, Nancy Rodríguez, professor of criminology, law and society, is studying the handling of deaths in custody.

Rodríguez and 11 fellow members of the Committee on Advancing the Field of Forensic Pathology: Lesson Learned from Death in Custody Investigations are conducting the study, considering:

  • the number of deaths while in custody throughout the criminal justice process and how those deaths are investigated, diagnosed, recorded, reported and made transparent; 
  • the distribution of diagnoses for deaths that occur in custody (cause and manner of death) and the scientific bases for attributing such diagnoses to those deaths; 
  • measures (and limitations thereof) that forensic pathologists should follow to conduct independent assessments of cause of death generally and in particular for deaths in custody; 
  • the proper range of attributions for cause and manner of death that should be made in a medicolegal death investigation and the scientific bases and associated evidence needed to justify a diagnosis related to any death in general and, in particular, to deaths in custody; 
  • mitigation strategies to be used to protect forensic pathologists from factors that may bias their diagnosis; 
  • an assessment of the dual role played by the medicolegal death investigation system as fact finders of manner of death for public health as opposed to for the criminal justice system; and 
  • quality standards and regulations needed for improvement.

The committee expects to produce a consensus report with findings and recommendations by September, 2025.

Rodríguez’s research interests include inequality (race/ethnicity, class, crime and justice) and the collateral consequences of mass incarceration. She is the author of several books, whose work has appeared in numerous peer-reviewed journals. 

In 2014, Rodríguez was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as the director of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the scientific research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. During her tenure at NIJ, she worked with federal partners to address gaps in crime and justice research. 

She served on the National Academy of Sciences committee that produced the 2022 consensus report, “Reducing Racial Inequality in the Criminal Justice System.” 

Today, Rodríguez is principal investigator of a study on the racial and ethnic disparities experienced by Latinos in local justice systems. She also is principal investigator of two multi-state projects addressing the causes and consequences of prison violence and the nature and impact of family engagement among incarcerated persons.

Mimi Ko Cruz


Rodríguez named ASC Fellow

Local justice systems not equipped to serve immigrants

Report sheds light on Latinos in U.S. criminal justice system

Rodríguez receives Lifetime Achievement Award

A model for meaningful family support

Rodríguez named to two committees

$2.7 million gift by Arnold Ventures to UCI funds most comprehensive prison violence study to date

Professor examines ethnic disparities in justice system