The fundamental accuracy and fairness of the American criminal justice system was once taken for granted. In recent years, however, scientific advances such as those in DNA testing have challenged our idealism by revealing errors in findings of guilt and innocence, with significant consequences to individuals, families, and the system as a whole. Further examination by scholars and attorneys across the nation has led to the recognition that a wider variety and higher occurrence of errors exist, eroding the public’s faith that justice is universally achieved.
The Quattrone Center is a first-of-its-kind organization focused explicitly on inter-disciplinary, data-driven policy level research and recommendations designed to address the system factors that lead to criminal justice error. Rather than focusing primarily on individual cases or on remedying past errors, the Center works to identify institutional and policy-level barriers to fairness and accuracy and then to implement solutions that prevent future mistakes. The Center focuses primarily on two types of error: (1) wrongful arrests, incarcerations or convictions; and (2) policies or procedures that result in disparate outcomes among similarly-situated individuals. We analyze these situations using a broad range of techniques with proven success in reducing errors in such diverse industries as healthcare, aviation, and manufacturing, among others. Housed at the Law School, the Center draws on Penn’s unrivaled interdisciplinary strengths, involving scholars from disciplines across the Penn campus, including Business, Communications, Criminology, Engineering, Medicine and Public Health, and Social Sciences.
The Center hosts conferences, symposia, workshops, roundtables and other scholarly activities to generate knowledge and debate and policy ideas addressing major issues confronting the justice system. Students involved in the Center’s research and programming gain the expertise needed to become the next generation of criminal justice policymakers and professionals. Event participants include not only academic scholars and think-tank researchers, but also real-world practitioners including lawyers, law enforcement officials, judges, legislators, scientists, and the media.
The Center’s areas of investigation include assessing the frequency, causes of, and ways to reduce/eliminate wrongful convictions; measuring and improving justice system quality; critically evaluating the science underlying current forensic practices and developing new breakthroughs; improving incentives and accountability for prosecutors (e.g., absolute vs. qualified immunity); identifying best practices in indigent defense that can reduce error; redress for victims of institutional misconduct; and delineating the roles of politics, economics, and the media in shaping justice system fairness. By integrating world-class scholarship from across the University with the perspectives of nationally prominent practitioners, the Center’s analysis and recommendations serve to shape public deliberations and improve the fairness and accuracy of our legal system.
The Quattrone Center is led by an Academic Director–a recognized leader in the field of criminal justice policy with an interdisciplinary background–and an Executive Director with significant experience in the criminal justice sector and a record of outstanding organizational leadership. They are supported by an Advisory Board comprised of justice system leaders from diverse professional backgrounds, as well as dedicated and informed individuals concerned with ensuring the quality of the system.
The New York City Comptroller released a report proposing significant reforms to the city’s bail system, drawing upon Quattrone Center research examining pretrial detention and release policy. These recommendations have emerged in the wake of a recent announcement by the Manhattan and Brooklyn DAs that they would no longer pursue bail in misdemeanor cases, which has been shown to contribute to wrongful convictions.
San Francisco recently adopted a new program to provide representation to indigent defendants at the earliest possible point following arrest. This new measure arose in part due to Quattrone Center research demonstrating that decisions that occur early on in the arrest and booking process explain later racial disparities in case outcomes.
The Quattrone Center has assisted dozens of district attorneys across the nation to establish and implement best practices for their conviction review units (CRUs), which are special units within a prosecutor’s office designed to investigate and remedy wrongful convictions. In Philadelphia, new policies and procedures established by the city’s CRU in consultation with the Center led to the unit’s first first ever exoneration when Shaurn Thomas, who was jailed for 24 years for a murder he didn’t commit, had his conviction vacated.
The Center’s research on misdemeanor bail schedules was cited extensively by a federal district court in a ruling in ODonnell v. Harris County. The decision was described by the New York Times as carrying potential to “transform the growing debate over bail reform nationwide”.
- Center Leadership
- Center Research Fellows
- Affiliated Faculty
- Associated Researchers and Alumni
- Advisory Board