What We Do
The Mission of the Crime and Justice Policy Lab (CJP) is to help governments and communities by using research to support innovation of new policy solutions.
Many communities suffer from problems that cause sharp inequalities of opportunity: we have strong evidence that where individuals grow up directly influences their income, education, and likelihood of being involved in the criminal justice system, regardless of factors such as family history.
We believe that better policies can change the dynamics of communities and improve the prospects of vulnerable people in society. Unfortunately, many policymakers believe they have little choice but to stick with "tried and true" approaches that have failed to make significant progress, or have harsh negative consequences. Research is one way to convincingly demonstrate the potential of new ideas.
How Does Research Work?
Government and nonprofit partners play a critical role in setting research agendas
This ensures that the work produced by independent outside researchers will have a strong chance of translating into changes in policy and programs. We work with partners at every level to help them scope out their research priorities, and then work alongside them to gather data and conduct analyses on these priority questions. Wherever possible, we leave our partners better equipped to understand, access and use their data going forward.
Long-term partnerships to investigate innovative practices
We form our research partnerships with the goal of creating long-term change—we aren't interesting in "proving" or "disproving" a program and then moving on. Forming a longer-term outlook allows us to work with governments and non-profits as they try new ideas and make progress over time. When a program doesn't work as intended, we work with our partners to understand why and develop next steps that can lead to more success in future attempts. And, because we always use the most rigorous research tools available, when a program is working well it can be publicized, explored further, and expanded.
We start all of our work from the perspective of our partners, since they already understand the most about making positive differences in communities. We measure our success by the fact that community groups, criminal justice organizations, and governments all come back to work with us again, year after year.
We make sure that our research is always done at the highest standards: besides achieving the most accurate results possible, policymakers will only be convinced by research if the details of our scientific process are trustworthy. We work across many fields of research (including Criminology, Economics, Law, Psychology, Public Health, and Sociology) and use a variety of research methods, from randomized evaluations to qualitative analyses.
By aligning our interests to the needs of communities and policymakers, we ensure that our research has immediate relevance and impact. We prioritize research that can transform communities by changing underlying conditions, such as the lack of safety and opportunity that keeps people in cycles of intergenerational poverty.
Policy around crime and justice often operates from a distance, and that creates negative outcomes for citizens. For example, policy in cities sometimes revolves around labelling certain neighborhoods as "problems" and seeking to control and prevent the spread of the perceived problems to the rest of the city. The result is that the residents of these "problem" neighborhoods lack the ability to set their own priorities, cannot contribute meaningfully to guide government to address root causes of issues, and eventually lose faith in the legitimacy of organizations that are meant to serve them.
Better government policy has the community lead the setting of priorities. This isn't just our opinion, but an idea that has a lot of research evidence supporting it; we've seen it on every issue from the courts to the way in which police deploy their officers. Efforts to address crime and promote justice will only create lasting change if we can center communities in the creation and design of solutions.
The people who live in these communities also can't always act alone—they have their own pressing day-to-day needs and concerns that need to be respected. This is where guidance from research and assistance from experienced advocates can help communities in tackling the challenges that they have identified as most important to them. Our mission as a lab is to harness the power of research and knowledge to help government and communities do policy better.