This past Monday, January 22nd, Texas Southern University (TSU) and its leadership announced the establishment of the Center for Justice Research (CJR) at an on-campus press conference, and that the University had been awarded $2.7 million by the Center for Advancing Opportunity to implement the newly established initiative.
The Center for Justice Research is an initiative supported by funding from the Charles Koch Foundation and Koch Industries to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and the primary focus for the Texas Southern University Center for Justice Research (CJR) will be to produce innovative solutions to reform efforts by utilizing an experienced group of researchers working to understand and address the current challenges of the U.S. criminal justice system.
“The Center for Justice Research represents a new direction for Texas Southern and will strengthen our commitment to equal justice for all citizens. We are a special-purpose institution and this initiative is in line with the purpose of our designation,” said TSU President Austin A. Lane. “TSU is elated to receive strong support for the Center from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the Charles Koch Foundation, forming a critical partnership to advance knowledge through our faculty and evidence-based research, and in turn, care for our fragile communities.”
CJR’s mission is to change how historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) address criminal justice reform by developing objective, evidence-based research. The goal is to develop and share interdisciplinary criminal justice research to break down barriers faced by American citizens in fragile communities. A ‘fragile community’ is defined as a specific area with high crime, low access to social mobility and limited opportunities for growth.
“Dr. Lane is a brilliant thought leader who represented the University well when presenting his case for why TSU should be chosen to receive this important funding,” said Dr. Harry Williams, Thurgood Marshall College Fund. “After seeing his presentation and witnessing his passion, there is no doubt in my mind that TSU was the right choice to receive the funding to lead this initiative.”
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-18th District), a senior member of the House Committee on Judiciary and Homeland Security and a strong advocate for justice reform, spoke via speakerphone in support of the initiative, and emphasized that African Americans and other people of color are heavily incarcerated due to a disparate system, but that research and science are the tools to resolve criminal justice problems.
“Our criminal justice system is deeply flawed and perversely inhumane support for reform spans the ideological spectrum, and this grant to TSU’s Center for Justice Research will help to enhance efforts to ensure that all of us receive equal treatment under the law,” said Jackson Lee. “TSU is an appropriate place for this commitment because it is the people’s university. It costs more than $32,000 to incarcerate people and more women are being incarcerated, so there is a crucial need for this grant.”
The Center will be an incubator for policy-driven criminal justice research support, increase the research capacity of HBCU faculty in the field, and train and mentor graduate students interested in addressing issues surrounding mass incarceration.
Howard Henderson, Ph.D., professor of Administration of Justice in TSU’s Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, will serve as the Center’s director.
“This collaboration is monumental and unheard of. We are about to start a new future and new alliances,” said Dr. Henderson. “We are about the prospect of a new criminal justice system and people being able to make reforms to the system with researched data and information.”
One of the key alliances that the University has established is with the office of the Harris County District Attorney, Kim Ogg.
“Incarceration is the end of opportunity for many people, but this grant is setting the stage for a new era in criminal justice,” said Ogg. “We need a common-sense approach to avoid recidivism and address problems with mental illness and addiction in the community.”
John Hardin, Ph.D., director of university relations at the Charles Koch Foundation, said that more Americans are incarcerated than have a college degree. Hardin said that the Foundation is concerned that the criminal justice system has more impact on the community than the educational system and also has a greater ability to destroy lives.
“Research is required to ensure that the criminal justice system in this country is one that treats all people equally and with dignity so that citizens can live a fulfilling life,” said Dr. Hardin. “We are proud to be a part of a partnership supporting such critical, academic pursuits.”
Since his arrival at TSU in June 2016, Dr. Lane has continued to emphasize the importance of following through on his top five priorities, which are: 1) Student Success, 2) Academic Quality, 3) Culture, 4) Funding and 5) Partnerships. Dr. Lane made it a point to highlight how this initiative is in lockstep with several of his top priorities at Monday’s press conference, and stated that he is looking forward to getting this initiative started and seeing the outcomes.
The Forward Times will continue to follow the initiative and hopes to receive the much-needed data and evidence-based research that will come forth from it.