ASU Law continues groundbreaking criminal justice work, supported by $6.5 million grant

The Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University announced today the establishment of a center in the pursuit of scholarly research examining the criminal justice system and informing audiences seeking reforms. The center builds on the year-long project to research and develop the "Reforming Criminal Justice" report and is supported by a $6.5 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation.

The 2017 report is an extensive four-volume publication written and reviewed by more than 100 of the nation's leading scholars on criminal law and other disciplines. The alliance of scholars, known as the Academy for Justice, addressed more than 50 specific topics, including wrongful convictions, mass incarceration, racial profiling, police use of force, pretrial detention, indigent defense, mandatory minimums, and capital punishment.

Distributed to a broad public audience, including criminal justice professionals, think tanks, non-profit organizations, community activists and policymakers, the report is freely available to the public through a dedicated website.

Providing a physical and sustainable presence, the center will serve as a platform to expand upon the Academy for Justice project. Erik Luna, who directed the project and serves as ASU Law's Amelia D. Lewis professor of constitutional and criminal law, said the center will carry on the principal goal of the report: Ensuring that academic findings on criminal justice issues are made available to the public to help inform educational, cultural, and policy efforts.

"For a number of reasons, academics have long been underrepresented and underutilized in criminal justice reform efforts," said Luna, who will serve as the center's director. "These are some of the most brilliant and well-informed minds in the field. The center's mission is to make sure their research and analysis is passed along to two groups: the policymakers who can actually do something to fix the problems in criminal justice, and the citizens who are ultimately responsible for the laws enacted and enforced in their name."

"Professor Luna's original report brought together more than 100 scholars from various institutions and fields to address some of today's most pressing injustices in the criminal justice system," said Charles Koch Foundation Director of University Relations John Hardin. "We're excited to support the university's work to build on that collaboration."

Each chapter of the report—along with its set of recommendations—was written by an individual scholar or a small team of authors and peer reviewed. The center aims to go a step further, examining the vast array of scholarship on specific issues to establish consensus findings and recommendations. Broad topics within criminal justice reform will be divided into working groups, which will collect and analyze available information and current research, and then formulate recommended solutions. Potential topics include mental health, drug prohibition, policing, pre-trial and trial decision-making, sentencing and corrections.

Other projects for the center include:

  • Editing, publishing and organizing new collections similar to the "Reforming Criminal Justice" report.
  • Facilitating new research and serving as a clearinghouse for recent or seminal scholarship.
  • Convening live events that contribute to publications and promote interaction among scholars and professionals, such as policymakers, jurists, reformers and think-tank officials.
  • Connecting with specific jurisdictions interested in review, analysis and proposed solutions on specific criminal justice issues.
  • Creating educational programs on criminal justice issues for graduate and undergraduate students, as well as practitioners interested in continuing legal or professional education.

"The center hopes to provide a fully accessible means by which the public and professionals can educate themselves on the criminal justice system," Luna said. "But an equally important goal is to help them do something about it. We hope the center will facilitate this by providing analysis and suggested reforms based on a scholarly consensus as to the current state of criminal justice and the potential paths to improving the system."