Square One Project to ‘Reimagine’ Criminal Justice

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Photo by Michael Coghlan via Flickr

Two major foundations are funding a project they hope will “reimagine” the criminal justice system by discussing ways to “start over from ‘square one.’ ”

The Laura and John Arnold and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations, along with Columbia University’s Justice Lab, will formally launch the Square One Justice project on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

As outlined on the project’s website, it “is taking on the fundamental issues: poverty and racial inequality, violence and safety, criminalization and punishment.

“We’re challenging traditional responses to crime, and looking in new places for more effective responses, by asking a new question: if we start over from ‘square one,’ how would justice policy be different?”

The project’s sponsors contend that justice should be “created” in “neighborhoods that suffer from injustice and that deserve public safety that works.”

They contend that “the left, the right, and everyone in between agrees we need this to happen–and now is the time.”

Project leaders do not declare that they have the solutions to problems in the justice system, but they want to “incubate new thinking on our response to crime, promote more effective strategies, and contribute to a new narrative of justice in America.”

The Square One Justice project will include two new programs to help achieve its goals.

An “Executive Session on the Future of Justice Policy,” backed by the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, will assemble about two dozen researchers, practitioners, policy makers, advocates, and community representatives to “generate and cultivate new ideas.”

This group will meet in an “off-the-record setting” twice annually to examine research, consider new concepts, and discuss proposals from group members.

The session will publish papers to “catalyze thinking and policy reform that can reduce incarceration and develop new responses to violence and other social problems that can emerge under conditions of poverty and racial inequality.”

The project identified members of the executive session, who include Harvard Prof. Bruce Western and Vincent Schiraldi of Columbia’s Justice Lab; Jeremy Travis of the Arnold Foundation, former president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Vikrant Reddy of the Charles Koch Institute; retired federal judge Nancy Gertner of Boston, and former Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele, among others.

A separate program, called the “Roundtable on the Future of Justice Policy,” funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, is a series of public, live-streamed forums involving leaders, community members, academics, and other experts to talk about discussion papers by leading researchers.

Sponsors say the papers will be “designed to spark transformational thinking about what we can expect for our communities and our justice system … creating a public record for learning and sharing information about what a new “square one” might look like.”

The first roundtable will take place Oct. 11-13 at the North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, N.C., with the title, “Examining the History of Racial and Economic Inequality: Implications for Justice Policy and Practice.”

The Square One Justice project will be directed by Katharine Huffman of the Washington, D.C.-based Raben Group. She is a former state affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance and a former Soros Justice Fellow at the Southern Center for Human Rights.

The new project is one of a number of efforts in the last few years to examine broad aspects of the justice system.

These include three described last year in The Crime Report: the publication of more than 50 papers on criminal justice in a project called the “Academy of Justice” sponsored by the Koch Institute, an American Society of Criminology review of the LBJ-era commission on crime and justice, assessing what a modern-day commission could accomplish, and a parallel review of the LBJ commission on its 50th anniversary, led by the George Washington University law school.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington bureau chief of The Crime Report.

One thought on “Square One Project to ‘Reimagine’ Criminal Justice

  1. Article states: “We’re challenging traditional responses to crime, and looking in new places for more effective responses, by asking a new question: if we start over from ‘square one,’ how would justice policy be different?”

    This says it all. The “more effective responses” are new colors to apply to the old clunker–another set of reforms that do nothing but swing the pendulum in the opposite direction.

    Responding to individual acts of “criminal behavior” is at the heart of the problem. Confronting “crime” is what the system must do to reinvent, rather than “reimagine” itself.

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